Reinventing a Former Racetrack
By: Dominique A. Buttitta, director of law and development, Wirtz Realty Corporation
The new Wirtz Beverage Illinois corporate headquarters, formerly the site of a dilapidated racetrack, was the consolidation of four locations, combining office, warehouse and distribution into a 605,000-square-foot facility.
In April of 2011, the former home of the Sportsman’s Park racetrack in Cicero, Ill., was a vacant piece of land littered with remnants of a concrete track and a demolished grandstand. Standing on Laramie Avenue, Anthony Iatarola, senior vice president of Wirtz Realty Corporation, envisioned a 605,000-square-foot office, warehouse and distribution facility and other integrated land uses, forming the future home for Wirtz Beverage Illinois LLC, the state’s leading beverage-alcohol distributor. The vision was clear — build a state-of-the-art facility to serve as the company’s Illinois wine and spirits hub for sales, distribution and training programs. Through the collaborative efforts of Wirtz Corporation, Wirtz Realty Corporation and Wirtz Beverage Illinois, that vision soon became a reality.
Finding a New Home
Wirtz Beverage Illinois enlisted the help of Wirtz Realty — real estate developer and subsidiary of Wirtz Corporation — after the brokerage community was unable to meet the expectations of Wirtz Beverage Illinois for an appropriate building site. “The project offered Wirtz an opportunity to address every aspect of the real estate development process — from identification, entitlements and financing, through site improvements and property management,” said Iatarola, involved with the project since the site search began in May 2010. After discovering the dilapidated and hazardous racetrack in 2011, Wirtz enlisted attorneys, Gozdecki, Del Giudice, Americus and Farkas LLP, to work directly with the Town of Cicero to acquire 35 of the 66-acre Sportsman’s Park property.
The pre-construction aerial view of the site comprises about half of the oval depicted in the picture. The northern portion consisted of demolition debris mounded up to 20 feet in height. Beneath the former racetrack were several hundred cubic yards of mixed-fill materials, including organic topsoil, concrete and rebar.
Located just north of Interstate 55 and a few minutes south of Interstate 290, the site was immediately attractive to Wirtz because of its proximity to Midway Airport and the City of Chicago. “Those roadways offered us the perfect solution for building our new facility which would serve the Chicago metropolitan area. We wanted to be able to call Cicero home for a long time.” said Iatarola. However, developing a new home for Wirtz Beverage presented a number of unique challenges.
Clearing a Track Record
Redevelopment of the former Sportsman’s Park racetrack site proved to be as complex as the track’s history. Originally built as Al Capone’s dog track, the site served as a horse racing track until 1999, when it was converted into a combined horse and auto racing facility. One year after its doors closed permanently in 2002, the Town of Cicero purchased the property. The track remained unused for the next six years until it was demolished in 2009. A haphazard demolition left behind various buried debris, capped with natural soils throughout the site. An extensive subsurface investigation, including 140 test pits and soil borings completed by Applied GeoSciences Inc., revealed materials ranging from engineering fill to organic topsoil, brick, rebar, plastic, cinder and various other demolition debris. This necessitated extensive earthwork before vertical construction could begin. Further, a total of 45 days of rain, combined with the area’s shallow water table, mandated extensive de-watering and pumping procedures in order to complete the earthwork.
Another development hurdle arose when a preliminary survey conducted by Spaceco Engineering revealed several easements throughout the site, owned by Chicago, Central & Pacific and Illinois Central Railroads. This necessitated successful negotiations with the railroad companies in order to vacate all of the railroad easements on site and relocate railroad easements still required for current railroad operations.
Emphasizing Site Sustainability
The redevelopment project included approximately 300,000 cubic yards of recycled material, significant environmental remediation and relocation of several railroad easements.
The desire to balance environmental and operational sustainability drove every stage of site preparation. Rather than clearing the site and starting from scratch, Fall River LLC, maximized sustainability by segregating and reusing the existing fill materials. Utilizing existing fill materials necessitated approval and certification of each compacted layer of the building pad to ensure a solid foundation capable of withstanding 45+ years of heavy commercial and industrial use. Additionally, the project used recycled, onsite clay soils as backfill wherever possible, minimizing the need for imported stone materials. “Based on the geotechnical investigation at the site, Wirtz knew that it would be difficult to pass on their knowledge of the site’s unique condition to another company. It was known from the beginning that the project had the potential to become a scheduling and budgetary disaster without careful quality control. The original design included the use of clay as backfill materials in order to balance the site. However, due to weather and scheduling constraints, “the use of clay soil was minimized,” said Adam Moghamis, manager of Fall River LLC. After exhausting the supply of suitable engineering fill materials onsite, Wirtz Realty negotiated with the Town of Cicero to access, and further identify, reusable engineering fill materials located on an adjacent site owned by the Town.
