Wolf Point Pushed Into 2013. Developers Mess With Bull; Get the Horns

Wolf Point

A pair of big shot real estate developers from Houston and the East Coast are learning a lesson about doing business in Chicago — Don’t underestimate a flyover state.

You’ll remember that last month Hines and the Kennedys, which are trying to erect three towers on Wolf Point (350 North Orleans Street), apparently tried to slip a fast one past 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly. In a move reminiscent of a Beltway politician, they did a document dump on the alderman the day before the city’s November Plan Commission meeting. Reilly may live in an I-state (Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ikelahoma), but he’s also a Chicago politician. And you don’t get to be a Chicago politician by being stupid.

Reilly plowed through the pile of papers and found out that many of the concessions to the neighborhood the developers agreed to in negotiations were left out of the final paperwork. In addition, suddenly there was a massive 1,800-room hotel included in the project. As the kids on the interweb say these days: WTF?

Reilly yanked Wolf Point off the November Plan Commission docket, and has now yanked it from the December agenda as well.

In case the developers can’t read the writing on the wall, he sent them a note letting them know in no uncertain terms that they will not be turning dirt in 2012, as they planned.

What will happen is another series of traffic studies and yet another public hearing on the project.

Reilly’s been pounding the concrete in River North, the cracked asphalt of the Fulton River District and the shiny marble halls of City Hall talking to community groups and department heads about what’s going on. And if Hines/Kennedy want this to move forward, they’re going to have to play nice.

  • Reilly has told the developers that an 1,800 room hotel isn’t going to fly. They can have 450 rooms.
  • They can’t have a full-service hotel. That means no lucrative ballrooms and conference facilities.
  • He wants at least three new traffic studies — one for each phase of the construction project. And the first one is due on his desk next week.
  • The developer must hold another public meeting. Twisting the knife in Wolf Point’s heart, it is being held on December 20th — the same date the developers expected to get the project approved. Instead of popping corks, they’ll have to endure another peppering from local NIMBY groups.

The full text of Reilly’s latest letter to his constituents follows:

I am writing to provide you with another update regarding the Wolf Point Proposal. As you know, last week I had this project removed from the Chicago Plan Commission’s November 27th Agenda. I made this decision after previously undisclosed details were revealed by the Developer just one day before the November 27th public hearing. To make matters worse, the Filing did not include the long list of previously negotiated changes and improvements to the proposal.

Since deferring this item from the November Plan Commission Agenda, I have spent the past week meeting with the City of Chicago’s planning and infrastructure departments as well as representatives from the River North and Fulton River District neighborhood associations to evaluate the new details recently released by the Developer that call for a hotel use and the potential for additional residential units on the site.

Although Hines/Kennedy have been aggressively lobbying for a process that would allow them to secure all necessary city approvals by the end of 2012, in light of the recent events, I have informed the development team that their preferred timeline is simply no longer feasible. As a result, I have again requested that the Chicago Plan Commission defer this item from its December 20th Agenda, for the purpose of vetting new information related to the Bulk Table for the site and to allow for a much-needed sixth revision to KLOA’s traffic study.

We expect to receive an updated traffic study from KLOA next week, at which time I will dissect that study with the traffic engineers at CDOT to ensure the proper data and methodology were used to provide us with a realistic forecast of the revised traffic impacts associated with the details contained in the Bulk Table.

Please click here to review a copy of the most recent draft of the Bulk Table, which reflects the past week’s negotiations with the Developer.

When reviewing the revised Bulk Table, you will note that we have dramatically reduced the maximum allowable hotel rooms on the site from the 1,800 rooms the Developer attempted to incorporate into their plans last week – down to a maximum potential number of hotel keys on the site to no more than 450 rooms.

It is important to note that we are also requiring the Developer to memorialize a commitment that any potential hotel on the site will be a Limited Service Hotel (not a full service hotel) that does not include any conference or ballroom space. This is quite significant because a Limited Service Hotel has far less impact on parking needs and traffic circulation than a full service hotel does.

