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SOM’s proposed megatower on the Chicago Spire site rejected by alderman

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Based on concerns about the height of the plinth, treatment of public space, and the hotel use, Alderman Brendan Reilly has rejected Related Midwest's current plan to build on the former Chicago Spire site. (The Related Companies)
Based on concerns about the height of the plinth, treatment of public space, and the hotel use, Alderman Brendan Reilly has rejected Related Midwest's current plan to build on the former Chicago Spire site. (The Related Companies)

Acting on behalf of his Streeterville constituents, Chicago’s 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly has rejected Related Midwest’s current plan to build on the former site of the Chicago Spire. Last spring, the developer announced its intention to construct two stepped towers just west of Lake Shore Drive, one reaching the height of 1,100 feet, with 300 condominium units and 175 luxury hotel rooms, and another 850-foot tower with 550 residential units. Designed by David Childs with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the two towers at 400 North Lake Shore Drive would sit on a four-story plinth and would open out at a skewed angle to Lake Michigan. In addition, Related Midwest committed to the long-awaited completion of DuSable Park as well as extending the Riverwalk under Lake Shore Drive and out to the lakefront, with a public esplanade running along the Ogden Slip just north of the site.

According to an email sent to his constituents, Alderman Reilly contacted the development team at Related Midwest in August, articulating various concerns voiced by residents during meetings between condominium associations and the developer. Related Midwest responded, but according to Alderman Reilly, failed to address the major concerns about their proposal.  The project will need a zoning change and aldermanic approval before it goes to construction.

“I always strive to negotiate positive outcomes when considering development proposals,” the alderman noted in the email. “As with any project, my ultimate goal is to strike a fair balance and approve responsible projects that will be successful for the owners, while enhancing the character and vitality of the surrounding neighborhood.”

Residents have asked for the complete elimination of the hotel use and a reduction of the podium height and bulk, and have voiced the need for the project to address traffic issues. Of primary concern is access to the site via East North Water Street, a significant aspect of the design that nearby residents have asked to be restricted, effectively requiring a redesign of the primary entrance to the structure. Residents have also asked for the developer to make greater use of the Lake Shore Drive access ramp system and below-grade parking systems to manage deliveries, service vehicles, and pedestrian pick-ups and drop-offs, away from residential development to the west, and tucked under Lake Shore Drive.

Constituents have also asked for the project to address the public space components of the project, including the elimination of a public esplanade along the Ogden Slip, a dredged body of water that runs parallel to the north branch of the Chicago River. Related Midwest must also create a security plan for DuSable Park and the Riverwalk connection.

Plans for the former Chicago Spire site would include five acres of public space. Residents have asked 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly to address safety concerns with both DuSable Park and the Riverwalk extension, and the elimination of the Ogden Slip Promenade before the project moves forward. (The Related Companies)

Construction of DuSable Park, the promenade at the Ogden Slip and the extension of the Riverwalk to the lakefront are components to the Cityfront Center Master Plan, approved by the City Council in 1985. Cityfront Center would encourage residential and commercial building between Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue but would leave the developer responsible for public works improvements, many of which have yet to be completed.  The time it has taken to complete the public space components, many of which were promised under Mayor Harold Washington’s administration, raises questions as far as the effectiveness of privatizing public space.

While Streeterville includes some of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers, the blocks immediately surrounding the former Spire site are defined by lower height residential structures, including the Riverview Townhomes at three stories, and the Lofts at River East at six.

The rejection of the current plan for 400 North Lake Shore Drive comes at a time where several large developments announced with fanfare this past spring are being examined closely by neighborhood residents and their elected ward leaders, including the 78 in the South Loop, and Lincoln Yards between Lincoln Park and Bucktown. Alderman Reilly recently approved an update of the plans to redevelop Union Station after the first version of the development was lauded by neighbors and preservationists.

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