The future of the Fulton-Randolph Market District could well look back on its past. Representatives of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development described an ambitious plan for ongoing development of the district. That plan will pay respect to the feel of the district’s heritage, even down to the exterior building design and streetscapes.
There’s more than a little synergy between Chicago’s history as a food distribution hub and the activity in the Fulton-Randolph Market District today. Walk down West Randolph and you find a cornucopia of restaurants. Two blocks north on Fulton Market the food processing industry continues to operate. Of course, the area is also experiencing growing pains with condos, apartments and even some signs of life with new retailers.
All of these divergent growth factors convinced the city that a plan was needed. Nearly 250 people jammed into VenueOne at 1044 West Randolph last night to hear the Department’s initial ideas. Hosting the meeting was 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Junior.
Why a plan at all? D.P.D. coordinating planner Benet Haller said the city wants to respect the prevailing area, its history and building design. The time is right, he explained, to ensure the future of the area is well-thought out and takes advantage of its uniqueness.
Assistant Commissioner Eleanor Gorski said the plan called for designation of the area as a historic district. Gorski said the Fulton-Randolph Market District has the right characteristics to achieve both National Historic District registry and registration as a Chicago landmark. If successful, it would become Chicago’s 54th landmark district.
An area, district, building (or even a work of art) must meet two of six criteria to obtain landmark status. Those criteria are: (1) critical part of the city’s heritage; (2) represent a significant historic event; (3) involve a significant person; (4) be significant architecturally; (5) be the work of an important architect; (6) have a significant theme; and/or (6) have a unique visual feature.
D.P.D. officials believe the area meets three of the criteria. A plan would enforce certain exterior guidelines for new development in the district. The design of new buildings would basically look like they fit in the neighborhood.
The proposed land use plan for the area consists of four zones:
- Innovative Industries: The northern chunk stretching to Hubbard Street, with light manufacturing, wholesale and high-tech companies.
- Randolph Row (a.k.a. Restaurant Row), where you’ll be able to eat yourself into a coma.
- Fulton Market: One option being considered is an actual open air farmer’s market, along with retail, service, commercial, wholesale and light manufacturing.
- Stay And Play: Which includes residential development on the eastern half of Lake Street.
The fourth proposed zone, Stay and Play, caused a bit of heartburn on the part of residents, based on a half-dozen comments from locals following the presentation. At issue was the potential for 15-story hotels and other high-rise residential development on Lake Street, which already is a tough stretch of road to drive on. West Loop residents usually break out in hives at the prospect of any new building exceeding nine stories. The D.P.D. staff assured the residents that the current zoning would not be wiped out, but rather each potential new development would be evaluated on its own merits.
Another interesting feature being considered is a gateway at Halsted Street and Fulton Market to establish a focal point for the entrance to the district. The gateway could conceivably mirror some visual elements for which the Fulton-Randolph Market District is known. A few preliminary designs were shown. One was a cantilevered piece of wood (which looked something like an elongated banana). Another was a steel arch that took its inspiration from innovation industries, like the crew from Google that will soon inhabit the 1K Fulton development. A third possible gateway design was a food-inspired theme. Again, it was a bit primitive on the screen, and looked like a neon slab of beef.
This unveiling of the basics of a plan was just the first step in a longer process. A follow-up public meeting with a draft plan and guidelines will be held on May 21st. Then, the plan goes before the Chicago Plan Commission in June. If adopted, the full plan would eventually impact any new development in the district. A traffic study is also planned, as are infrastructure improvements.