A total of 45 days of rain, combined with the area’s shallow water table, mandated extensive de-watering and pumping procedures to complete the earthwork.
Thorough due diligence during the preliminary investigation and best management practices during the construction phase resulted in the use of approximately 300,000 cubic yards of recycled material. This emphasis on sustainability resulted in significant long-term savings for Wirtz.
Moving Forward With Public-Private Solutions
Completing the Wirtz Beverage Illinois facility meant consolidating operations from the Schaumburg, Wood Dale, Bensenville and Elk Grove Village, Ill. locations. Successfully coordinating the transfer of the nearly 1,000 Wirtz Beverage employees from the four locations required Spaceco Engineering, general contractors Fall River LLC and Ryan Companies US, Inc. to complete construction in less than 18 months. The expedited timeline, coupled with the unusually wet spring conditions, reduced the number of working days by nearly 40 percent from the project’s outset. This required significant cooperation with the Town of Cicero, who, in an unprecedented move, granted site access for Wirtz Realty to begin construction six months prior to taking ownership. Additionally, by working with local, county and state government, Wirtz Realty was able to expedite land use and construction permitting approvals.
The warehouse contains conventional racking and sorting platforms for truck loading and distribution. There are 39 shipping and receiving bays linked to a computerized conveyor system that sorts and moves up to 10,000 cases per hour for delivery.
Wirtz Realty also utilized local, county and state incentives to ensure long-term savings. By seeking a Class 6b designation, which is designed to promote industrial redevelopment, Wirtz Beverage positioned the project to reduce its Cook County property tax assessment. For the first 10 years, post-construction, the assessment is reduced from 25 percent of the property’s market value to 10 percent, followed by 15 percent of market value in year 11 and 20 percent in year 12. Wirtz Realty also utilized local Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to subsidize approximately 25 percent of its construction costs.
Creating Operational Efficiencies
Through its architect, Ware Malcomb, Wirtz Realty designed the Wirtz Beverage Illinois project to house more than fine wines and spirits. The facility includes significant technological advancements, corporate offices, conference centers, training facilities and 500,000 square feet of warehouse space. “The new facility serves as more than warehouse and office space,” said Julian Burzynski, senior vice president, Wirtz Beverage Illinois. “It’s taking everything Wirtz does and bringing it together under one roof. Very few distributors in the country have been able to put the best of everything — sales, marketing, operations, logistics, technology and training — together in this way.”
The Wirtz warehouse and distribution center can hold 2.5 million cases of spirits and includes a 25,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled wine storage component.
The facility’s new warehouse and distribution center can hold 2.5 million cases of wine and spirits and includes a 25,000-square-foot, temperature-controlled wine storage component, one of the largest in the country. There are 39 shipping and receiving bays linked to a computerized conveyor system that sorts and moves up to 10,000 cases per hour for delivery which will dramatically increase operating efficiencies for Wirtz Beverage Illinois.
The conference center’s large training space has the capacity to seat 750 people, while also dividing into three- to five-room configurations for smaller training sessions. Two stories of corporate offices, a full-size employee gym and a company cafeteria also complement the facility. The most unique attribute amid the state-of-the-art functionality and temperature-controlled wine storage area, is the Alchemy Room. Designed by mixologists, sommeliers and chefs, the Alchemy Room is where Wirtz will host beverage education, development and training. Technological features include a commercial kitchen, three fully equipped bartending stations and nine high-definition video screens. “The Alchemy Room is a real point of differentiation,” says Arthur Wirtz III, vice president of operations, Wirtz Beverage Illinois. “It really brings to life what we do every day in the market.”
The Alchemy Room features a professional kitchen; nine LED screens; movable tables that can be used for lectures, classes or other events; and a multi-media system operated via iPads.
The redevelopment project included the cooperation of Wirtz and the Town of Cicero to undertake several public improvements. In addition to the significant geo-technical work and environmental remediation, other public enhancements included storm sewer, water main, fire protection and retaining wall improvements, as well as construction of public amenities such as a new pedestrian pathway, a memorial park and a community ice rink.
Wirtz, in conjunction with the Town of Cicero and the Illinois Department of Transportation, will also complete significant improvements to both Laramie and Cicero Avenues. This includes the installation of new traffic signals at the intersection of Laramie Avenue and 35th Street and on Cicero Avenue.
Developing for the Future
The Wirtz Beverage Illinois facility opened its doors on May 2, 2012, just 14 months after breaking ground and 10 months after Wirtz took title to the property. Wirtz Realty attributes careful engineering and quality control, combined with communication, trust and confidence, as integral components to the success of the project. The facility is a standing testament to the Wirtz family of companies’ past, present and future.