Wolf Point’s New Skyscrapers to Change Chicago’s Skyline

Twenty-four hours ago, we thought we’d be writing about the latest on 435 North Park Drive, the new mixed use hotel-on-the-bottom, apartments-on-top skyscraper sundae with a bar for a cherry on the roof.  But just an hour before the DRW/SCB/SORE alphabet soup was supposed to boil over in Streeterville, Alderman Brendan Reilly dropped a bombshell in our iPhones: Preliminary specifications for the new Hines development on Wolf Point.

Chicago architects joke that every firm in the city has drawn up plans for Wolf Point at one time or another over the years.  But it’s a cursed spit of land where somehow nothing ever gets done.  More importantly, of the three most highly prized chunks of available land along the river in downtown Chicago, it’s easily number one.

If you’re not familiar with the name, you’ve probably seen it driving by when you visit the Merchandise Mart; from the Brown, Green, or Pink line El trains on Lake or Wells Street; or even in the opening title sequence of the 1970’s TV show Good Times.  Even back then, it was a crappy surface parking lot in front of what is now known as 350 West Mart Plaza (350 North Orleans Street).  But more importantly, it’s probably the most visible location in downtown Chicago.

Apparently, Hines isn’t taking that prominence lightly, and is planning three skyscrapers to make maximum use of the space.  The first is the West Tower — Quite respectable at 525-feet-tall.  It’s going to be residential, so let’s estimate that it’s going to be 50 stories tall.

The second is the East Tower.  It’s even bigger — 750 feet.  Mixed use usually means taller ceilings, so let’s guess it’ll be 65 stories tall.

And then there’s the South Tower.  On the edge of the property, at the apex of the confluence, this skyscraper will scrape the sky at 900 feet tall.  That’s 116 feet taller than 300 North LaSalle a few blocks away, which already looks strangely too large for the area.  This new tower will be like putting City Hall on top of that.  The 900 feet will be mixed use, so we’ll guess that it’ll come in at 85 stories.

To give you an idea of the kind of visual impact that’s going to have, here’s a guestimation we pulled out of our butts:

Wolf Point Mockup

Wolf Point Mockup

Aside from the fact that three new skyscrapers will be going up right next to each other, and within a few blocks of three other towers also under construction, is the fact that the tallest one will be 900 feet.  The bulk of the Trump tower (401 North Wabash Avenue) down the river tops out at 1,088 feet.  Wolf Point’s South Tower is another in the wave of near-supertalls that are changing the city’s skyline.

Just a few years ago, driving into town on I-90/94, the most prominent buildings in the skyline were the two big black bookends — Willis Tower (230 South Wacker Drive), and the John Hancock Center (875 North Michigan Avenue).  Now, there are the spikes and tines of the new trunks of a growing skyscraper forest emerging from the canopy:  The aforementioned Trump International Hotel and Tower, the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, and 300 North LaSalle Street are all positioned and tall enough to have a serious visual impact on the skyline.  But not enough to have “changed” it.

Perhaps this new development is the critical mass needed to make that transition from a primarily 50/60-story skyline to an 80/90/100-story skyline where monster towers are visually the norm, not the exceptions.  Think about how tall and out-of-sorts 300 North LaSalle looks from the expressway.  This new development will be taller, wider, and closer than that.

Of course, this could all end up in the dustbin of history like so many plans before it.  Hines hasn’t even filed any paperwork with the city yet. However it has either done a traffic study, or has one going on at this time.

Even though this latest plan for Wolf Point hasn’t gotten very far, it’s still gotten farther than some of the previous plans.  A company like Hines likes to take advantage of the swings in the market.  And any savvy businessman knows that you build in a down market so that you can take advantage of the recovery. Well, we’ve got the down market.  And I’ve been told by five developers since January that they feel a recovery coming on, which is why so many new buildings are going up in Chicago.  Maybe this will be three of them.

West Tower:

  • 525 feet
  • Residential
  • 510 residences
  • 200 parking spaces

East Tower:

  • 750 feet
  • Mixed use
  • 200 parking spaces

South Tower:

  • 900 feet
  • Mixed use
  • 600 residences
  • 885 parking spaces

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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