Possibility of tons of parking at music venue in Morton plant makes some advocates salty

The transportation plan for the venue shows acres of possible event parking (blue.)
The transportation plan for the venue shows acres of possible event parking (blue.)

One of the main downsides of all the new developments coming to the Near North Side along the north branch of the Chicago river, most notably the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment, is that while they will bring thousands of new residents, workers, and visitors to the area, there aren’t a lot of concrete plans for improving transit access so as to avoid generating tons of new car trips.

This problem is reflected in the potentially car-centric plan to turn the old Morton Salt plant into a riverside music venue and office space. As reported by Block Club’s Hanaha Alani, on Thursday the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously signed off on a riverfront planned development agreement at the Morton site, located at 1357 N. Elston Avenue, a couple blocks north of Division Street on the west bank of the waterway. The $30 million, 4.2 acre development is proposed by 1357 Property Owner, LLC, which includes developers Blue Star Properties and R2.

There’s a lot to like about the project, which will create jobs for construction workers, office employees, hospitality workers, and performing artists. And it’s great that the plan calls for preserving the iconic salt factory’s brick facade and a sign painted on the roof that is visible from the Kennedy Expressway.

Rendering of the proposed concert venue with offices.
Rendering of the proposed concert venue with offices.

But at the meeting plan commission members Linda Searl and 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney asked about plans for car parking at the development, Block Club reported. Currently the project includes 17 spaces. Chicago Department of Planning staffer Noah Szafraniec said the proposal won’t be licensed unless the developers provide a plan for more parking. “They cannot go and have a concert here unless they have a site… that has been approved for parking.”

27th Ward alderman Walter Burnett, the local Council member, sensibly noted that Elston is largely abandoned on weekends, so there would be plenty of curbside parking, Alani reported. Burnett added that many concert goers would likely use ride-hail.

The developers say they hope to include the following transportation features in the project:

  • Upgrades to 500 feet of riverwalk
  • Stoplight improvements at Division and Elston
  • A new Divvy station
  • Tearing out railroad tracks and build a new sidewalk on the west side of Magnolia Avenue
  • A westbound left-turn phase at North Avenue and Elston, two block north of the site
  • A new stoplight and pedestrian upgrades at Elston/Magnolia/Blackhawk, just north of the site
Screen Shot 2021-01-27 at 4.27.24 PM
The developers propose a new stoplight at Elston/Magnolia/Blackhawk. Image: Google Maps

But sustainable transportation advocate Michelle Stenzel noted on Twitter that the plans show the potential for acres of new event parking, the blue areas on the site plan at the top of this post. “A new concert venue between Elston and the river would be great, but adding acres of surface parking near the Morton Salt site would be a giant step backwards. This area needs improved public transit!”

Jonathan Snyder, executive director of North Branch Works, told Block Club he’s generally pleased with the Morton plan, but also argued that transit upgrades are needed, such as restoring the old Elston and Clybourn avenue bus lines. “Without quality public transit options, I think it would be a disservice to many communities who have people who are looking for job opportunities,” he said. “I see that as an equity issue.”

Rendering of the Goose Island transitway.
Rendering of the Goose Island transitway.

The City of Chicago has proposed a “transitway” from Lincoln Yards and Goose Island to downtown. That could result in a light rail or bus rapid transit stop within a short walk of the Morton site, which would greatly reduce parking demand. But, again, there hasn’t been concrete action on that concept, which makes it more likely that the new concert venue will be flanked by acres of asphalt.

Read the Block Club article here.

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