Touting what would be downtown Chicago’s largest new real estate development since the 2008 financial crisis, representatives of the Kennedy family and three financial partners are providing the first glimpse of a proposed three-tower office and apartment complex on a historic but long-underutilized site along the Chicago River.
The project, whose cost is pegged at more than $1 billion, calls for a slope-roofed office building of 925 feet, which would be Chicago’s eighth-tallest structure. Another office building and an apartment high-rise would bring the project’s combined square footage to nearly 3 million square feet, more than the biggest skyscraper of the boom years, the 2.6-million-square foot Trump International Hotel & Tower.
The plans, made public at a community meeting Tuesday called by Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, and attended by more than 300 people, are for the triangular Wolf Point parcel to the southwest of the Merchandise Mart. The Kennedys sold the Merchandise Mart in 1998, but still control Wolf Point, once home to pioneer taverns, a hotel and trading posts.
The project “gives a great boost of confidence” in downtown Chicago, Christopher Kennedy, chairman of Kennedy Enterprises, the family’s investment arm, said Tuesday before the meeting.
But the plan must overcome several hurdles, including what is expected to be strong opposition from residents of a high-rise at 333 N. Canal St., the Residences at RiverBend, whose views to the east would be blocked by the proposed towers. The development’s impact on already-congested downtown streets is also expected to be a big issue.
In addition, Reilly, whose ward includes Wolf Point, would need to back changes to the 1973 zoning agreement that governs the site. The agreement allowed construction of the hulking Apparel Center and Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, now partly occupied by theChicago Sun-Times, directly to the north.
"This is just the first of what will likely be several meetings about Wolf Point," Reilly said at the meeting.
The project’s financial backers are the Kennedy family, which has owned Wolf Point since the 1940s; Hines, the global, Houston-based real estate concern; Magellan Development Group, the Chicago firm that built the Lakeshore East complex; and a fourth partner whom Kennedy would only identify as a “very prominent overseas investor who is testing the waters in Chicago.”
When Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on May 16 that Chicago would kick in $29 million toward another Hines development along the riverfront—the 45-story River Point office tower in the West Loop—he said it would be the largest new real estate project to break ground in the city since the 2008 economic downturn.
But the new project, whose developers are not requesting a public subsidy, would dwarf River Point. Its highest tower, whose prow-like edge would jut toward the river at Wolf Point’s south end, would rise to a height of 925 feet.
The other office tower, projected to be 700 feet tall, would occupy the site’s eastern flank, next to the Merchandise Mart.
Completion of the skyscrapers, which would be marketed to law firms, corporations, professional service firms and tech firms, is not envisioned until 2018 for the south tower and 2020 for the east tower.
Demand for office space “is not strong enough today. Otherwise, we’d start up today,” said Greg Van Schaack, senior managing director of Hines’ Chicago office.
The firm of New Haven, Conn. architect Cesar Pelli has designed the office towers and has crafted a master plan which calls for 2.3 acres, more than half the site, to be open space. Up to 1,285 parking spaces would be in a three- or four-level deck tucked below street-level greenery. The open space would slope down to a 30-foot-wide riverwalk, as required by the city.
Pelli’s portfolio includes the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, once the world’s tallest buildings.
The Chicago firm of bKL Architecture has designed the apartment building, a 500-footer, which the developers want to complete by fall of 2014. The building would be marketed to young professionals and would have about 500 units, with an average size of 750 square feet.
Rents would start at $2,000 per month for studios and go to $4,000 per month for two bedrooms, according to Van Schaack.
The developers said they plan to request a zoning change that would allow them to build slightly higher towers, achieving a total square footage for all three buildings of more than 3.7 million square feet. If that change were granted, the towers would be 950, 750 and 525 feet tall, said Hines' zoning laywer, Jack George.
The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn’s Wolf Point Ballroom, 350 W. Mart Center Drive.