Home Production studio Movie production studio on Logan Square-Avondale border would bring needed jobs, say supporters, but some feel left out of process

Movie production studio on Logan Square-Avondale border would bring needed jobs, say supporters, but some feel left out of process

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AVONDALE – The developer behind The Fields, a massive commercial/residential development on the Logan Square/Avondale border, is looking to open a film production studio, a project that could transform the area.

But the developer could face a hurdle in its quest to bring Hollywood to the Northwest: some community leaders, including state Rep. Will Guzzardi, are sounding the alarm over what they call a opaque community process. Executives said they feared the developer and Ald. Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), who represents the site, did not solicit enough comment from the community.

“A development of this magnitude … will have far-reaching implications” for area residents, said Guzzardi, who represents Logan Square, Avondale, Hermosa and Belmont Cragin, the neighborhoods around the site.

“The community needs to have a say in what happens there. If there’s a solid process engaging the community and they decide they want it there, then I’m all for it. It’s not yet clear what happened,” he said.

New York developer Knickpoint Ventures wants to convert part of The fields campus at 4000 W. Diversey Ave. into a film production studio as part of the redevelopment of the 22-acre property. The studio would be similar to Cinespace on the West Side in that TV shows and movies would be filmed and produced there, according to the Grandstandwho broke the news first.

The Northwest Side project has been “on the table” for several months now, but has recently been finalized, said Zain Koita, founder and managing partner of Knickpoint Ventures.

Koita said his team is working with city officials and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office to bring the project to life after months of collecting community feedback. He told the Grandstand they hired Los Angeles-based film industry consultant RoadTown Enterprises to conduct a feasibility study.

The mayor’s Chicago Recovery Task Forcewhich was formed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, wants to grow the film industry in Chicago.

In a report, the task force said that film and television production can “quickly create a variety of jobs that benefit our communities – a mix of high-paying and low-skilled jobs, including catering, security, building and more”.

“The ongoing redevelopment of The Fields is a great example of the repurposing of historic assets in the Chicago neighborhood for modern uses, and we look forward to ongoing discussions about new investments in the complex,” said the gate-keeper. Lightfoot’s word, Christine Carrino, in an emailed statement.

Koita and his team need zoning approval from the city before they can start renting the space to production companies.

Credit: Google Maps
The Fields, a 1.5 million square foot warehouse cluster located at 4000 W. Diversey Ave.

The project has the unequivocal support of Cardona, the alderman of the 31st district, who said it will create jobs in the area and improve existing restaurants and small businesses struggling during the pandemic. People who work at the studio will eat lunch at local restaurants and stop at family-run shops in the area, the alderman said.

“It will benefit everyone in the community,” Cardona said. “Economic development is essential, now more than ever.”

Cardona said he held a community meeting about the project last year and was holding another meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. “to jog people’s memories.” Meetings are restricted to residents who live near the property, not the wider community.

“They are the ones who are going to see this, live with this, so they are the ones who should be told,” Cardona said.

Cardona said the community feedback he received was overwhelmingly positive, but some residents said they felt they were left out of the process.

Neighbor Coleman Brice, a board member of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and owner of Cole’s Bar, said he had no idea there were plans to open a film production studio on the campus of The Fields until very recently. He said other residents are also “in the dark” as the project moves forward.

“It makes me nervous to feel like big aspects of this development are going under the radar and without adequate community input,” Brice said.

“It could be a win for everyone”

The film production studio is the latest project designed to revitalize the cluster of former brick warehouses at Diversey Avenue and Pulaski Road, the former home of Olson Rug & Carpet and Marshall Field’s.

In recent years, Knickpoint Ventures and developers before it have relaunched the 1.5 million square foot property to include a mix of loft apartments, offices, a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store and more.

The Federal Savings Bank is expected to open an office in the building next month, Koita said.

Credit: Taylor Johnson Public Relations
The former Marshall Field warehouses at 4000 W. Diversey Ave. have been converted into 123 modern lofts.

Now Knickpoint Ventures, who bought the site from Merit Partners in 2018is looking to modify its development plan to redevelop other parts of the campus.

The amendment was introduced several months ago but was delayed by the pandemic. It is expected to be put to a vote at the Chicago Plan Commission’s next hearing on February 18.

As part of the amendment, the developer wants to construct a 50-foot-tall building on the northwest corner of campus near the Metra tracks.

Koita said the building will replace an existing structure that is “functionally obsolete” and needs to be redeveloped whether or not the film production studio comes to fruition.

The studio is just one of the intended uses for the site, Koita said. If the project doesn’t receive zoning approval, Koita said they could bring in manufacturers or more retailers and keep the building “as it is today.”

But the community stands to gain a lot of jobs and economic activity if the plan goes ahead, Koita said.

The Chicago Recovery Task Force found that Illinois has nearly 14,000 film production jobs, and more than half are held by women and minorities.

“What we’ve learned through this process, and from the city, is that cinema is a tremendous source of job creation, especially unionized jobs, jobs that aren’t white collar,” said Koita said. “We think that’s a very positive thing, given the unemployment and closed storefronts in the area.”

Brice and other residents said they supported the type of development that would generate lots of jobs, but wanted the developer to sign a community benefits agreement to ensure those jobs benefit people in the community.

“With the proper community oversight and benefits agreement in place, this could be a win for everyone,” Brice said.

But Koita said a community benefits agreement is not applicable to this situation because Knickpoint Ventures would only be the landlord and the production companies would be the tenants using the building on a day-to-day basis.

“The focus should be on the moment: can we get this project done so that we have these jobs to discuss?” says the developer.

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