More than three years after taking title to the land where the audacious Chicago Spire was once envisioned, and more than two years after soliciting designs from a half-dozen architecture firms, Related Midwest on Tuesday unveiled a bold plan for the waterfront site.
The long-awaited vision for the 2.2-acre site along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, unveiled in the first community meeting for the project, is toned down a bit from the 2,000-foot-tall Spire plan that stirred emotions but never advanced beyond a 76-foot-deep foundation hole. The design, by One World Trade Center architect David Childs, includes a south tower rising 1,100 feet and an 850-foot north tower.
The development is now called simply 400 Lake Shore Drive.
Although the site has been divided into two residential towers, the project remains ambitious and complex. Related Midwest said it plans to build both towers while simultaneously building a four-level podium below them, which will include levels for vehicle entrances, parking, meeting rooms and a ballroom.
“What we wanted to do here was push the absolute envelope of what we thought was achievable and buildable in Chicago, and get right to the edge of it and more,” Related Midwest President Curt Bailey said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “We want to build the best, most visionary, architecturally significant project that’s financeable and achievable.”
The painstaking process to reinvent the site near Navy Pier, which began when Related Midwest took control of the site in 2014, took shape when Childs, who is based in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s New York office, was enlisted from outside the initial group of potential designers.
The taller of the two towers would be shorter than just four existing Chicago buildings: Willis Tower (1,451 feet), Trump International Hotel & Tower (1,389 feet), the Aon Center (1,136 feet) and the former John Hancock Center (1,128 feet). That ranking will change when the 1,191-foot Vista Tower, under construction in the Lakeshore East development near the Spire site, is completed in 2020 and becomes Chicago’s third-tallest building.
Another tower proposed nearby, as part of the Tribune Tower redevelopment, would be 1,422 feet tall.
The Tribune on May 11 first reported Related’s plans for two big towers. But until Tuesday’s community meeting, renderings had not been shared publicly.
Childs’ design is for similar-looking towers framing North Water Street, built at offset angles on the site. Each tower would have dramatic setbacks as it thins upward, creating large outdoor terraces for about 20 percent of each building’s residential units. Exterior elements include terra cotta.
The extensive use of setbacks is a design unique to Chicago — yet the plan is also, in the developer’s view, more achievable than the 2,000-foot-tall behemoth once drawn up for the site.
“We’re not trying to set new records for height,” Bailey said.
But Bailey added: “We talk a lot about legacy, and there will not be a shot of Chicago that doesn’t have these buildings in them. Every shot from the east will have this front and center. So we’ve taken this assignment very seriously.”
The plan still must gain city zoning approval and financing before becoming a reality.
The south tower would have 300 condominiums atop a 175-room luxury hotel. The north tower would include 550 apartments. The towers would be built 150 feet apart, atop a four-level parking and amenities podium. The top of the platform, rising above Lake Shore Drive traffic, would serve as an outdoor amenities area. The project’s 750 parking spaces would be accessible from Water Street and a ramp on and off Lake Shore Drive.
The proposed development is less jaw-dropping than Santiago Calatrava’s soaring, corkscrewlike design once dreamed for the site.
Developer Christopher Carley’s Fordham Spire plan, which later morphed into Irish developer Garrett Kelleher’s Chicago Spire development, called for up to 1,200 condos. But after selling 395 units and digging the foundation, construction stopped in 2008 amid a global financial crisis. Related bought the delinquent bank debt on the property in 2013 and along with other creditors forced Kelleher’s firm into bankruptcy.
Part of the foundation — as well as an eight-story-deep retention system already built around the entire site — can be used to support Related’s construction, Bailey said. But because it’s now a two-tower plan, some of Chicago’s infamous hole likely would be filled.
Related initially considered taller, single-tower designs for the site. But the developer didn’t want the architecture to be dictated by the huge hole. “Instead of trying to bastardize the design to fit what was in place, we said we’re going to take the most beautiful buildings we can design and we’ll see what we can utilize” from the Spire foundation, Bailey said.
Building two towers in separate phases would have mitigated the project’s risk, but Bailey said the downside — construction disrupting residents of the first tower — outweighed the benefits.
Beyond structural challenges, Related also must clear other hurdles.
Those include competition from other luxury high-rises in the works — such as Vista Tower, the Tribune Tower redevelopment and new tower and JDL Development’s planned two-tower One Chicago Square across from Holy Name Cathedral. It remains uncertain just how much oomph remains in Chicago’s yearslong construction boom.
Related’s track record and the location along both the river and lake are advantages, Bailey said. The firm’s other projects in Chicago have included the One Bennett Park, 500 Lake Shore Drive and Park Tower residential towers. Related also recently unveiled plans to build up to 13 million square feet of residential, office, hotel and retail space on a 62-acre site along the river in the South Loop, a $5 billion-plus development it is calling The 78.
Unlike the Spire plan, this one won’t be heavily dependent on sales to foreign buyers, Bailey said.
Bailey declined to say how much the project is expected to cost, and said units have yet to be priced. Related plans to begin construction by late next summer, with the towers scheduled for completion in 2023, Bailey said.
The developer plans to contribute $10 million toward the creation of the long-planned DuSable Park on a 3.3-acre peninsula just on the other side of Lake Shore Drive, Bailey said. The firm also would fund and build riverwalk extensions along the river and Ogden Slip sides of the site, linking its development to the park.