Fulton Market Innovation District plans evolve at local open house
June 6, 2014
Development and renovations in the area in pink on the map will be required to comply with guidelines to be adopted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

By Hayley Carlton

The City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) hosted an open house May 21 at Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph St., to hear the public’s concerns about the Fulton Randolph Market land use plan. Also on hand were members of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the City’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ Historic Preservation Division.

Now called the Fulton Market Innovation District plan, it features land use maps, a historic district designation, design guidelines, and suggestions for public investments.

According to the plan, the Fulton Market Innovation District differs from other U.S. innovation districts because it consists mainly of land owned by individuals rather than by the government. The 217-acre area is bounded by Hubbard, Randolph, and Halsted Streets and Ogden Avenue.

The plan does not propose wholesale zoning changes within the study area, and its design guidelines apply to new construction and redevelopment. The City has created a website about the plan at www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dcd/supp_info/fulton-randolphmarket-land-use-plan.html.

The plan calls for a historic district; the City is considering that aspect now, and officials expect to designate the historic district soon. The plan also includes design guidelines for area buildings and streetscapes, with recommendations for doors, windows, and awnings. Matt Crawford of the Historic Preservation Division said he is hearing from both business owners and residents, and “They want to know what it means for them. There is a new map on the website that designates
contributing buildings and non-contributing buildings.”

Noncontributing buildings within a historic district can be torn down, as they are not considered landmarks. As part of the plan, CDOT employees are working on several surveys. The first covers the arch destined for Fulton Street as part of the plan’s public infrastructure investments to help create a cohesive district identity.

“We kept hearing, ‘make it about food,’” said David Leopold of CDOT. As a result, officials scrapped three initial archway concepts in order to focus on food. At the May meeting, presenters asked attendees to choose between a design with crates with metal bars separating them and crates by themselves. A new concept uses a metallic food crate image, rather than the red one proposed in one of the original conceptions.

This new visual approach indicates “industry through food,” said Leopold, thanks to the perforated metal to be used in the design. “It’s the same metal that was used in the Picasso sculpture downtown.” The arch “will be about 55 feet wide by 17 feet high,” said Janet Attarian of CDOT. Workers will install it on Fulton just west of Halsted.

Officials estimate it will cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

Roger Romanelli of the Randolph-Fulton Market Association (RFMA) attended the meeting and said his group would rather see that money spent instead on street and sidewalk improvements. “There is a hole that is four feet by four feet on Lake Street at 810 west,” he said, noting that the neighborhood has vaulted sidewalks that need repairing, and that his group feels the gateway is not needed. “The area has an identity.”

Because of the area’s relationship with food, the City wants to provide programming and events concerning food and Chicago’s role in regional and nationwide food systems. Ideas include a Green City Market like the one in Lincoln Park, walking tours, and cooking demonstrations. A second survey will cover traffic.

A CDOT employee distributed maps of the district and asked residents and business owners to mark areas of concern. Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) also attended the meeting and said he has received much input from constituents. “I am hearing from people who are needing not protection, but projection” as to what the future of the area will hold, he said, noting he has not formed an opinion on the plan yet.

The plan also calls for investing in facilities for regional food products, traditional wholesale businesses, and associated historic buildings.

“The whole area was just floating,” said Steve Valenziano of the DPD. “This plan allows us to move forward.”

Romanelli has some concerns, however. “We found some startling information” in the revised plan, he said, noting in particular on page 9 where the plans call for leisure and lodging. “This would put hotels and residential right in the heart of the Kinzie Corridor” planned manufacturing district. He noted that when the Lake/Morgan Chicago Transit Authority el station was being planned, the City promised a stop light at Morgan and Lake Streets, and his group still would like to see that. He added that the increased pedestrian traffic from the new station is backing up traffic at the intersection, which now has only a four-way stop sign.

Romanelli also definitely saw some positives as well.

“While we have some concerns about the City’s plan, we’re also excited about the City’s effort to retain and expand our industrial businesses,” Romanelli said, noting his group commends the City’s “efforts to retain the Planned Manufacturing District and to foster collaboration between area food companies and restaurants.”

Valenziano said that he is hearing a lot of concerns from residents and business owners. This is in part, he said, because of a campaign from the West Central Association (WCA), which has a letter on its website for people to send to the City that opposes the plan, but not a letter that supports the plan. “I do think that it’s biased,” said Valenziano.

“Yes, we oppose some parts of the plan including the landmarking,” said Armando Chacon, board member of the WCA. “However, we do agree with some aspects of the plan which our response clearly notes. So far, we have been receiving more and more feedback that agrees with our positions on the plan. The roundtable meeting we had a couple weeks ago was well attended and well received. We have continued our outreach campaign to building owners and have garnered more support.”

“When this [plan] first came out, landowners thought that this was the best thing,” said Frank J. Caputo, former president of the WCA. “But as they found out more, there have been questions.” Bob Rourke, a local property owner, attended the open house and commented, “I’m concerned about the speed with which it [the plan] has been proposed: it’s too fast. There seems to be a resistance on the part of the City to listen.”