Friday, June 24, 2011

Brewery and Political Attention Coming to Motor Row Entertainment District

If you're like us, there is something about the area around Cermak that is intriguing. We can't put our finger on it, but we love it. Maybe it's the old industrial buildings, maybe it's the notorious history (see old al capone stories) or maybe it's the lack of residential identity...whatever it is, we like it.

However, besides looking around or heading to Chinatown, there aren't many reasons to go south to Cermak (obviously there are some restaurants and businesses, but there definitely isn't a critical mass).

This area is also home to the historic Motor Row district, which back in the early 1900s was were many peeps in the city came to shop for cars (for more info check wikipedia here). If you go down Michigan Avenue south of Cermak you can see some of the old buildings with huge glass windows that use to showcase the cars. Obviously this isn't the case anymore, but in the recent years there was a push to turn this area into a "entertainment district".

What does this mean, well we're not exactly sure. We presume it's means special zoning to encourage a certain type of business/building, but it's not clear to us. Although this has been the talk of the neighborhood for awhile, not much progress has been made (probably due to the recession and housing buble).

However, the Chicago Journal recently had some stories about Alderman Fioretti's intentions to focus on this district again:

On South Michigan Avenue, high rises rule. Towering glass and steel monoliths line the street from downtown all the way to Cermak Road.

But crossing Cermak, the streetscape suddenly changes. All of a sudden, every building is low-slung, and big pane glass windows dominate, framed by ornate moldings.Welcome to Motor Row.

Built during the auto industry's boom years in the early 20th century, car dealerships lined the three blocks from Cermak to the Stevenson Expressway. Today, the neighborhood is quiet and largely residential, with a few businesses.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) aims to change that, turning the strip into a de facto entertainment district on the edge of the South Loop. To get it done, he's pitching a change in city council that would turn the zoning from a mixed-use district to a downtown service district.

Sounds good to us and hopefully he can get some momentum going. Interestingly enough, the Chicago Journal had another article on the topic yesterday saying a brewery is planning on opening up shop in Motor Row:

The Near South Side’s first microbrewery could be on the way, one of the first major businesses moving in as part of the push to revive Motor Row on South Michigan Avenue.

Bob Lassandrello of Hinsdale, a trader at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, is leading the charge to bring in the brewery. He bought the two buildings at 2335 and 2337 S. Michigan Ave. with a group of other investors right after the real estate market crash, and he’s hoping to finally make something of the space.

This would be amazing news for the area and truly bring more attention and presumably more pedestrian traffic to the stretch. Our only concern is that the initial plans for the brewery are to only produce beer and not have a bar/food. Not sure it would be much of a destination if you can only see the machines and taste the beer, but it's progress nonetheless. The bar/food might be the second phase according to the article, we hope it's included in the first.

Regardless, it would be great to see an anchor business come to this stretch and would definitely help the area develop. It's also refreshing to hear that the alderman's sights are focused on this area again.


Anonymous said...

Sounds awesome, only thing that worries me is that they are focusing on a lager, a boring style dominated by big beer and snubbed by beer lovers. A pale ale is a pretty conservative choice as well. I'm surprised someone "enthusiastic" about beer would start with these, but I hope it'll work out for them. Sounds like a great addition to the hood.

Anonymous said...

mmmm beer...

Anonymous said...

This is AWESOME news! It would be great to see this area developed toward the YUPPIE crowd 30+, people with money. I'm tired of having to leave the area for more upscale choices. The S. Loop needs an area similar to the Viagra Triangle. With McCormick Place and maybe a casino in that area lets do it right the first time! It could be an awesome destination in our back yards.

Gear the area North of Roosevelt for college age types and South of Roosevelt for the adults with a disposable income to support higher end places. AND flush out all the gangs…reclaim that area!

Fearless Radio said...

Fearless Radio enjoys the Motor Row district - it's an incredible neighborhood with McCormick and the Lake right in our back yard! The buildings you speak of in terms of the new brewery are our neighbors, same block. There are quite a few of us here who would be ecstatic to see a brewery come to the block!

Anonymous said...

Any chance Accupela/Flavor 180/Donnas/ might expand? Hopefully?!

Anonymous said...

Fearless Radio - You guys are great and bring people/artists to the studio/area everyday, so I hope there will be a couple of bars/restaurants for you and us to go to soon. Also - are there days that you are OPEN TO THE PUBLIC to stop by or events we can attend?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone caught wind of the South Loop Brewing Company? It's definitely in the works, but I don't think they've found a site yet and it's definitely not the same group mentioned in the aforementioned article. Sounded much more authentic to me...

Anonymous said...

Who ever said:

Any chance Accupela/Flavor 180/Donnas/ might expand? Hopefully?!
June 24, 2011 11:38 AM

I want to either compliment you on a great dry and sarcastic post or sit here in disbelief if you actually meant that.

Anonymous said...

This would be great! Get it started and hopefully it will develop into a good brewpub!
Anon 11:20, are you kidding? Yuppie Crow? Viagra Triangle? Sounds horrible.

Anonymous said...

Not sure why this is a surprise. (Agree it is a great use).

This was called out for in the Near South Community Plan since 2003, and the Motor Row Landmark plans.

They actually have some good ideas in there. said...

Great news for us. Go to the brewery, grab a six pack and come
to Chef Luciano for good food and
beer. You know we are BYOB.

Anonymous said...

In my younger days we targeted a certain warehouse over there for a loft party, I wish to return to drink beer.

Anonymous said...

Only way I eat at a restaurant south of cermack is if kevlar vests are on the menu.

What a complety dumb idea. Who the hell is going to dine out in that area? Conventioneers whose hotels are 25 blocks north? Don't think so!

