Ever wonder why there aren’t corn or soybean fields in The Loop? Probably not. I think you know why. There is a fundamental concept in real estate that dictates that land should always be put to its highest and best use. It make sense, right? Why would you utilize a precious resource in a less than optimal way?
However, there is this 22 acre tract of land in Chicago that has always mystified me. Right on the edge of Lincoln Park, at 2011 N. Southport, 4 miles and 9 minutes from downtown, there is a steel plant. It’s the A. Finkl & Sons Co. factory, complete with scrap metal processing and smelters. (Curiously, they think they are located in the Near North Side.) For the longest time, every time I drove by that place, bounded on the East by really expensive housing, I couldn’t figure out why that place was there. Surely a steel plant is not the highest and best use of that property and surely Chicago could use more housing close to downtown. So I always figured that the Finkl family had some irrational attachment to the steel business.
Well, I have subsequently found out that it’s not the Finkls that are irrational, but actually Mayor Daley. You see, according to this week’s Crain’s Mayor Daley has this campaign to keep manufacturing jobs in the city and has refused to change the industrial zoning of this tract of land, which would raise the value of the land from $29 MM to $80 MM. Hence, $51 MM of economic value is being wasted and this all seems to run counter to the mayor’s other goal of affordable housing.
The article goes on to talk about how Finkl has been threatening to move out of the city entirely if the zoning is not changed and how certain financial subsidies are being discussed. Sounds like more waste to me.
What I don’t understand is what is the magic about manufacturing jobs that the mayor wants to preserve them. All I can say is that it sure is a good thing that the mayor wasn’t around 100 years ago because today Michigan Ave would be lined with liverys and horse drawn buggy shops surrounded by cornfields.