Are Chicago's PMDs Getting in the Way of Development?
Planned Manufacturing Districts have shaped Chicago’s growth, expansion and economy since the late '80s. But are they now in need of reform?
Fifield Cos chairman Steve Fifield says yes, since PMDs were set up at a time when manufacturing companies were being forced out of the city. Steve tells us zoning hasn't changed with the times, and that most of the city's desirable areas to live and work are still zoned for low density commercial and residential use. To that end, he's lobbying the city to amend "outdated" planning and zoning ordinances to continue current growth of Chicago's jobs and housing markets.
There are currently 15 PMDs across Chicago—11 on the north and northwest sides. The oldest one, the Clybourn Corridor (pictured) was established in 1987. Ten PMDs have been established in the past decade. These areas are intended to strengthen Chicago’s industrial base, maintain a diversified economy for the general welfare of residents, encourage investment, modernization and expansion, and promote growth for the city’s industrial employment base.
The successes of the oldest PMDs—Clybourn, Elston and Goose Island—have been well-documented. A 2005 University of Wisconsin Milwaukee study—the most recent available—found the three districts to be fundamentally sound but not without their issues. Business and job creation did improve, except for the manufacturing sector. Workers in the Goose Island PMD (pictured) were more likely to be employed in a warehouse than an industrial firm. Growth in the Clybourn Corridor, meanwhile, was spurred on by retail development from 1988 to 2004; for every new retail job created, roughly one manufacturing job was lost. The study also found a decline in value-added activities in these districts.
The success of these PMDs comes with pressure to open them for retail, residential or mixed-use purposes. Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) has asked residents to consider zoning alternatives for the former A. Finkl & Sons site within the Clybourn Corridor PMD and called the zoning restrictions “almost like a set of handcuffs.” North Branch works executive director Michael Holzer tells Bisnow he's not sold on the alderman's claim and says the PMDs led to gains in science, R&D and engineering jobs creation, while manufacturing jobs stayed flat. Commercial vacancy rates in the corridor are currently at around 6%.
Supporters of PMDs like Michael argue they are the best tool for dealing with industrial displacement. Opponents say the current land use patterns in PMDs run the risk of distorting the land use market, contributing to rising housing costs and slowing development. Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city has occasionally approved zoning changes to spur development. For example, the City Council approved plans in April for an Ace Hotel in Fulton Market, located within the Kinzie Corridor PMD. Last November, it also quietly approved a zoning change for the former site of the Wrigley gum factory in Bridgeport (pictured), which falls within the Stockyards PMD.
Furthermore, today’s economy is more talent-based and sensitive to location. Tech-centered businesses seek desirable locations, such as Google’s impending move to 1K Fulton (pictured) in order to attract the best talent and customers. Michael says the Clybourn Corridor PMD is ideally situated near the Kennedy Expressway and by the Chicago River, enticing options for businesses seeking to call it home. Steve says allowing mixed-use development in PMDs will bring all of the economic parts together and show employers there will be enough housing for workers who want to live in the city.
Steve notes that manufacturing is relocating to the outer reaches of the city with easy access to expressways and where companies can modernize factories. An example: Method’s new plant in Pullman (pictured). Michael Holzer says Finkl's move to the South Side was precipitated because "the PMD made them successful" and that Finkl left because they couldn't expand within it.
Steve says mixed-use development in PMDs is vital to capitalize on the technology and creative jobs triangle connecting River North, Goose Island and the West Loop. Chicago's land use and planning, he adds, don't reflect this evolution and that there are underutilized sites along the Chicago River from Hubbard Street to the Finkl site waiting to be developed. CHA also has 50 acres, including the former Cabrini Green housing project site (pictured) waiting to be redeveloped.