A map of the proposed Clarius Park development for North Lawndale. | Submitted

Ald. Michael Scott (24th) said that an Aug. 25 meeting at the United Baptist Church, 4242 W Roosevelt Rd, had the biggest crowd he’s ever seen at ward community meetings — and for a good reason.

Clarius Partners LLC, a Chicago-based commercial and industrial developer, is looking to create a three-building industrial campus in North Lawndale totaling nearly 320,000 square feet on a 21-acre city-owned lot it recently purchased.

The lot stretches between Roosevelt Road, Kostner Avenue, 5th Avenue and Kildare Avenue. Clarius has so far proposed three retail buildings, an industrial warehouse that would house multiple tenants and distribution buildings. Clarius projects that the development will be completed by Fall 2019. 

Kevin Matzke, a managing principal for Clarius, told residents who attended the Aug. 25 meeting that the company will be looking to recruit North Lawndale subcontractors. Scott said that he will use Tax Increment Financing funds to launch a job training program, so that local residents can take advantage of job opportunities the campus would bring once it opens for business.

But a shadow of uncertainty and frustration hangs over the development. None of the tenants have been secured and the alderman said that the company wasn’t going to sign any legally binding community development agreements, adding that it would only hinder the process.

In addition, Scott’s decision to hold meetings without including as a co-host the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, an organization created last year in order to design a comprehensive plan for North Lawndale and of which Scott is an ex-officio member, has drawn the ire of that group’s leadership.

“Though I’m happy the alderman is going on the road with the developer, I am disappointed that NLCCC, which is coordinating the community’s first comprehensive plan in 50 years, has not been invited to be a partner in hosting either meeting,” said Valerie Leonard, a member of NLCCC’s executive subcommittee.

In a letter published in Crain’s Chicago Business earlier this month, NLCCC members noted that the organization “supports development that is consistent with our core values of transparency, accountability and sincere and authentic community engagement.”

They also advocated for numerous conditions that they believe will “maximize opportunities for current residents and local business owners,” including implementing legally binding agreements that allow local residents, minority contractors and other disadvantaged businesses “to get a chunk of the contracting opportunities,” using tax credits to hire ex-offenders and low-income residents and “adhering to an agreement to prioritize local hiring,” among other recommendations.

 

Located directly west of the United Baptist Church, the development site has been vacant for over 30 years. A number of developments have been proposed for the site but none have materialized. Most recently, the site was pitched as an alternative site for the Obama Presidential Library.

Matzke told the residents that there were several reasons why Clarius wanted to build the campus at that particular location. It’s located close to Eisenhower Expressway and close to the Loop, and it’s rare that the developers have an opportunity to work with land that’s large enough for modern industrial campus. The surrounding neighborhood has enough residents to provide a customer base for retailers and a workforce for the companies involved. 

“I believe deeply in construction projects creating opportunities for jobs,” Matzke said.

According to a handout provided at the meeting, the campus will have three industrial buildings. The first two buildings will be suitable for warehousing, light manufacturing and distribution, and each one will be designed to host more than one tenant. Building 1 will be 67,000 square feet, while Building 2 will be 109,100 square feet. They will be located in the north half of the lot, so that the tenants would have an easier time reaching Eisenhower Expressway. 

The third industrial building, which will be built after the first two, will be 143,750 square feet. It will be located on the south half of the lot and will be customized to the tenant’s needs. After the industrial portion is complete, three retail buildings will be built on the Roosevelt Road side of the lot, taking up a total of 60,850 square feet.

The two halves of the development are separated by a railroad embankment. Project architect Eric Johnson said that traffic on Kostner Avenue will be exclusive to trucks, since the street has an underpass low enough to let trucks through. Trucks won’t enter the development though 5th Ave., he said, because Clarius wanted to ensure that they won’t pose any problems for Sumner Elementary School.

According to the timeline on the handout, the first two buildings are expected to be finished by Spring 2018, while the third industrial building and retail buildings will be built between Summer 2018 and Fall 2019.

Throughout the presentation, Matzke repeatedly emphasized that he wanted to make sure North Lawndale residents and businesses were involved in the project.

“We want this to be a partnership with the community,” he said. “We are working to partner up with a North Lawndale-based company to develop this project. Our builder is going to partner with a North Lawndale construction company. We haven’t built anything in the community and we need someone who has [local] experience.”

Matzke said that, under the terms of the sales agreement, the company is required to use union labor, which, he said, can be a problem for job-seekers in a community like North Lawndale.

“The challenge sometimes is that union trades are underrepresented in communities like these,” he said.

But Matzke said that Clarius would encourage its sub-contractors to hire from the community and offer apprenticeship opportunities.

“We can’t control all those thing, but and were going to make sure that people who work with us would at least think about that,” he said, adding that he believes the project will create roughly 318 construction jobs.

Once the first phase is completed and tenants start to move in, Clarius would encourage them to hire from the community. Under the terms of the sale, the company set aside $1 million to offer as an incentive to the companies whose workforce for the project comprises at least 50 percent local hires.

Scott added that he was planning to use funds from the Roosevelt/Cicero TIF district, which includes the industrial campus site, to provide job training. According to the 2014 annual report for the TIF, the most recent annual report available on the City of Chicago’s website, it had $11,305,1351 available through the end of that year.

According to the handout, the company will be working with the Greater Westside Community Development Corporation to help residents find job opportunities. In response to a question from a meeting attendee, Scott also said that they would be working with the North Lawndale Employment Network to provide job opportunities for residents who did time in prison. Scott said that his priority was to make sure that the project will increase job opportunities in his ward.

“It’s a heck of a lot of jobs they’re intent on creating and I know that we’re sorely in need of jobs,” he said.

One of the residents asked Matzke and Scott what they would do to ensure that local homeowners aren’t be priced out if the project leads to increased property values, and with it, property taxes. Scott said if that happens he will work with his constituents to reduce their individual tax burden.

“(I’ll tell you) how to access tax rebates and how to access city services that will allow you to stay in your home,” the alderman said.

To ensure that all residents will have a chance to ask questions about the project, Scott scheduled a follow-up meeting for Sept. 8. It will take place at 6 p.m, at the Homan Square Community Center 3517 W. Arthington St. The alderman said that there will be more meetings in the future.