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CHICAGO-The ceremonial first shovels of dirt were flung Wednesday at 2400 S. Wolcott St., site of the new Chicago International Produce Market. Although work is just beginning on the $58.4-million, 436,224-sf fruit and vegetable market that is relocating from the historic but obsolete South Water Market, talk of expansion already has begun.

Chicago Alderman Daniel Solis says he has contacted the two state representatives whose districts cover his 25th Ward to discuss obtaining additional funding to nearly triple the 26-acre site, widening it to front Ashland Avenue on the east and Damen Avenue on the west. Tim Fleming, executive vice president of Strube Celery and Vegetable Co., adds Produce Market Relocation LLC already is talking about Phase II. Produce Market Relocation is made up of the 19 businesses, including Fleming’s, relocating to the new market.

Meat and fish markets could be added to the facility, being developed by Oak Brook, IL-based CenterPoint Properties Trust and constructed by Itasca, IL-based FCL Builders. “This can become a state-of-the-art food market in the United States if our dream comes true,” Solis says.

For now, Solis is content to celebrate the first project in the Pilsen Tax Increment Financing District, and one that will provide 500 permanent jobs in addition to the crews who will build one of the largest wholesale produce markets in the nation. Pre-development has been going on for more than two years, and construction will continue through 2002.

Neighboring business owners are pleased with the development, despite the 150 trucks it is expected to bring to the entrance off W. Ogden Avenue. The site previously was used by a lumber company, which continues to occupy an adjoining parcel on Damen Avenue, but most recently was used for trailer storage by trucking companies. Among the neighborhood rumors for the site was a Bears stadium, although there is no evidence the NFL team was thinking of moving from Soldier Field to the near Southwest Side.

“We had no idea. You hear about all the improvements going on in the city but there’s been plenty of speculation,” says Jeffrey G. Ticzkus, plant manager at R.R. Street & Co., located just north of the produce market site at 2353 S. Blue Island Ave. since the 1950s. “It’s a good use of the site. It’s a good location because of the transportation.”

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