Northwest Side mutual aid groups are using roughly 4,000 square feet of space in the old Marshall Field's warehouse at 4000 W. Diversey Ave. to pack up grocery boxes for people in need amid the COVID-19 crisis. Credit: Provided

AVONDALE — The developer who took over redevelopment of the massive old Marshall Field’s warehouse at the Avondale/Logan Square border is now opening up the space for coronavirus relief efforts while he looks to finish developing the site.

In early April, developer Knickpoint Ventures invited mutual aid groups on the Northwest Side to take over 4,000 square feet of previously unused warehouse space in the massive Fields complex at 4000 W. Diversey Ave. to help people in need amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Since then, the groups have used the warehouse to sort and pack up grocery boxes and other donations before delivering them to people in need.

The move has allowed the volunteer-led groups to expand, accept more donations and work more efficiently, said Lindsey Lucenta, a volunteer with the Logan Square Mutual Aid, one of the groups operating out of The Fields.

Prior to the partnership, the groups were storing grocery boxes and other donations in volunteers’ homes, which was a logistical headache given the pandemic.

“Every time [donations] were moved they [had] to be cleaned, re-boxed,” Lucenta said.

The groups were also unable to accept large donations from businesses before moving into the dedicated space. Now, there is no limit on the amount of non-perishable goods the groups can accept, Lucenta said.

Several mutual aid groups, including ones in Hermosa, Belmont Cragin and Humboldt Park, have used the dedicated space and coordinated their efforts to help people in need, Lucenta said.

“It just really opened up the doors to serve more homes in the community and more families,” she said.

Knickpoint Ventures bought The Fields site in fall 2018. Founder Zain Koita said letting mutual aid groups use empty warehouse space was “the right thing to do.”

He said the partnership was a “natural fit” given the site’s history as an Olson Rug & Carpet warehouse from 1928-1963 and a Marshall Field’s warehouse from 1964-2004.

“The most natural form of being able to help is leaning into the building’s history and allowing it to distribute products to various Chicago neighborhoods,” Koita said.

‘A Building This Big Can Move The Needle In The Community’

The 1.5 million-square-foot Fields complex includes a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store, apartments and office space. But the development is unfinished and has about 500,000 square feet of vacant space.

In the midst of opening up part of the building to COVID-19 relief efforts, Knickpoint Ventures is also looking to fill the site’s vacant retail space along Diversey Avenue, stretching from Cermak Fresh Market to the railroad tracks.

To do that, the New York-based developer and investor needs a zoning amendment. The previous developers won commercial zoning approval in 2014 but that approval didn’t include certain areas of the site.

Koita said the number of new retailers at the site will depend on the type of retailers they attract. The zoning amendment allows for indoor sports facilities, commissary bakeries, entrepreneurial manufacturing, fitness centers, art galleries and restaurants and bars.

“What we adopted is a generally vacant industrial building so we kinda have a blank slate opportunity,” Koita said.

Ald. Felix Cardona Jr., whose 31st Ward includes the site, held a virtual community meeting on the matter several weeks ago. Cardona said he supports the zoning amendment because it will provide an “economic boost” at a time when the city and the nation is in an economic crisis.

“It’s just a tweak. It’s not a big zoning change. There’s no housing or [anything] like that,” Cardona said.

Koita said the complex is ready to accept new retail tenants as soon as they receive zoning approval.

“We have capital to build out the rest of the building. We’re excited to return this to the community,” he said. “It’s been a closed industrial campus for most of its history. A building this big can move the needle in the community, and we’re excited to do that project.”

The plan to bring in new retail tenants won’t impact the mutual aid hub, Koita said.

“If there is a need — I hope that don’t have a [continued] need for a COVID center — we’ll find a spot for that,” he said.

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Logan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale reporterrnrnmina@blockclubchi.orgnnLogan Square, Humboldt Park & Avondale Twitter @mina_bloom_