In the interest of providing full transparency, I will also be co-hosting a third public meeting in conjunction with the River North and Fulton River District associations on the date the Developer had otherwise hoped this project would be approved by the Chicago Plan Commission: Thursday, December 20th.

Based upon the piecemeal manner in which information and important project details have been shared with the City of Chicago, my office and the constituents I represent – I have determined that this third public meeting is absolutely necessary to ensure all parties have a chance to better understand the Bulk Table and resulting traffic impacts. It is important to me that you have adequate time for review and comment on the revised proposal.

I want to also inform you of the additional, extraordinary layers of process that I will require of the Developer for Phase II and III of the project, moving forward. Phase II and Phase III will now require an additional trip to the Chicago Plan Commission for a public hearing (with opportunity for testimony and public comment) at which time members of the Plan Commission and infrastructure departments will review the specific details associated with the construction phase and make suggestions and revisions to the plans to reflect the infrastructure realities that exist in real-time when the towers are to be built.

Requiring these additional hearings before the Chicago Plan Commission is uncharacteristic of how we process all other planned developments downtown and throughout the City of Chicago. Phased developments are usually only required to submit plans for a Site Plan Approval which is processed administratively by city staff and is entirely hidden from public process. I have directed the Developer to memorialize those mandatory trips to the Plan Commission in their revised planned development documents.

I have also insisted upon an additional layer of transparency and review that is not typically required in phased developments. We are requiring that the Site Plan Approval documents must also include an updated traffic study based on data that reflects present day conditions at the time of construction for Phase II and Phase III of the project. This will ensure consideration of new or unanticipated development in the area that exists at the time of Site Plan Review.

These additional requirements are not common for the approval of phased developments in Chicago. The City does not require a new traffic study to be conducted as part of their official Site Plan Approval process. However, based upon the uniqueness of this site, the complexity of this proposal and the track record of the Development consultants, I feel obliged to require these additional layers of accountability on behalf of the constituents I was elected to represent.

By deferring this item from the December 20th Plan Commission Agenda, you will have more than a month to react to the revised Bulk Table and to review and digest the sixth revised traffic study that contemplates the “worst case scenario” of potential uses on the site for Phase II and Phase III. As soon as we have a vetted traffic study that passes muster with CDOT, I will distribute it broadly.

Once we have secured a meeting room and a start time for our third community meeting to be held on the evening of December 20th, I will share those details with you directly. Please “Save the Date” for this December 20th meeting. I hope you will consider joining us for another public review of the Wolf Point proposal.

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Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003. He has degrees in journalism and communication, and spent 20 years as a professional broadcaster as a reporter, anchor, producer, and news director. He can be reached at editor@ChicagoArchitecture.info.

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2 Comments

  1. What they did was certainly dishonest, but I’m not really sure why a large hotel would be so problematic in that area.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      The main concern people have about this development is traffic. A full-service hotel brings a lot more traffic into an area than a residential and office development. Think charter buses, shuttle buses, tour buses, taxis, etc…

      I’m not sure taxis would matter all that much. The whole Merchandise Mart area is already pretty heavily taxiied. But I can see the point with the buses.

      The traffic studies will determine how big a problem the hotel poses. Maybe none; maybe catastrophic. We’ll see.

      While the alderman’s apparent move to punish the developers by limiting their hotel size and type makes be giggle, I’m not sure that in the long run it’s the best move. I think it’s better to let the traffic studies determine whether a full-service hotel would work in that location or not, and a hotel of what size.

      The amount of money a hotel makes from banquet and meeting facilities is not inconsequential. I wouldn’t be surprised if it would be enough to encourage the developers to pursue some legal avenue if the traffic studies come out in their favor.

      Hines isn’t stupid or poor. Its lawyers deal with much larger challenges than this every day around the world.

      Post a Reply

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