A rendering from a Chicago River Ecology & Governance Task Force presentation shows a draft of the potential appearance of the Cougle Foods development proposed for 2841 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

Cougle Foods Plots Move to Ashland Avenue as One of Final Exits from Fulton Market

Published November 15, 2019

Following in the footsteps of many food and manufacturing businesses on the near West Side of Chicago, Cougle Foods (also known as Cougle Commission Company) is getting out of the Fulton Market neighborhood now booming with high-tech businesses and high-end residential development. The company, which has been one of the last holdouts in the former meat market district, now looks to build a new facility at 2841 S. Ashland Ave. on a vacant industrial site along Bubbly Creek, touching the northeast border of the McKinley Park neighborhood.

Cougle Foods owner Lee Freidheim said he is sad to leave the Fulton Market after over three decades at Cougle's custom-built facility. "I love it here. I like to be in a central area," he said. However, the potential for growth and modernization at the new site leverages the financial windfall of the sale of their valuable Fulton Market property, he said. "We're investing it all and then some."

Cougle Foods New Location 2841 S Ashland Ave 20191115The prospective Cougle Foods site rests on the east side of Ashland Avenue and was previously used as a lot for parking commercial trucks and construction equipment.The new proposed development would consist of a 37,000-square-foot building with six truck bays and a turnaround lot to the south, and employee parking at the north of the property, Freidheim said. Cougle Foods would move all of its operations, including its 70 full-time employees, to the new site. Freidheim noted the potential to grow to 100 employees with the expansion.

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Freidheim said the company has been working with Chicago's Department of Planning and Development in the course of a prospective build-out at the site, which rests inside one of Chicago's Planned Manufacturing Districts: areas the city has earmarked for commercial and industrial development. The property is also right alongside a tributary of the Chicago River, which triggers its own sets of considerations and requirements, Freidheim said.

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Integrated with the site will be a publicly accessible, park-like area along the edge of Bubbly Creek, Freidheim said. This includes pedestrian access to Ashland Avenue on the south end of the property near the Orange Line El stop, and street access to Ashland Avenue at the north end of the property with a connection to the adjacent Canal Origins Park. Freidheim said there will be at least a 60-foot setback from the edge of Bubbly Creek, with a walking path, natural areas and many trees buffering the space between the building and Bubbly Creek.

Community and City Meetings

A Cougle Foods Development Meeting is slated for Wednesday, November 20, at the Park No. 571 boat house, 2754 S. Eleanor St., Chicago, facing the property from across Bubbly Creek in the adjacent Bridgeport neighborhood. Members of the public are invited to attend and get information about the development, ask questions and offer feedback.

The meeting is sponsored by 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez and 11th Ward Alderman Patrick D. Thompson. In addition to Cougle Foods representatives, both aldermen are expected to attend the meeting.

Because the build-out is a Planned Development for the City of Chicago, a further city meeting is required to approve it. Freidheim said this would likely occur in December 2019.

Cougle History and Products

Cougle Foods 2841 S Ashland Ave rendering river task force 20191022A rendering from a Chicago River Ecology & Governance Task Force presentation displays a draft view of the potential appearance of the proposed Cougle Foods development.Cougle has been part of Chicago's meat industry since 1873, moving its headquarters through various food production areas of Chicago as food markets and commercial districts changed, including sites at the former South Water Market and Randolph Street market areas. Its current Fulton Market facility at 345 N. Aberdeen St., Chicago, was custom-built in the 1980s to Cougle's specifications.

Freidheim noted that their business does not slaughter any animals, but picks and repackages shipped-in poultry. "Everything comes here almost ready to eat," he said.

Cougle distributes its poultry products to Chicago-based customers, which include restaurants, grocery stores and catering companies. Some of Cougle's local customers include Mariano's grocery stores and Nando's Peri Peri, for which Cougle does the chicken brining prep, too, Freidheim said.

No odor from production will cause any nuisance, Freidheim said, since their buildings are tightly sealed, sanitary and under constant supervision from on-site, around-the-clock inspectors from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA). He also pointed to the good relations and lack of complaints from all of Cougle's neighbors in Fulton Market. "You wouldn't know what we were doing," he said.

Development Questions and Objections

McKinley Park Development Council President John Belcik said the council only recently became aware of the Cougle development proposal. "We were surprised to see this as an option, given the city's talk and encouragement of [Transit-Oriented Development], the site being identified as a site of opportunity in the Pilsen Plan, and its proposed mixed use development in the Great Rivers Plan," he said.

McKinley Park neighborhood-based Neighbors for Environmental Justice noted their objection to the development with a #ParksNotPoultry post on their Facebook page, including a call to attend the November 20 meeting.

Freidheim said that Cougle Foods would be a good, synergistic fit in a location that's in a designated manufacturing area next to many other food industry companies, such as the much larger Anthony Marano Company just on the other side of Ashland Avenue. "We're creating something that's going to be very attractive from what was an eyesore," he said.

"We want to be terrific neighbors," Freidheim said. "We want to see our business grow and be a good asset to Bubbly Creek."

Cougle Foods 2841 S Ashland Ave site plan river task force 20191022A site plan from a Chicago River Ecology & Governance Task Force presentation displays a potential layout for the Cougle Foods development proposed for 2841 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

McKinley Park neighborhood resident Cristina Martinez contributed to reporting for this article.

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