With autumn here, we’re required by law to use fall references wherever we can. In this case, we’ll go with “One bad apple can spoil the bushel,” because that’s what people in the Fulton River District have been dealing with for as long as many people can remember.
The bad apple is the smelly, boarded-up, eyesore of a building that squats on one of the corners of Grand, Milwaukee, and Halsted. It’s a magnet for graffiti, rats, and mildew. It looks like it’s about to collapse in on itself. Yet somehow it still managed to funk up the neighborhood year after year.
It used to be a restaurant supply house, but burned a decade ago. In more optimistic times, the city approved a plan to build a condo tower with 141 residences there, but then the economy ate itself, and the rest is smelly, smelly history.
It’s one of the blocks we get asked about most often here at the Chicago Architecture Blog. Until now, the best idea we’ve heard for redeveloping the space ran along the lines of “nuke it from orbit.” But friends-of-the-blog, Fifield, have a different idea.
It’s come up with a Urban Form and developed a plan called 500 North Milwaukee, designed by Pappageorge/Haymes, which will finally turn the festering wound into something more useful. It wants to build a high-rise tower, and an accompanying low-rise building with 221 residences, plus street-level retail.
The four-story low-rise building would occupy the triangle bounded by West Grand Avenue, North Milwaukee Avenue, and North Green Street. The 13-story tower would be across Green Street, (technically, 521 North Peoria Street) on the eastern third of the oddly-shaped block bounded by North Milwaukee Avenue, North Green Street, West Grand Avenue, and North Peoria Street.
The new design gives the prow of the flatiron-shaped property to the CTA for a bus shelter, or a transit center, or an elevator to the Blue Line—whatever it needs. If you’ve ever caught a bus in that location, you know that the sidewalk is very narrow. The new building has generous setbacks. The Milwaukee Avenue sidewalk will go from 10 feet wide to almost 15. On Grand Avenue it goes from 12 feet to 18 feet.
The drawings by Pappageorge/Haymes show the obligatory green roof. Other green things are still being worked out. A Fifield spokesman tells us, “LEED goals are not yet set, but we strive for at least a certified level in all of our projects.”
When will we see some work done? Think sooner, rather than later. Fifield wants to turn dirt within eight months.
The previous city approval for this parcel was supposed to expire September 13, 2012. In may of last year, the previous developer asked the city for a one-year extension to start construction, and asked if it could increase the size of the building to a 26-story skyscraper with 299 residences. The city said no to the extra height, but yes to the time extension. When nothing continued to happen with the property for another year, the city’s permission expired last month.
Now the new developer will have to go through the entire process again. But considering the terrible condition of the existing building, it’s hard to imagine that the neighbors will be opposed to the new project. We’ll see what happens.