West Loop Tower Opposition Could Change Design, Landscape

Mock-up of Old Saint Patrick’s Tower.

People living in the West Loop are getting a better understanding of their potential new neighbor: a 22-story  office tower to be erected on a surface parking lot currently owned by Old Saint Patrick’s Church.

The Old Saint Patrick’s Tower (not its official name, just an allonym we’re using here) is the latest in a string of minor skyscrapers to go up in the neighborhood, which is rapidly transforming from a wasteland of asphalt lots and junk office space into a functioning, trendy live-work-play neighborhood.  But growth is not without its growing pains, in the West Loop, or anywhere else; and in a story that’s been repeated in a hundreds of neighborhoods across the country, it’s the urban pioneers who suffer.

In this case, it’s the residents of The Edge (210 South Des Plaines Street), and The Haberdasher Square Lofts (728 West Jackson Boulevard) who are most affected.  At a recent community forum, people expressed their fears about both light and darkness.

Old Saint Pat’s Tower image courtesy of Solomon Cordwell Buenz

Light, in the sense that some of the newer skyscrapers closer to the Chicago River reflect the setting sun at them with Archimedian viciousness.  The Heller International Building (500 West Monroe) and the USG tower (550 West Adams) are two prime offenders.  It may sound like trifling, but I know from first hand experience that these buildings conspire with the sun to turn lovely spring days into lurid summer infernos that no air conditioner can best.

At the meeting, the residents were assured by a lawyer for the developers that the building would be coated with “a new generation” of glass that manages to be energy-efficient, while cutting down on reflections.

That was enough to assuage fears, until someone pointed out that the sun isn’t going to be that big a problem, because the new tower will be so close to their homes that they won’t be able to see the skyline anymore.  And so begins yet another classic battle of the views.

When first moved to Chicago years ago I lived at what is now called the Century Tower (182 West Lake Street).  I had picture-perfect views of the Chicago River.  Those views are now gone.  Destroyed by the construction of 200 Squared (210 North Wells Street).  When I lived at The Shoreham (400 East South Water Street), I had amazing views of Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.  Until The Chandler (450 East Waterside Drive) went up next door.  It’s fact of urban life:  If you have a great view, sooner or later someone will obstruct it.

Old Saint Pat’s Tower image courtesy of Solomon Cordwell Buenz

Look at all the money spent by residents of the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan Avenue) to block Fourth Presbyterian Church from erecting its proposed tower across the street. They threw out all kinds of red herrings about noise and traffic and congestion to justify their positions, but the bottom line was that they didn’t want their views blocked.  The Hancock people got the church project killed.  But unlike the Hancock Center, The Edge isn’t populated by state Supreme Court justices, television stars, and former politicians.  It just has ordinary people.  People who will have to, sooner or later, come to grips with the fact that as urban pioneers, they moved into a neighborhood and helped it grow.  And in return, the neighborhood is taking their view away.  It’s just what happens.

Some residents of The Edge feel betrayed by the church.  They recall representatives of Old Saint Pat’s telling them that if the surface parking lot at Adams and Des Plaines was developed, it would be for a five-story “spiritual center,” and not for a 22-story office tower.

But that doesn’t mean there can’t be compromises and solutions.

We’ll deal with the most outrageous proposal first, simply because it would make everyone happy, and is the most interesting.  It’s the idea that the Old Saint Pat’s Tower be built on Heritage Green Park.  In exchange, the park would be moved to the location where the tower is currently proposed.  It’s an outlandish land swap, falls into that sit-com cliché “it’s so crazy, it just might work.”  Alderman Fioretti pledged to bring the land swap idea to the Chicago Park District.  It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it.  If so, I call dibs on the headline “Turf War.”

