Monday, January 18, 2016

What Downtown Chicago’s Next Master Planned Community Might Look Like

There are a lot of big plans for big developments in downtown Chicago these days.  There’s the Chicago Housing Authority’s project to repopulate Cabrini Green, the Riverline project from RMK and Lend Lease just south of Harrison Street along the Chicago River, the big Lathop Homes redo, lead by Related Midwest, and more.

A little closer in is the redevelopment of 37 acres of land straddling the River West/Goose Island border, currently used by Tribune Media for its Freedom Center printing plant, which has been churning out the printed word since September 18, 1982 when production moved from the Tribune Tower.

When the Freedom Center opened at 777 West Chicago Avenue in 1982, it was the greatest thing since sliced bread in the minds of newspaper executives high atop 435 North Michigan Avenue.  Like most newspaper honchos of the day, they saw a bright future ahead where people would consume more and more news in the form of dead trees.  Computers?  Well, if it wasn’t Big Blue’s iron tabulating newspaper profits, then those were just toys for children playing Jupiter Lander on their Commodore 64’s.  What they didn’t know is that even back then, hundreds of Commodore 64’s, and other home computers, had already been networked together around the world to exchange information… for free.

Long story short, (too late) newspapers developed a business model that leaned heavily on classified ad revenue, and Craigslist ate their lunch.   It was the biggest mistake since The Chicago Tribune chose not to buy fire insurance for its new “fire-proof” building at Madison and Dearborn.  Just two years later, it would be destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.

Today, what’s left of the Tribune empire is trying to scrounge money where it can, and one of the few assets it has left it real estate.  Already exploring options for developing the parking lots surrounding Trib Tower, in March of 2015 Tribune Media entered into an agreement with Riverside Investment & Development to redevelop the property along West Chicago Avenue.

The southern portion, which contains the Freedom Center is still very much in use, and is zoned as a planned manufacturing district (PMD5) intended for warehouses.  The northern portion is split between PMD5 zoning for the vacant space on the east, bordering the river, and M3-3, which is “heavy manufacturing” like junkyards and landfills.  The M3-3 space currently contains a 115,000 square-foot empty building.  Clearly, some zoning changes are needed here if any residential development is going to happen.

700 West Chicago redevelopment (Courtesy of Goettsch Partners)

700 West Chicago redevelopment (Courtesy of Goettsch Partners)

And that residential development might just look like the picture above.  It’s a master plan created by Goettsch Partners for Riverside Investment & Development which shows what might be possible in this space.  Goettsch describes it thusly:

The project at 700 West Chicago is a master plan to develop 37 acres along the Chicago River into a live / work / play technology campus. The development will consist of state of the art tech office space intermixed with residential high rises and supporting retail functions. The office buildings are defined by high ceilings and ample outdoor terraces, an open loft concept catering to the tech community.

A river walk follows the river fronted by parks and amenity spaces for the office and residential tenants. Space is provided for boat docking, river activities and a water taxi stop. The buildings are accessed at the ground level which is activated by open plazas, parks and support retail. Space is provided for food trucks. Shuttle buses, taxi stands, bike parking, etc.

Parking, loading and service are below the ground level in a podium that aligns with the river walk level. Active functions mask the parking and service from the river.

The image is looking south, and you can see the northern portion of the property four towers rising.  This is phase one and two.  Phase one is the leftmost tower, envisioned as an office building with 435,000 square feet of space.  This goes on the currently vacant land zoned PMD5.  The other three towers to the right (west) end up in the M3-3-zoned space.  It’s seen as one 300,000 square-foot residential tower and two 350,000 square-foot office towers.

What about the rest of the property?  The area where the Freedom Center is now?  Well, there’s a reason those buildings in the picture are a little less defined than the others.  Those 30 acres are being held for “future” development.  Think of what you see there as a placeholder.

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from The Chicago Architecture Blog

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