11th Ward Alderman Patrick D. Thompson, left, introduces the Cougle Foods meeting alongside 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez on Wednesday, November 20, at Park No. 571.

Aldermen, Cougle Foods Family Present Planned Poultry Plant to Neighborhood

Published November 21, 2019

A crowd of more than 60 filled the soaring workout room of Park No. 571 in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood on Wednesday, November 20, most standing for over 1-1/2 hours to hear details of the pending Cougle Foods development across from the park, on the other side of the South Branch of the Chicago River (aka Bubbly Creek). Hosted by 25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez in collaboration with 11th Ward Alderman Patrick D. Thompson, the meeting included presentations from the father-son duo running Cougle Foods: Lee and Ed Freidheim.

For owner Lee Freidheim, the site at 2841 S. Ashland Ave. is great for Cougle Foods because of its location in a food production district and its proximity to customers and employees. "To us, a Planned Manufacturing District is an ideal location," he said.

Cougle Foods development meeting 20191120 park side renderingA slide from the November 20 presentation presents the planned appearance of the Cougle Foods building as seen from the riverwalk.Cougle Foods CEO Ed Freidheim cited the ability to grow the business at the new site, including expanding its workforce to 100 full-time employees from Cougle's current 70.  The new site is an opportunity to "expand on what we've already done," he said.

A coterie of project leaders accompanied the Freidheims to the meeting, including the project manager, the commercial contractor and the architect: Dan Tyler of United Insulated Structures. Tyler presented details on the building and site, as well as fielded questions from the audience.

McKinley Park Neighborhood Restaurant Guide

McKinley Park Neighborhood Restaurant Guide

Stormwater and Setbacks

As previously reported here in the McKinley Park News, the Cougle Foods development rests inside the 25th Ward, just touching the northeast border of the McKinley Park neighborhood. It includes a single building and two parking lots: one for trucks to the south and one for employee parking to the north.

A publicly accessible riverfront path and park area will border the entire river's edge and connect back to Ashland Avenue at the north and south of the property, Tyler said. About 40 percent of the property's footprint will be green space, 30 percent building structure and 30 percent parking lots, he said. 

The riverfront park area will sit in a setback from the water's edge with at least 60 feet of space between Bubbly Creek and the building. Cougle Foods will landscape the area, adding dozens of trees and lighting along the path, as well as setting aside areas for eventual path connections to Canal Origins Park immediately to the north of the property and a potential future connection at the south. The public will have access to the riverfront path and park area 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Tyler said.

Stormwater management is a huge element of the site plan, Tyler said, with all groundwater from the site and its parking lots directed to on-site bioswales for catching contaminants and cleaning the water before discharging into Bubbly Creek. Stormwater from the roof — which is considered clean by the City of Chicago, Tyler said — will drain directly to the discharge system, which will have a regulator to limit the amount of water draining into the river.

Cougle Foods development meeting 20191120 Lee Freidheim Ed FreidheimCougle Foods bosses Lee Freidheim and Ed Freidheim, second from right and right, discuss their development with an attendee in advance of the November 20 meeting.Tyler pointed to other design areas which addressed environmental efficiency and impact: The finished development will exceed energy code efficiency requirements by 10 percent, and 80 percent of waste during construction will be diverted to recycling, he said.

Exterior lighting, including along the riverfront park area, will be downcast to not cause light pollution, and indoor water use will be reduced by more than 25 percent over current operations, Tyler said. Bike-riding employees will have 24 bike parking spaces to choose from, and the site will be pre-wired for future electric vehicle parking stations. The position of the truck parking lot is designed to conceal the trucks as much as possible, he said.

Planned riverfront improvements include bird boxes along the water, habitat monitoring stations and cultural interpretive signage for Bubbly Creek, Tyler said.

Day-to-Day Operations

Lee Freidheim explained aspects of Cougle Foods' operations, including its current and anticipated truck traffic. The business receives deliveries from upstream poultry providers comprising an average of two or three semi tractor-trailer trucks per day, he said, with a maximum of five or six semis per day, and no more than one or two semis overnight on an infrequent basis, he said.