Anonymous said...

Is Flavor 180 that bad to lump it in with Donna's and Acapella? Havent been there yet.

Motor Row Brewery? Awesome! I really think this area can grow into something great. The name Motor Row is a great start. Motor Row Bar and Grill Motor Row Casino(maybe) Motor Row Cafe Motor Row Dog and Kennel Motor Row Bakery.

You get the idea. Much cooler than printers row. Books vs Cars.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't lump Flavor 180 in with the others. I like it. I think it's a little overpriced, but the food I've had there is good.

Anonymous said...

This area will continue to deteriorate as McCormick Place continues to lose more trade shows. Any developer with an ear to the pavement has stayed - and will continue to stay - far away from this location. This is why the only developer to build in this location oveer the past five years is from Ireland (Lexington) - and we all know hos swell that dump has done! It will be a housing project within the next 5 years as taxes and unions continue to force out trade shows. Moreover, even when there is a show at McCormick the vast majority of attendees stay at hotels up on North Michigan Ave or River North (that will always be true).

Fact: so long as this neighborhood is anchored by the housing projects at Michigan and 21st, Michigan and Cullerton, and "historic" Hilliard (HA HA), and they all remain full of welfare-sucking-do-nothings, this area will NEV-VER thrive. Anyone who thinks/says otherwise is only fooling themselves. With all the towers of Cabrini torn down, this area has the highest concentration of housing project towers anywhere!

Allen said...

Anon 9:15am - Have you been to the area? It's 90% women over the age of 50 in those buildings? However, I agree, the time has come for the Buildings to come down as it is a blight to the area. Also, McCormick Place affects Businesses, NOT building residential units; so when you say Lexington Park, you are correct, but there were only 2 other residential projects that did not get complete. Lofts on Row II and a building on Indiana. Lastly, that is exactly why Boutique HOTELS are being built in the area (stay tuned) along with high end restaurants.

Anonymous said...

Yes Chicago made a grave mistake not building McCormick place area up sooner. The decay slowly took over. This is part of the reason they suffer to draw attendees. The other reason is their union and rules.

Both the city and McCormick place realize the area around there needs to be a draw. It will take time to change but the incentive is there.

Negative Ned or Nancy! Imagine an area with hotels, restaurants and things to do around McCormick place.

Anonymous said...

The guys at Flavor 180 are really nice, but the food is really not worth the price and it takes a loooong time. I was there when it was pretty much dead and it took 30 minutes. $9-15 and 30 minute waits do not work for fast food.

Beyond the price and the wait, I have no idea how they plan on building a customer base when the exterior does nothing to communicate what kind of food they serve (maybe say something like "Comfort Food with Healthy Options" on the window), until you get right up to the menu.

I could see them succeeding maybe if they focus on delivery, particularly to business in the Loop and local residences once the Chicago winter hits again. But not many people are going to pay that much to wait that long in a fast food place.

Anonymous said...


You are spot on. This area is a gold mine waiting to happen. Granted I thought the original list price of the lofts was a bit high due to developers wanting to steal the pioneer capital gains (money that pioneers could make by putting up with the issues for living in a gentrifying area until it becomes stable)

But for that, buyers can be happy that the actual quality of the Lofts completed in that area (like Motor Row Lofts) are actually much better in than most you will find in the rest of the South Loop and Near South side due to the Landmark review process that was required for every detail.

With two other major restaurant investors owning properties, it is not a question of if, but when.

The problem is after McCormick Place sold much of Motor Row properties, they are marching on independently with various proposals without a cohesive or integrated plan with the surrounding area on Cermak or Motor Row.

For example instead of McPier taking on all the risk of building a 2nd huge Hyatt above the east garage now, as they have been proposing, private investors could do several boutique hotels that both anchor the area and provide services to retain convention goers. It would be much cheaper than a huge Hyatt and more beneficial to the community and the Hyatt/McPier, which would then ultimately justify the 2nd Hyatt later. The order of development makes a difference.

Quite frankly, I was surprised to see the Lexington not go hotel. Like Roosevelt collection, this property could have been purchased and converted affordably compared to starting a hotel from scratch.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that convention-goers will always stay farther North in the Loop/River North/etc and not near McCormick. There have been many conferences I've been to where I've been forced, either for convenience or due to pricing agreements with the nearby hotels, that I've had to stay near the conference center. I could see that happening with McCormick as well. Not immediately, but eventually.

Anonymous said...

Would love to see potential realized along Motor Row. But, I have to agree with all the "negative nancys" who tout the closeness of the various housing projects as a major detriment. The negative impact of all the section 8 dumping grounds between McCormick and Chinatown cannot be understated.

As a businessman who travels frequently to trade shows, I assure you that Chicago's top competitor's in the convention business (Vegas, New Orleans, and Orlando) put on a much better show at first blush when you step out of the convention center. Everyone always complains about the fact that you must board shuttle buses in Chicago to get anywhere close to an entertainment/dining district.

Anonymous said...

For another reason Motor Row probably won't ever realize it's true potential, see the coverage of WGN's 'cover story' Monday night. The entire special was devoted to "Where did the resident's of CHA's demolished projects go?" The theme that resonated throughout the program was summed up by the quote of one resident who moved into an apartment building in Bronzeville, when he said "we turning these places into projects." There were interviews with numerous "residents" who all now list Bronzeville as their address. Bronzeville is steps from Motor Row. Thus, Motor Row is located between Bronzeville to the south and Hilliard/Long Grove/Michigan & Cullerton projects to the north. Couple that with the fact that McCormick, even when a show is in town (fewer and fewer these days), is dark after 6 pm.