Old Saint Pat’s Tower image courtesy of Solomon Cordwell Buenz

On the compromise front, Larry Gage, president of the Fulton River District Association says the architects at Solomon Cordwell Buenz have agreed to take a second look at the design to see if it can be made less offensive to the neighbors.  At the meeting at Francis Xavier Warde School, it was noted that the ugliest side of the proposed office tower faces The Edge.  So, some effort is going to be put into figuring out if there’s a way to make it better.

Perhaps more effective, is the notion that the building’s setback could be relocated.  Right now, there is about a 35-foot setback on the building’s south side.  This was included by the designers so that they could get permission from the city to build the building a little taller.  The architects have been asked to re-examine their design to see if the setback can be moved to the west side of the building, where the majority of the obstructed views would be.  It may not sound like much, but 35 feet, combined with the width of the street and sidewalk, plus The Edge’s own substantial east-facing setback could work just enough geometric magic to lessen the impact of the building on a lot of views.  Using Department of Zoning maps, we estimate the total distance between the two towers could be up to 148 feet.  We’ll wait to hear from the experts to find out if we’re right.

Those experts will get a chance to talk to the public again in June.  Because people were only given two days notice of the public meeting, Alderman Fioretti’s office has asked the developer to come back in two weeks for a proper meeting.  Hopefully by then, the architects will have a new building design that works better for the neighbors.




Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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  1. There is not a right to a view. Designing around views is not sound urban planning for the public good. These are nice buildings and I am glad they are getting built but they should be a little taller and thinner. Taller and thinner means less sun light is blocked and there is less of a canyon effect. It is also more efficient land-use and leaves more room for green space: wider parkways with trees, plazas and wider sidewalks. It is great to get rid of these ugly, asphalt parking lots that are heat islands and create rain-water runoff but we need to build taller to make the buildings more elegant, contribute to the world-class skyline and leave more room for green space and plazas. Higher density is the way to go so close to downtown Chicago. Chicago is a global city and taller and thinner is more green and more global.

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    • Editor

      I agree with you that taller, thinner buildings are better for neighborhoods. Sadly, that’s just not going to happen here.

      This building, as designed, is already taller than the heigh limit allowed by the City of Chicago for this plot. Because it has a green roof, and the previously mentioned setback, it has been allowed by the city to achieve its current height.

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    • Land swap sounds great this means all will be pleaseed and a new park area would be welcomed. When moving into area 6 years ago we were told the zone level here was seven levels and view would not be compromised.

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  2. Move the park so a few residents won’t get their views blocked and Fioretti is going to bring it to the Park District. What? How about just say no and lead not pander? It is prosperous to let people think these are good ideas in urban planning. The park is situated across from an elegant, historic church and is well-placed. Moving it would be a complete waste of resources and a less appropriate location than across from a church. NIMBYs get crazy with their self indulgence. We need to take them out of their self-centered world and lead them to think about public good not just their own condos. Leave the park where it is and build the new building just taller and thinner.

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  3. BTW, this is an excellent blog. Thank you for doing it!!!

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  4. The land swap idea is one I hadn’t even imagined, but now that it’s out there, I simply love it.

    Better St Pats Church sell out themselves, then their current plan of selling out their neighbors.

    Involving the park in the deal has the opportunity to make the park bigger (bigger lot), better funded , and more beautiful.


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  5. Well, 10 years ago this area was being passed off as residential. Now the city wants to change it to commercial? The swap idea sounds great, thats good planning. Turning your backs on the buyers the city so desperately wanted 10 years ago will no doubt ruin anyone from risking to buy in this area ever again. Why bother when they might upzone the neighbor and put a crappy office block there?

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  6. Oh – and SCB should be ashamed of this design. Really guys, did you pull this off the shelf from 1995?

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  7. There are many issues to this situation.

    1. Yes, St. Pat has grown in the last 25 years but everything has a limited life span, does OSP thinks its going to continue to grow as it has in the past is ridicules. So why build a monstority for something that will not be needed. Also who is this building serving? The residents that support OSP or the people that come once for a wedding or once a year for a church function? How fair is this?