The company operates a fleet of 26-foot-long box trucks that are used for local deliveries to customers, Ed Freidheim said. "We just replaced half of our truck fleet with fuel-efficient trucks," he said. "We are proud of our low-carbon footprint."

Lee Freidheim noted the economic advantage of operating with as few trucks as possible. "We are not in the shipping business," he said.

Five days a week, Cougle Foods is open between 6 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Ed Freidheim said, with two production shifts and an overnight cleanup shift. Cougle Foods is a union shop, with both warehouse production employees and drivers represented by local unions, he said.

Warehouse workers' pay averages between $14 and $15 per hour, Ed Freidheim said, with $4 to $5 of benefits value added on top of that. "We pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums for employees," he said.

Cougle Foods development meeting 20191120 city view renderingA slide from the Cougle Foods presentation on November 20 displays a rendering of the planned offices of the facility, which will face Bubbly Creek along with the building's main entrance and employee welfare areas.Part of the attraction of the Ashland Avenue site was its proximity to employees, many of whom live on the Southwest Side, Ed Freidheim said. Over 77 percent of Cougle Foods' current employees live in the City of Chicago, including the Freidheims, and 92 percent of employees live within a 20- to 30-minute commute to the new site, he said.

The new location is also well-suited for their customers, Ed Freidheim said, which includes grocery stores like the Ashland Avenue Mariano's about 1,000 feet south of the Cougle Foods site, the Peapod food delivery service, local caterers and downtown hotels, and restaurants like Popeyes and the Honkey Tonk BBQ in the nearby Pilsen neighborhood. They also sell to other local food distributors like the nearby Allen Brothers and Great Western Beef.

Lee Freidheim pointed to the good relations with Cougle Foods' current Fulton Market neighbors — including Google offices and the swanky Ace Hotel — as what their new neighbors should expect. "There is no odor, no dust and no wasted products virtually at all," he said. "We get no complaints."

Questions and Answers

The Cougle Foods team fielded questions from the audience until a Chicago Park District employee ended the meeting by shutting off the lights, as the building had closed. Several attendees questioned the appropriateness of the development's location and asked whether other uses had been considered for the property, such as residential transit-oriented development.

Sigcho-Lopez, Thompson and representatives from the City of Chicago said this was a no-go. "We realized we cannot put residential here," said John Molloy, Economic Development Coordinator for Chicago's Department of Housing and Economic Development. "Residential would add such a conflict" between the existing nearby industry and any new residences, he said.

"This is the right type of use for a Planned Manufacturing District," Thompson said, noting that Cougle Foods' proposed use of the site, which the company has now purchased, is "as of right." The area has been designated for commercial and industrial development since the early 1990s, he said, and the site has been vacant for many years, having formerly housed a Valspar Paint facility.

"I relied on [the Planned Manufacturing District] designation when purchasing this land," Lee Freidheim said.

"This is the only proposal we've seen" for the site, Sigcho-Lopez said. "There is no other viable use."

Thompson noted the significant contribution that businesses like Cougle Foods offer to Chicago's tax base, which helps to prevent higher residential property tax bills, he said. "In the city, we have to have a viable commercial/industrial base. We can't push out industry from Chicago," he said.

The project still needs to receive final approval from the Chicago Plan Commission, which as previously reported, the company anticipates it will receive in December 2019. 

Cougle Foods development meeting 20191120 architect Dan TylerProject architect Dan Tyler answers questions about the Cougle Foods development at the November 20 meeting in the Park No. 571 boat house.

Jim Reho
Is a "poultry processing plant" the same as a slaughterhouse? Are "upstream poultry providers" companies that will be trucking live chickens there? Has the existing Cougle facility met the USDA's standards for salmonella contamination?
Justin Kerr
No live chickens will be delivered to the Cougle facility: It is not a slaughterhouse. It sounds like there will be no removal of waste products either (feathers or viscera, etc.), as what's trucked into Cougle is nearly ready-to-go, pre-slaughtered poultry that's then further apportioned and sent out.

As for USDA contamination, all of the data is online re: inspections. When we checked, Cougle was in-line with other producers.

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