WIN: City Approves Conversion of Cameron Building Into Manufacturing Incubator

“Since starting out five years ago on Chicago Avenue in West Town as a prized project of former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the manufacturing incubator mHUB has been doing noble work.

“It connects emerging entrepreneurs, many of them minorities, to the funding and advanced know-how needed to get started. The organization said it has had a hand in 500 startups and business expansions that have gone on to create 4,000 jobs. Its ultimate mission is to make sure Chicago keeps its place in global manufacturing, whatever happens with financial pressures and supply chains.

“Factory jobs are good for economic diversity and a source of decent wages for jobs that might not require advanced degrees. So the average person has a rooting interest in mHUB’s success.

“It’s coming because mHUB is embarking on a $46.8 million venture for which it is slated to get $17.6 million in city help via tax increment financing plus state funding of $9.6 million. The incubator’s equity in the project is $350,000.

“The agreement would let mHUB acquire a nearly century-old three-story building with a clock tower at 240 N. Ashland Ave. It has a contract to pay $32.5 million for the building owned by Peppercorn Capital. In turn, mHUB can vacate leased space at 965 W. Chicago Ave. The plan is for the sale to close early in 2023 and for mHUB to occupy the new space by the end of that year.

“It’s a classy building, listed in the city’s historic resources survey as contributing to the character of the Kinzie Industrial Corridor. The area runs west of the hot Fulton Market District and is feeling the development pressure from it. The building used to be a Cook Brothers warehouse store and then the home of Crate & Barrel spinoff CB2, but has been vacant since 2019.

“City officials said the subsidy agreement would encourage growth in manufacturing jobs while preserving a building that otherwise would fall prey to the next residential developer. Helping mHUB, said Assistant Planning Commissioner Terrence Johnson, would be ‘a catalyst for a key economic sector that has previously been identified as a city priority.’

“Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox attributed the above-market price to the presence of other bidders in an area where attractive parcels are getting snapped up. ‘The building comes at a pretty high cost, but it’s also a prestigious building. ‘This is a brick-and-mortar investment that we’re making in the future of light manufacturing in Chicago,’ Cox said.” (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/14/22)

“The Thielbar and Fugard designed Prairie Style Cameron Building was built in 1926 and served as a manufacturing plant for many years for the Cameron Can Company, before becoming the headquarters for Crate & Barrel’s CB2 until 2019. Now mHUB is looking to leave its current 63,000-square-foot location at 965 W Chicago Avenue in River West and purchase the 80,000-square-foot historical site, as their current lease expires by next year and rents skyrocket. The manufacturing focused start-up incubator has led to 410 patents, 3,900 new jobs, and millions in raised capital for its companies.” (Achong, Chicago YIMBY, 11/20/22)

As part of this significant investment of public funds, Preservation Chicago strongly encourages the City of Chicago to consider Chicago Landmark designation for the Cameron Building / Cook Brothers Building. This building is a strong candidate for designation considering its design by notable architects and significant building history.

While Preservation Chicago strongly encourages the use of City funds to restore and reactivate Chicago Landmarks and Landmark eligible buildings, we maintain that application for Chicago Landmark designation status be a requirement for eligibility for the significant investment of public funds.


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