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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Plan To Turn North Branch Bend Into A Driving Range, Riverwalk Questioned By Neighbors

Neighbors are worried about noise, light and birds getting caught in the huge driving range net.

Drive Shack's Orlando location.
Facebook/Drive Shack
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BUCKTOWN — A plan to turn the Vienna Beef Factory Store in Bucktown into a 9.3-acre, high-tech driving range with a restaurant and bar has neighbors concerned about traffic, noise, light, bird safety, river banks and “boozy”-ness.

At a community meeting Wednesday, the team behind Drive Shack Inc. presented its plans for a 102-bay, climate-controlled driving range which would transform the curving riverfront between Elston Avenue and the intersection of Damen and Fullerton avenues.

The meeting hosted by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) inside Vienna Beef drew a crowd of a few dozen neighbors from Bucktown, Hamlin Park and other nearby neighborhoods.

Credit: Provided
A rendering of Drive Shack, a proposed driving range/restaurant

Because the project would be within 100 feet of the Chicago River, it requires the creation of a waterway planned development agreement, a lengthy process that will involve several community and public meetings, Waguespack said.

If all goes to plan, Drive Shack would open Labor Day weekend of 2021, attorney Paul Shadle told neighbors on Wednesday.

The company hired Kimley-Horn, a nationwide consulting group with a Chicago office, for its architecture, landscaping and engineering.

The company also hired Cardno as an environmental consultant and will consult with Chicago bird groups, as well as the Audubon Society.

Credit: Google Maps / Provided
The Vienna Beef Factory in Bucktown may be replaced by a driving range.

During Wednesday’s presentation, architect JJ Kazynski said the three-story property would have a “winter garden area” in addition to the driving range bays.

The range itself would be at the corner of Damen and Fullerton; golfers would hit balls into an outfield facing the river and the Chicago skyline.

The building will be designed with stacked black carbon bricks, creating a look that’s similar to architecture around Bucktown, Kazynski said.

“There are a little nuances we’re taking from the neighborhood and applying to this building,” he said.

Landscaping plans include rows of canopy trees, ornamental fencing with shrubs and a 10-foot riverwalk that will be publicly accessible to walkers, runners and cyclists.

“We want to celebrate the north branch of the Chicago River and celebrate that asset,” Keith Demchinsky of Kimley Horn said.

Credit: Provided
Drive Shack wants to open a driving range/bar and restaurant in the former Vienna Beef Factory Store space.
Credit: 32nd Ward / Provided
Drive Shack Inc. is proposing a driving range, restaurant and indoor activities project inside the old Vienna Beef Factory in Bucktown at 2501 N. Damen Ave.

A traffic study has already been conducted by an engineer at Kimley-Horn. As a result of the study, Drive Shack’s only entry way point will be on Elston Avenue (Vienna’s existing access point on Damen Avenue would be eliminated).

RELATED: Plan To Turn Old Vienna Beef Factory Into Driving Range And Restaurant Considered By Bucktown Neighbors

While some golfers expressed excitement at the idea of having a driving range within walking distance, other neighbors raised a variety of concerns.

Among those included light pollution, bird safety, preservation of the riverbank and the creation of sustainable local jobs.

Louis Altamiranda, Drive Shack’s real estate development manager, said the site’s year-round polyester netting would be netted so tightly that birds would be unable to get stuck or fly through; they’d “bounce off” the netting.

He also said Drive Shack is creating an emergency “plan of action” with a Chicago-based bird collision organization.

As far as noise, there will be no loudspeakers and no rooftop facility. The outdoor garden will be an enclosed area.

One neighbor, who described herself as an avid golfer, said she looked forward to having a driving range so close to her house.

But based on Drive Shack’s “boozy”-focused marketing, she worried she would not enjoy her experience. 

Altamiranda acknowledged the company’s marketing was “brunch” and “millenial”-focused, but that on any given Sunday between noon-4 p.m., Drive Shack is full of serious golfers practicing their game. 

Regarding jobs, Altamiranda said the project will create 250 construction jobs for a 12-14 month period. During operation, the company will hire about 400 people; 80 percent of whom will work part-time.

Drive Shack expects to have a $12 million employee compensation budget, he added.

Lighting, which will be “voltage-controlled” and confined to the driving bays, will end when the facility closes, he added.

Currently, Drive Shack has locations in Orlando; Richmond, Virginia; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

The company is also working on another location in New Orleans, which will replace the old Times-Picayune building, Mid City Messenger reported.

Neighbors who were unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting can email questions, comments and concerns to Waguespack’s office at info@ward32.org.

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