The Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Ave. has been sitting empty for over a decade, and its potential redevelopment is of interest to a whole lot of people in the surrounding area. So it was no surprise that last night’s community meeting regarding this property was incredibly well attended. We counted at least 150 people packed into the Saint Charles Senior Center, interested in getting an update on the property, and eager to give their thoughts on how it should get redeveloped.
The meeting started with a brief intro from SOSNA, and then Cecil Baker, the architect for the project, spoke for a few minutes about the history of the property. Mr. Baker indicated a desire to preserve the middle section of the building, which dates back to 1865 and forms an L-shape from east to west, as well as the smokestack building at the corner of 22nd & Washington. This would present a challenge, as preserving the historic sections of the building would leave a relatively small space for redevelopment on Washington Avenue. On the other hand, it would open up the opportunity to develop proper scale of skinny Kimball Street, replacing the blank wall that’s been on the south side of the block since the 1970s.
U3 Ventures, the development partner for the project, then took over the meeting. They broke the room up into different groups to discuss relevant topics relating to the project. Groups included Washington Avenue, Parking & Mobility, Amenties, Types of Housing, and Preservation vs. New Construction. We made our way around the room, listening in on different conversations, and picked up a number of conflicting opinions on what the neighbors desire. Some people want a ton of density with a bunch of rental apartments, while others want to see townhomes for sale. There was a similar divide between types of businesses people hope for, with some wishing for mom and pop type businesses and others looking for national chains (keep dreaming of Trader Joes, folks). In general, the groups looking at preservation seemed to think that was a good idea, though we wonder how the developers will be able to work around having the historic section of the building in the middle of the site. And of course, just about everyone was worried about parking.
The next step for the developer and U3 is to take this feedback and somehow incorporate it into a coherent plan for the property. As we detailed above, there are some real conflicts in terms of what people would like to see here, so it will be fascinating to see just what U3 puts together in their development proposal. The next meeting on this property is set to take place sometime after Labor Day, and that’s the meeting where we should finally get some specifics on how the developers will develop the site. Until then, we’ll open up the floor to wild speculation in the comments section.