Chicagoans do not have to be architects, developers or rocket scientists to see what the future of the Windy City is destined to become. The “Manhattanization” of Chicago is in full swing with several multi-billion-dollar projects in the planning stages or on the drawing board.
No longer will towering skyscrapers only be built downtown, on the South Branch of the Chicago River or on the lakefront. Now, clout-heavy developers are targeting any large open tract of land in traditionally low-rise 2-flat and 3-flat neighborhoods.
In its lust to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in potential real estate taxes to shore up the city’s huge pension debt and failing economy, the City Council recently overwhelmingly gave zoning approval for the land-use plan for the $6-billion Lincoln Yards project on the Chicago River in West Lincoln Park.
This far western section of the already dense Lincoln Park neighborhood is comprised mostly of architecturally significant Victorian low-rise residential and commercial buildings that are miles away from Lake Michigan, the Outer Drive and the booming River North, Loop and South Loop commercial and entertainment districts.
The massive plan for Lincoln Yards development would transform more than 54.5 acres of former smelly junkyard and sooty steel-mill land along the narrow Chicago River between North and Webster avenues into a swank high-rise enclave for more than 6,000 residential units housing up to 12,000 people.
According to Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune architecture critic, the fundamental problem with building Lincoln Yards into a collection of offices, apartments and shops, remains “its overwhelming bigness, exemplified by a swath of proposed skyscrapers that would loom over the delicately scaled, nearby neighborhoods of Lincoln Park and Bucktown.”
Even after developer Sterling Bay cut the height of Lincoln Yards’ two tallest buildings—to 595 feet from 650 feet and to 575 feet from 595 feet—the rest of the project “remains ridiculously oversized and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood,” Kamin said.
Although Sterling Bay doubled the number of affordable housing units to 600 from 300, Lincoln Yards’ planners still are trying to shovel 10 pounds of real estate into a five-pound bag.
Along with the sweeping zoning change, the developer also is requesting a $1.3 billion subsidy as part of a special taxing district for bridges, roads and other infrastructure improvements to support the project.
Now based in Chicago, Sterling Bay has developed many office and apartment projects here, and also has developments in Portland and Miami. It’s a big supporter of charities and fund-raisers. And—based on winning a 33 to 14 City Council zoning vote—it seems to be pretty tight with local politicians.
Ald. Scott Wagusespack (32nd), who voted against the rezoning, succinctly called the project a “monstrosity of zoning and urban planning.”
Rapid development in and on the southern border of Old Town, where mid-rise apartments now are sprouting on North Avenue and commercial development is booming, has created immense Manhattan-style rush-hour traffic jams on both arterial streets and side streets, critics say.
What would make the most sense at Lincoln Yards? Lots of new park acreage with bike trails and parking bordered by low-rise residential development patterned after the 2-flat and 3-flat housing stock of Old Town, Lincoln Park and Bucktown.
Billion-dollar South Loop baby?
Residents of the South Loop’s Central Station high-rise condominium enclave likely will be wondering why they paid top dollar for those so called “perpetual views” of Soldier Field, Grant Park, the Loop and the lakefront after plans for “One Central” were announced.
Last week, Wisconsin-based Landmark Development unveiled a preliminary plan for a Manhattan-style multi-billion-dollar row of gleaming skyscrapers proposed for construction on an air-rights platform covering the Metra tracks on the west side of Lake Shore Drive.
Conceptual architectural renderings of the One Central development show a series of tall skyscrapers containing millions of square feet of space that likely will block some of Central Station’s views. The site runs between the Field Museum south to McCormick Place.
The plan calls for construction of a new transit center that would link Metra, CTA and Amtrak trains, as well as a wheeled tram route. Floors of restaurant, retail and entertainment space would sit at the base of skyscrapers.
Gerald Fogelson, Central Station’s original developer, still controls the air rights to the property, which he wisely acquired in 1989. Now, Fogelson is connected to the One Central project as an executive at Landmark Development.
‘The 78’—New river-front neighborhood
These days, everywhere you turn in the Windy City, another multi-billion-dollar project is under construction or on the drawing board along the Chicago river, on the lakefront or on large tracts of vacant South Side land near McCormick Place.
“The 78” is a planned $5-billion mixed-use new neighborhood targeted for 62 acres of sunken and isolated vacant riverfront land between Chicago’s South Loop and Chinatown.
An infrastructure nightmare for developer Related Midwest, the ambitious project involves turning former vacant prairie, where beaver, fox and homeless people resided, into a classy new neighborhood.
To build Chicago’s 78th neighborhood and bring connectivity to the site from the low-rise Dearborn Park development to the east, the developers plan to extend 15th Street from Clark Street to a newly built stretch of Wells Street. This east-west route will dip under the realigned Metra tracks, which run along the eastern edge of the tract.
A second north-south road—the new LaSalle Street—would run from the elevated level of Roosevelt Road down to the 15th Street extension.
What may be the most positive design idea at The 78 is building heights that terrace down from Clark Street as development moves closer to the Chicago River.
Unlike Lincoln Yards, the master plan for The 78 calls for low-rise and mid-rise buildings stepped back from the river. This design approach maximizes views and gives the waterfront promenade along the half-mile long, 100-foot-wide river walk on the south branch of the river a more human scale.
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.