    2. Can’t OSP build its original plan of a 4 -5 story parking structure and sacred space? Being a catholic church they would get tax write off and with so many TIF programs, why not partake in them.

    3. The land swap would be ideal. If this building is for the church then let them look at it. Currently the land across is really a dog park, with the swap there would be more space to be shared for the entire neighborhood.

    4. Bottom line OSP has sold its soul for money. They get free space that they will not have to upkeep or maintain, but they are selling out the neighborhood.

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  8. St Pat already has a nasty footprint on this neighborhood. Cars blocking two full lanes of the street so the SUV mommies can idle and text on cell phones (omg, omg, omg) while spewing pollution into the nearby residences. The kids from the school take over the park (subsidizing the church/school operation further) something no other organized group would be allowed to do without a city event permit. The evil drunken Block Party that shuts down the neighborhood for 3 full days. And… wait for it…. NO TAXES. All take, nothing given back. The church is destroying the neighborhood.

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    • Editor

      While it is true that the amount that Old Saint Pat’s contributes to the neighborhood pales in comparison with other nearby churches, to say that it gives nothing back is not accurate. I think what you mean to say is that Old Saint Pat’s gives nothing to YOU.

      I’m not apologizing for the church. Far from it. In fact, just a couple of years ago I put my hand up at a meeting at Old Saint Pat’s and asked what exactly the church did for non-members. There was an angry and awkward silence from the members before I got some half-hearted responses that, again, pale in comparison with other nearby churches.

      Looking at the church’s web site, and most recent bulletin, I see the Solidarity Market, a divorce support group, a fundraiser for the Career Transitions Center, and a monthly event at the Chicago Food Depository. There’s also a list of charitable events including an adoption support group, an adult literacy program, a group that helps children with AIDS, music classes for the homeless, etc… that the web site implies are Old Saint Pat’s initiatives, but I think in reality are other groups’ efforts that OSP is just publicizing on its web site.

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  9. there are on going traffic issues at the corner of adams and des plaines, so far at least 5 people have died at this corner. From getting run over by a bus to car accidents, We do not need more traffic problems. Good luck because this will pass regardless!!

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  10. Building the tower on the Heritage Park site solves MANY problems: 1) It prevents the property values at the Edge from plummeting, 2) It provides better access to the Kennedy expressway for people who park in the garage, which eliminates all the additional traffic on DesPlaines, Jackson, Jefferson and Adams, 3) It allows the architects to build the tower made from any materials they want, using any design they wish, 4) It restores the relationship between the neighbors and the church and satisfies the developers and their goals all at the same time.

    Yes, this is about blocking our views but more importantly, it’s about money (property values, rental income, etc). The impending decision could have serious impact on the economic future of the residents. Thank you, in advance, Alderman Fioretti for making a serious attempt to sell in this land swap. Please understand that we are not rejecting growth and change for the city of Chicago. We know that this tower will be built regardless of how many community meetings are held, but we are asking for serious consideration of all of the issues. We are willing to work through these issues to find the best solution for the church, the residents and the developers. Tell us what you need from us, the residents, to help make this happen and the church and the new development will have our full support.

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  11. I am against this project. Having lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, it has a nice rhythm. Bringing a large building into the area will add more congestion, cars, fumes, people, parking headaches, etc. With occupancy rates below the line in the city, who do the developers think will occupy this building? I am a proponent of change. I fuly get that progress is a great thing for our city. If this building has to be erected, do it on the north side of Adams. Let OSP have the honor of looking at their monstrosity–I mean building, everyday. Move the park to the south side of Adams. How difficult can that be, the area will be under construction anyway. Just move the park over. It is the best compromise. I am starting to feel the West Loop morph into the South Loop and what a shame that is for our community.

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    • Mr. West Loop meet Ms. Lincoln Park – same complaints, different neighborhood.

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