Mars Wrigley will evaluate the community’s draft plan as it reaches a final decision on the future development of its Mars Wrigley candy factory at 2019 N. Oak Park Ave. after it closes in 2024. When announcing its closure, the company said it would donate the land to whichever developer or organization the community chose. In an update shared today, the company said after gathering community input last year, it is moving into the project’s next phase.

The next phase includes internally evaluating the community’s proposal and determining a timeline to engage potential developers. The final decision “will depend on zoning approval, market demand and changing conditions,” the company said in a community engagement report.

Community members, spearheaded by local community groups Austin Coming  Together, Galewood Neighbors and Northwest Center, recommended a mixed-used site that incorporates community areas, green spaces, housing, businesses and a small business park.

“As a community member and part of this organization, we’re very pleased with the outcome [of the community meetings],” said Steve Green, president of Galewood Neighbors, in an interview with Austin Weekly News. He said the draft proposal included in the report captures the community’s desires.

“As a multi-use site, I couldn’t imagine it being more ideal. It has so many different aspects to it that touch on every need or request from the community,” he said.

Yet, the city noted that the long-time manufacturing plant is in two industrial districts – the Planned Manufacturing District #15 and the Armitage Industrial Corridor – which require zoning amendments for non-industrial uses.

These amendments would have to go through the Department of Planning and Development and City Council for a review of the entire planned manufacturing district, not just the Mars Wrigley site. The process could take 18 to 24 months to complete, according to the planning agency remarks included in the community engagement report.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development also noted the city is interested in landmarking the orange-rated office headquarters on the site. In a letter from December 2022 the city agency provided feedback on the community’s draft plan for the site submitted by Mars. Orange-rated buildings are properties classified by the city of Chicago as potential landmarks since they “possess some architectural feature or historical association that made them potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.”

Mars candy factory in Galewood. | Provided

The community’s draft plan includes a “Community Innovation District” where the current plant would be developed into a campus with designated areas for different uses, including nature spaces, connected by a main boulevard. According to the report, community members proposed five main areas.

  • Building a mixed-use development featuring housing and commercial or healthcare spaces next to the adjacent Mars Metra station.
  • Reusing the historic Mars headquarters building for education, training or recreation and adding new buildings to house higher education, health care, professional offices and a business incubator.
  • Creating an outdoor central open space with an amphitheater between the Mars building and the proposed new boulevard and designating a nature space to house a stormwater facility and natural habitat.
  • Designating a space for urban farming with environmental features such as renewable energy and recycling areas.
  • Creating a business park offering flexible space for light manufacturing and artisan production.

The city’s planning agency said some of these uses “are not consistent” with the uses permitted in planned manufacturing districts, though it “does not preclude the possibility of a development that reflects the community’s preferred scheme.” It recommended Mars prioritize evaluating the zoning process.

Mars said it intends to work cooperatively with the city’s Department of Planning and Development and the co-design partners who participated in the community engagement process.

Green said the community is “very happy” they were allowed to participate and give voice to their concerns and desires for the site, adding it is understandable factors like cost, city approvals and developers’ vision will come into play in the future.

 While the company said “no major updates or announcements are expected in 2023,” it will continue to update community members through quarterly newsletters. According to Green, a community meeting may take place later this spring.

“Now we move forward, and feasibility is yes, the main focus,” Green said. “Hopefully we won’t have to change it too much.”