The Chicago City Council is set to approve the zoning changes that will clear the way for the redevelopment of the former White Cap Bottle Company complex at 1819 N. Major Ave. in Austin. 

The L-shaped complex is made up of the 7-story manufacturing building at 1819-1833 N. Major Ave., and a warehouse at 1812 N. Central Ave.  Miami-based Lionheart Capital, which acquired the property in 2017, is looking to rehab the building and lease it out to multiple industrial and commercial tenants to rent. That required the City Council to approve a zoning change to allow for commercial uses. 

The zoning change application cleared the Chicago Plan Commission on Aug. 26 and the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on Sept. 8. The zoning change now heads for the full City Council, where it is likely to be approved. The council is expected to vote on the ordinance on Sept. 14. 

Lionheart Capital representatives told the plan commission that they wouldn’t be looking for tenants until they finish rehabbing the building.

White Cap Bottle Company was best known for inventing the vacuum-sealed bottle lids and twist-off bottle caps. Originally based in Goose Island, the company moved to North Austin in 1930 and the factory stayed open until 2002. The factory is one of the largest vacant buildings in the Armitage Industrial Corridor, which is clustered around the section of the Milwaukee District West Metra Line tracks between Cicero and Oak Park avenues.

Lionheart owns a number of hotels, shopping plazas and retail buildings throughout the country, but White Cap complex is one of only two properties it owns in the Chicagoland area. The company originally submitted the zoning change application in September 2020. 

Brian Hacker, the city coordinating planner for the West Side region, told the plan commission that the Department of Planning and Development supports those plans, pointing to the fact that, between 2005 and 2017, “production of goods” uses has been growing, office use nearly tripled and “industrial related services” use declined by around 45 percent. 

Hacker said that Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes the entire Armitage Industrial Corridor west of Central Avenue, supports the project as well.

According to the plans submitted to the city, Lionheart would turn the first floor of the warehouse building into an indoor 139-space parking garage. About two-thirds of the abandoned rail spur on the south side of the warehouse would be turned into the driveway leading to the garage. The rest of the right of way would be turned into a small garden with elm trees.

The second floor of the warehouse building would be split up into leased spaces and Lionheart plans to build an elevator to connect the two floors. With the factory building, the plans currently call for the first two floors to be leased out for industrial or commercial use, with the rest leased out for warehouse use.

Bicycle parking would be provided at the south end of the factory building, near the existing loading docks, which the company plans to retain. Renderings suggest space for at least 32 bikes. 

Lionheart will retain existing entrances on Major and Central avenues. CTA bus route 85 serves Central Avenue, and the building is roughly 1,000 feet from the Milwaukee District West Line’s Hanson Park Metra station at 5621 W. Armitage Ave. 

Hacker said that the project is expected to create 150 construction jobs, with at least 50 percent Chicago resident participation, but there are no community participation requirements.

Project attorney Nick Ftikas said that before acquiring tenants, the company wants to secure the zoning change and complete the refurbishments “to make the property a little more marketable.” Ftikas added that they will be working with Taliaferro’s office to secure the tenants.

“As the building gets closer to delivery, we will advertise through his office,” he said. “[We will be] working closely with the alderman to make sure [suitable] tenants and local tenants have opportunities to occupy the building.”

Judith Alexander, head of the North Avenue District Inc, said that she generally welcomes redevelopment of the industrial properties north of North Avenue and expressed hope that Lionheart’s redevelopment would spur more interest in industrial properties in North Austin and Galewood.

“Though I am not familiar with the developer and have not studied the proposed project in detail, it looks like a terrific reuse of a long-vacant industrial building,” she said. “I love to see the interest in North Austin. I think it’s a huge vote of confidence in our area and I’d love to see more of it.” 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...