The Evolution of Chicago's Goose Island

When you hear “Goose Island,” you probably think of the beer before you think of the place. Goose Island, an artificial island surrounded by the North Branch of the Chicago River and the North Branch Canal, is a part of the Near North Side neighborhood. Unlike its neighbors the Magnificent Mile, Old Town, and the Gold Coast, Goose Island has not been a focal point of new development, but that’s starting to change. Chicago has grand plans for the surrounding area (the North Branch Framework Plan), and more developers are showing interest in bringing new projects to the area, including Goose Island. 

Let’s take a look at how the artificial island came into being and what plans are in store for it today.

The History of Goose Island

North Branch of the River / Photo by Jeremya / CC BY-SA

William B. Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago, created Goose Island when he ordered the creation of the North Branch Canal in 1853, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. The island did have residential development on it in the 1800s, but much of the land was used for industrial purposes. As time passed, the island became used purely for industry. Goose Island was likely named for the birds that would land there.

New Developments

The Fulton Market neighborhood along with Goose Island is set for some big developments / Shutterstock

Now, Goose Island, along with much of the North Branch area, is ready to shed its industrial roots. This would hardly be the first area of the city to set aside industrial history for a new future. Just look at how far Fulton Market, the city’s former meatpacking district, has come. Here are some of the major developments proposed for Goose Island. 

The Wild Mile

As developers clamor to add their footprint to the up-and-coming North Branch of the river, community groups and alderman are urging for plans to set aside open space. The answer to their push for greenspace: the Wild Mile. The park will take nearly the entire east side of Goose Island.

When completed in 2020, the Wild Mile will be an ecologically focused park with amenities like floating gardens, paths, fishing spots, and canoe launches. Plus, the park could facilitate the resurgence of native plant and animal populations both in and around the river.

A Residential Project

Developer Onni Group is aiming to buy a former Greyhound Bus garage on Goose Island for $50 million, according to The Real Deal. The 190,000-square-foot site could become the location of a large, residential development, which would be a major turning point for Goose Island.

A Wooden Office Building

The former Big Bay Lumber Yard on Goose Island is set to become a six-story, all-wood office building. The office building, planned for 1017 W. Division St., will be the first wooden building since the 1800s. The project is named T3 Goose Island, which stands for timber, technology, and transit. In addition to office space, T3 Goose Island will feature ground-floor retail space, parking spaces, bike storage, a gym, and a rooftop deck. The project still needs to earn city approval, but if it does, it will be the country’s largest all-wood office building, according to Curbed Chicago.

A Brewery

Goose Island has so much brand recognition because of the beer that shares its name, even though the island doesn’t actually have a brewery. But, a proposed project would bring a 19,000-square-foot brewery and distillery to the island, according to the Chicago Tribune. The project, Crossroads Brewery at the Boatyard, also includes space for a music venue, a beer garden, and a barrel-aging facility, according to the report. The brewery is planned for 934 N. North Branch St., a site on the southwest part of the island owned by developer R2.

“Riverfront sites around Goose Island represent a huge untapped opportunity for food, beverage and entertainment now allowed under the North Branch Framework,” Matt Garrison, R2 managing principal, told the Tribune.

Retail Development

Outdoor gear store REI is planning to set up shop on Goose Island. The retailer signed a 15-year lease on 45,000-square-foot building that sits on the North Branch Canal, less than a mile from the store’s other Goose Island location, according to the Chicago Tribune. Developer R2 owns the property.

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