AVONDALE — The developer behind The Fields, a massive retail/residential development at the Logan Square/Avondale border, is looking to open a film production studio, a project that could transform the area.
But the developer could face an obstacle in its quest to bring Hollywood to the Northwest Side: Some community leaders, including State Rep. Will Guzzardi, are sounding the alarm over what they call an opaque community process. The leaders said they’re worried the developer and Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), who represents the site, haven’t solicited enough community feedback.
“A development of this magnitude … is going to have far-reaching implications” for residents of the area, said Guzzardi, who represents Logan Square, Avondale, Hermosa and Belmont Cragin, the neighborhoods around the site.
“The community needs to have a voice in what happens there. If there’s a robust process engaging the community and they decide they want it there, then I’m all for it. It’s not clear that’s happened yet,” he said.
New York-based developer Knickpoint Ventures wants to convert part of The Fields campus at 4000 W. Diversey Ave. into a film production studio as part of its redevelopment of the 22-acre property. The studio would be similar to the West Side’s Cinespace in that TV shows and movies would be filmed and produced there, according to the Tribune, which first reported the news.
The Northwest Side project has been “on the table” for several months now but has recently come into focus, said Zain Koita, founder and managing partner of Knickpoint Ventures.
Koita said his team is working with city officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office to bring the project to life after months of gathering community input. He told the Tribune they’ve enlisted Los Angeles-based film industry consultant RoadTown Enterprises to conduct a feasibility study.
The mayor’s Chicago Recovery Task Force, which was formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, wants to grow the film industry in Chicago.
In a report, the task force said film and TV production can “quickly create a variety of jobs that benefit our communities – a mix of high-paying and low-skill jobs including catering, security, construction and more.”
“The Fields’ ongoing redevelopment is a great example of Chicago’s historic, neighborhood assets being repurposed for modern uses, and we look forward to ongoing discussions about new investment in the complex,” Lightfoot spokeswoman Christine Carrino said in an emailed statement.
Koita and his team need zoning approval from the city before they can start leasing the space to production companies.
The project has the unequivocal support of Cardona, the 31st Ward alderman, who said it will bring jobs to the area and uplift existing restaurants and small businesses that are struggling during the pandemic. People who work at the studio will grab lunch at local restaurants and stop into the area’s mom-and-pop shops, the alderman said.
“It’s going to benefit everyone in the community,” Cardona said. “Economic development is much needed, now more than ever.”
Cardona said he held a community meeting on the project last year and is hosting another meeting 6 p.m. Thursday “to refresh people’s memories.” The meetings are only for residents who live close to the property — not for the broader community.
“They’re the ones that are going to see this, be living with this, so they’re the ones who should be informed,” Cardona said.
Cardona said the community feedback he’s received has been overwhelmingly positive, but some residents said they feel like they’ve been shut out of the process.
Neighbor Coleman Brice, a board member at Logan Square Neighborhood Association and the owner of Cole’s Bar, said he had no idea there was a plan to open a film production studio on The Fields campus until very recently. He said other residents are also “in the dark” as the project moves forward.
“It makes me nervous to feel like large aspects of this development are moving under the radar and without adequate community input,” Brice said.
‘This Could Be A Win For Everyone’
The film production studio is the latest project designed to revitalize the cluster of old brick warehouses at Diversey Avenue and Pulaski Road, the former home of Olson Rug & Carpet and Marshall Field’s.
In recent years, Knickpoint Ventures and developers that came before it have revived the 1.5-million-square-foot property to include a mix of loft apartments, offices, a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store and more.
Federal Savings Bank is set to open an office in the building next month, Koita said.
Now Knickpoint Ventures, which bought the site from Merit Partners in 2018, is seeking an amendment to its planned development to redevelop other parts of the campus.
The amendment was introduced several months ago but was delayed by the pandemic. It is expected to go up for a vote at the Chicago Plan Commission’s next hearing, Feb. 18.
As part of the amendment, the developer wants to build a 50-foot-tall building on the northwestern corner of the campus near the Metra tracks.
Koita said the building would replace an existing structure that is “functionally obsolete” and needs to be redeveloped, whether the film production studio comes to fruition or not.
The studio is just one of the uses being considered for the site, Koita said. If the project doesn’t receive zoning approval, Koita said they may bring in manufacturers or more retailers and keep the building “like it is today.”
But the community stands to gain a lot of jobs and economic activity should the plan move forward, Koita said.
The Chicago Recovery Task Force found Illinois has nearly 14,000 film production jobs and more than half belong to women and minorities.
“What we’ve come to learn through this process, and from the city, is film is a tremendous source of new job creation, particularly union jobs, jobs that are not white collar,” Koita said. “We think that’s a very positive thing, considering the unemployment and closed storefronts in the area.”
Brice and other residents said while they support the kind of development that would generate a lot of jobs, they want the developer to sign onto a community benefits agreement to ensure those jobs go to people in the community.
“With the appropriate oversight and community benefits agreement in place this could be a win for everyone,” Brice said.
But Koita said a community benefits agreement isn’t applicable to this situation because Knickpoint Ventures would only be the landlord and the production companies would be the tenants using the building day-to-day.
“The focus right now should be: Can we deliver this project so we have these jobs to talk about?” the developer said.
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