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PORTAGE PARK — After five years of planning, the massive redevelopment of Six Corner's former Peoples Gas site appears to be in limbo, and the developer blames a labor dispute for the delay.

GW Properties has proposed transforming the site along Irving Park Road and Kilpatrick Avenue into 346 apartments and at least a dozen retail stores spread across four one-story commercial buildings and one six-story residential building.

A zoning change for the $110 million project was approved by the city's Plan Commission March 21, sending the proposal to the City Council's Committee on Zoning for further review. But it has been deferred from the committee's agenda five times since April, postponing the final approval the project needs from the full City Council to allow construction to start.

Developer Mitch Goltz told Ecoglobalsociety all of the deferral requests have come from Ald. Jim Gardiner's (45th) office. The alderman did not respond to requests for comment. Goltz said he has not been able to get in touch with Gardiner since March.

The former Peoples Gas site in Portage Park sits overgrown — with a few dozen cars parked in rows — between Irving Park Road, Milwaukee Avenue and Kilpatrick Avenue on June 11, 2024. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

The delay stems from a stalemate between Goltz, the alderman's office and labor unions, Goltz said. He said Gardiner is pushing the developer to agree in writing that he'll hire from one specific union for the project, which Goltz previously said would generate 500-750 constructions jobs over 24 months of work.

Goltz has not committed to that, which he thinks is keeping the project on ice, he said.

Goltz previously said he hoped to start construction at the end of summer. Now, time is running out, he said.

“The project is being held up by the alderman’s office out of their desire to have a private developer enter into labor agreements with a specific union,” Goltz said.

“If we’re not able to get approval in the very near future, this project will just fall apart, and this site will just sit vacant for potentially a very long time.”

A Battle Over Union Workers

Concerns over using union labor have hovered over the project for months.

At the Plan Commission meeting, representatives from LiUNA! Local One Laborers Union and Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers Union Administrative District Council One asked asked Goltz's company to sign a project labor agreement.

Project labor agreements are a type of pre-hired agreement negotiated between an employer and construction unions.

Multiple commission members also made the same request, including Claudette Soto and Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Gilbert Villegas (36th).

“I can just feel in the room that the only thing that's holding this back right now is what we talked about earlier — is ensuring that we have union labor on this site, and I think if you guys agree to that, I think this is a no-brainer,” Gardiner said during the Plan Commission meeting. “This is a lay-up if you can ensure that.”

Goltz didn't commit to that at the time, saying all project contractors will be selected through an open bidding process and his company would reach out to local trade organizations before the bid.

“I can assure you that union labor will be a big part of this project,” Goltz said at the time.

A view of the retail component of the Six Corners development by GW Properties looks in from Irving Park Road. Credit: GW Properties

After the commission meeting, the alderman put Goltz in touch with a union representative to discuss the possibility of signing a project labor agreement, the developer said. Goltz would not name the representative or the union they belonged to.

Goltz said the agreement he was asked to sign would require GW Properties to commit to using labor from one specific union. He declined to say which union the agreement involved or provide a copy of the agreement.

Goltz said he is willing to commit to using 100 percent union labor, but he does not want to be forced to work with one union exclusively.

“It’s the nature of the agreement that’s the problem, not the concept of the agreement,” Goltz said. “The one [project labor agreement] that we were presented with by the alderman’s office is too restrictive.”

The proposed agreement would limit the pool of contractors able to bid on the project and did not include information about specific wages, Goltz said.

“You’re basically signing onto a blind agreement saying, ‘You have to commit to using me, but I’m not going to tell you what my price is or what I can deliver,'” Goltz said.

The former Peoples Gas site in Portage Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

How Project Labor Agreements Work

The United States has a long history of using project labor agreements for publicly and privately funded construction projects, said Frank Manzo IV, an economist at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. The use of such agreements in Illinois has increased under Gov. JB Pritzker, Manzo said.

While each agreement differs, they typically specify wages and safety protocols, include no-strike and no-lockout clauses and provide dispute resolution procedures, Manzo said.

Critics argue the agreements increase construction costs and discriminate against non-union workers. The Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors is suing the Biden administration over an executive order that mandates the use of project labor agreements on federal construction projects of $35 million or more.

However, a recent study from Manzo and Robert Bruno, a labor studies professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, found using such agreements did not reduce bid competition or inflate project costs.

The southeast view of the former Peoples Gas site is seen from inside The Clarendale at Six Corners on June 12, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Ecoglobalsociety

Manzo and Bruno examined how labor agreements impacted projects completed by the Port of Seattle between 2016 and 2023. Focusing on 31 projects bid between $2.5 and $7.5 million, the researchers found projects covered by project labor agreements had 16 percent more bidders and were 23 percent more likely to cost less than their engineer’s estimates.

“In most of these [project labor agreements], if not all of these PLAs, you’re going to be using union labor, and that union labor is dollar for dollar going to cost more, but it’s more skilled, it’s more efficient,” Bruno said.

Projects completed under labor agreements are less likely to be shut down by strikes or labor shortages, and the use of skilled labor often means less injuries and less overtime, Bruno said. They also help attract bids from more qualified contractors, Manzo said.

“A [project labor agreement] would be a way to ensure [contractors] aren’t competing against unscrupulous firms that only have the lowest bid because they aren’t following the law,” Manzo said.

A rendering of the apartment complex planned for the former Peoples Gas site in Six Corners. Credit: Provided/ Ecoglobalsociety

‘It’s The Development Of A Lifetime'

The recent deferrals are just the latest barrier the project has faced.

The development has gone through about 12 iterations since 2019, Goltz said. Initial plans did not include a residential component, but GW Properties redesigned it to include apartments after neighbors protested.

Though the building will be six stories tall, there will only be five floors as the units on the first floor will be three-bedroom duplexes, according to the plans.

The retail portion will include fast-casual restaurants as well as shopping.

Goltz previously said rent prices would be market-rate. Goltz also has committed to building all 69 affordable units required under city ordinance onsite.

Some are getting anxious for the project to move forward. Resident Pete Czosnyka asked zoning commissioners in June to advance it, saying affordable housing is badly needed on the Far Northwest Side. The Six Corners Association sent Gardiner and the commissioners a letter asking them to approve the development.

“This $100 million apartment complex and shopping center has robust community support,” according to the letter. “Our organization has worked closely with GW Properties to formulate a design that brings a beautiful mixture of residential and retail that the local community wants.”

Amie Zander, managing director of the Six Corners Association, said the project would bring needed foot traffic to the area and help local businesses.

“It’s the development of a lifetime,” Zander said. “There will never be another big parcel like this, and we had a great plan.”

The former Peoples Gas site in Portage Park. Credit: Colin Boyle/Ecoglobalsociety

Over the past year, multiple developments have come to Six Corners, including The Clarendale senior living facility, the 6 Corners Lofts luxury apartment complex, Aldi and Target.

Goltz said GW Properties is under contract to buy the property, but will not close until the project gets city approval. He said People's Gas is leasing out the parcel for overflow parking.

The “project is in grave peril until we get this sorted,” Goltz said. “It’s incredibly frustrating to have gone through so many hoops and hurdles along the way just to be held up at this point in the project.”

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