THREATENED: Fulton Market Grain Silos and Historic Loft Buildings Sold to Sterling Bay

ADM Wheat Mill, 1300 West Carroll Avenue, Photo Credit: Google Street View
ADM Wheat Mill, 1300 West Carroll Avenue, Photo Credit: Peter Rock

Once a gritty and hardworking meatpacking district, the Fulton Market neighborhood has become a trendy neighborhood with significant investment and the opening of many new bars, restaurants, residences, and offices. Thanks in large part to the highly successful Fulton-Randolph Market Landmark District, approved by Chicago City Council in 2015, many of the protected historic buildings are being renovated. However, many unprotected historic buildings in the West Loop beyond the landmark district boundaries are threatened with demolition.

Shortly after Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) announced plans to close the historic wheat plant in June 2017, a demolition permit was released for the full block site. This is an amazing series of buildings which should be creatively reused for a highly innovative development. Designed by architect William Carbys Zimmerman, the plant was built in 1897 for B.A. Eckhart Milling /Eckhart & Swan Co and has been in operation since that time. Located at 1300 West Carroll Avenue in the Fulton Market District, it has been reported to be Chicago’s last active grain elevator.

In the 1850’s, Chicago was the grain capital of the world. The mill and silo buildings are a direct connection to Chicago’s wheat industry, one of the major industries upon which Chicago was built. As poet Carl Sandburg wrote in his legendary poem “ Chicago”,

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

The wheat mill employs approximately 60 people and its closing is evidence of further erosion to Chicago’s industrial base. ADM operations will be moved to a new facility in Mendota, Illinois, about 90 miles west of Chicago. Ironically, ADM moved its global headquarters from its longtime central Illinois home in Decatur to the Loop in 2014.

The existing 250,000-square-foot ADM mill facility sits on a 2.2-acre site and includes a series of brick loft buildings ranging from three to six stories tall and a soaring concrete structure with more than a dozen of silos. The anticipated buyer is Sterling Bay, one of the most active owners and developers in the Fulton Market (and Lincoln Yards on the North Branch) and is expected to clear the site. The expected sales price is approximately $25 million. The current site zoning would support a building of approximately 457,000 square feet.

As reported by Ryan Ori in the Chicago Tribune, Sterling Bay is exploring the possibility of locating a new Metra commuter rail station at the site, which is immediately adjacent to four train lines which carry 37,000 passengers daily between suburbs and downtown Chicago on the Milwaukee West, Milwaukee North, North Central Service and Union Pacific West lines. It’s unclear if the new station would be a stand-alone structure or integrated into the base of a new building. The cost is unknown and conversations are highly preliminary, but the addition of a new transit rail station at this location would provide a powerful stimulant to continuing the explosive growth of the West Loop as a vibrant mixed use community with office, hotel, restaurants, retail, and residential offerings and to continue to attract companies to the area who which to benefit from the strong access to transit. Metra and the 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett have signaled their conceptual support for the new station.
Parking and traffic congestion are two of the biggest structural challenges to the West Loop’s continued growth.

Preservation Chicago does not consider additional construction at the site, the addition of a new rail station and adaptive reuse to be mutually exclusive. We encourage Sterling Bay to pursue a creative adaptive reuse development that could recognize and celebrate this interesting building and the Chicago history it represents. This is an excellent opportunity to reuse these historic buildings in the proposed new station. The building is green-rated per the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS) which indicates that it was an important building in the Illinois Historic Structures Survey (ISS) in the 1970’s. Its inclusion in both the CHRS and the ISS confirms its architectural significance. Preservation Chicago plans to suggest to the City of Chicago that these structures be considered for Designated Landmark Status.

Additional Reading
Column: Sterling Bay buying ADM wheat mill in Fulton Market, eyes adding Metra station, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 8/23/18

ADM shutting down Chicago flour mill, Crains Chicago Business, Steven Strahler, June 2, 2017

ADM to close Fulton Market wheat mill for new LaSalle County plant, Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune, June 2, 2017

Chicago Landmark Designation: Fulton-Randolph Market District Final Designation Report, May 13, 2015

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