The largest spec warehouse in over a century builds on Chicago’s history

Chicago is a city renowned for its architectural heritage. This includes storied office towers like the Wrigley Building and Willis Tower, as well as modern multifamily masterpieces like 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and Marina City. Even retail gets its due with the hulking Merchandise Mart that owned many superlatives in its day.

But what of industrial? Was this asset class left out as the Windy City’s real estate history was forged? Not quite.

In 1905, Chicago birthed an industrial marvel: the first planned manufacturing district in the United States. The Central Manufacturing District (CMD) would eventually encompass 265 acres in an area roughly bounded by 35th Street, Morgan Street, Pershing Road and Ashland Avenue.

It wasn’t by accident that Carl Sandburg described Chicago as the “Hog Butcher for the World, / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler.” The CMD was instrumental to this reputation, as it connected the city’s industrial companies to the trunk railroad lines serving the rest of the country. Ten years after its creation, it and the adjacent Union Stock Yards served 200 companies and 40,000 employees.

Today, the interconnected, industrial incubator that was the CMD is gone. There are still manufacturers and food packers in the area, but nowhere near at the level of a century ago. But the advantages that initially drew industrial uses to the area—namely its central location and rail infrastructure—are still present, along with proximity to expressways and a robust fiber optic capacity.

That’s what has attracted developers to Pershing and Western on the city’s southwest side, just blocks from the original site of the CMD. There, they are constructing Chicago’s largest speculative industrial project since the Central Manufacturing District.

Branded as Marina Crossings, the development is a joint venture between MAT Limited Partnership and institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset ManagementCushman & Wakefield are representing the landlord, tasked with attracting new tenants to the property.

“Where the former CMD is recognizing some higher and better uses now, this building, we’re hoping, will do the same thing for Chicago that [the CMD] did in 1905,” said Larry Goldwasser, senior director, Cushman & Wakefield. “That is, provide a place for businesses to grow and provide a lot of employment for the neighborhood, provide services for people in the city and really kind of mimic what the CMD was doing.”

The older, multi-story industrial buildings in the neighborhood have for the most part been converted to loft office and residential space, as they are no longer fit for today’s industrial needs. That leaves a vacuum in the market place waiting to be filled in by a development like Marina Crossings.

“A lot of the older industrial buildings can’t really accommodate industrial uses anymore, so this is helping to support the industrial base while the older buildings are getting repurposed,” Goldwasser said.

Scheduled for completion this fall, Marina Crossings is unique in that, though it is on an infill location within five miles of Chicago’s CBD, it is a massive project on par with new developments going up on greenfield sites in Chicago’s exurbs. The finished building will be 633,000 square feet, with 32-foot ceilings, cross docking, precast construction and ample expandable car and trailer parking, on a 35-acre, rail-served property.

The I-55 Corridor has become an important industrial thoroughfare in the Chicago market. As it extends into Chicago proper, it becomes more focused on two main uses: e-commerce and food processing. Goldwasser sees a lot of parallels between those two sectors.

“Really, food distribution was the original last mile delivery. That’s the way we look at it,” Goldwasser said. “Everyone’s talking about e-commerce now, where they need to be able to get to their end user immediately. That’s really what food distribution always has been in Chicago. It really hasn’t changed. The food distributors need to be just as close to the population as e-commerce, last mile delivery facilities do.”

With the I-55 Corridor connecting bulk distribution centers further south with last mile fulfillment facilities in the city, the neighborhoods along this corridor are seeing significant e-commerce, cold storage and general distribution activities. Marina Crossings is perfectly positioned to provide an ideal real estate solution for companies wishing to take advantage of its size, location, access to a labor pool of nearly two million and Chicago’s vast population of customers.

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