Wolf Point Development Plan Unveiled

Wolf Point rendering

The latest plan for turning Wolf Point from an underutilized nub of River North into a skyscraper showcase was unveiled this afternoon (May 29, 2012) to an audience of 400 people who gasped audibly at the drawings.

The plan calls for a monumental 900-foot-tall iconic skyscraper on Wolf Point’s southern tip, flanked by a pair of smaller towers to its east and west. The scale, position, and design of the project ensures that, if built, it will become an instant Chicago landmark.

The towers come from the imaginations at Pelli Clark Pelli Architects in New Haven, Connecticut. That means they don’t look like the same old recycled skyscraper designs we’ve seen come out of the usual Chicago firms for domestic consumption. True, the style is classic Pelli Clark Pelli, but since there are so few PCP buildings in this city, they will stand out in the crowd.

Wolf Point renderingThe towers are treated not as giant square blocks of glass steel and stone rising out of the earth, but rather as light frameworks resting delicately on the ground. Pelli Clark Pelli puts the “curtain” back in “curtain wall” with forms that are curved so they seem to hang from the framework as if blowing in the wind, or trying to contain some expanding force from within the building.

Not only do they curve, they bow out from the center enough to be noticed, but not enough to be garish or gimmicky. The curtain walls come off as a gauzy visual afterthought. You can see it best at the base of the towers, because the walls don’t come all the way down. The actual lobby portions of the buildings are inset. So much so that the landscaping that abounds in this plan continues underneath the offices of the building.

The effect is that people in the gardens will be Lilliputians looking up the skirts of three shiny glass giants.
The result is that the building footprints only occupy 25% of the site. That’s far less than the city approved for Wolf Point in 1973.

It’s that 1973 plan that is the primary bone of contention among some.

At this afternoon’s meeting, a woman representing Friends of Wolf Point distributed information before the plan was even unveiled denouncing the unseen plan and making many grandiose demands and claims.

We’ll go into why the naysayers say nay in more detail in a future article. But here are their big beefs right now:

Wolf Point should be protected as a park and monument to where Chicago was born.

In reality, Chicago was born down the river at Michigan Avenue. For the entirety of Wolf Point’s modern history it has been an industrial wasteland, used for bulk storage or abandoned. Its current use as a surface parking lot has been its highest calling.

The 1973 development plan approved by the city has expired and is no longer valid.

We’ve looked at the entire 1973 document and can find no notation on it indicating that it has an expiration date. We’re not lawyers, but the developers have one of the best Chicago real estate lawyers on their team. Tomorrow morning (May 30, 2012) he’s going to file paperwork with the city to amend the 1973 plan. He’s not a stupid person. He wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t possible.

Developing Wolf Point will violate the city’s riverwalk requirements.

Wolf Point renderingThe man who actually wrote those requirements is part of the development team. He designed a new 900-foot-long riverwalk atop a bulkhead that will protect Wolf Point. It’s his contention that thousands of square feet of the point have been lost over the years because of erosion. Development will protect the remaining nub.

Putting skyscrapers on Wolf Point will blot out views of the Apparel Center.

One of the architects who designed the Apparel Center is on the development team. He says they knew when they were designing the building that it would some day be blocked by skyscrapers to the south. That may help explain why it had a lack of windows for most of its history.

Putting three skyscrapers on Wolf Point will create a traffic nightmare.

Maybe not a nightmare, but the naysayers are on to something here. In spite of the developers contention that this is a “transit-oriented” project, it simply isn’t. We’ll go into detail about that in a future article. Even the developers’ own traffic study shows that the current River North bottlenecks will get worse. Many are already at grade “C” by CDOT standards. Building these skyscrapers will push some of those ratings to “F.”

Whether this Wolf Point development ever becomes a reality is anyone’s guess at this point. The developers have been playing all the right chords and saying the right things to assuage the masses. They’ve assembled an army of facts and experts to explain their side. And they’ve put together quite a good looking set of buildings.

We’ll have to see how the opposition shapes up over the next few months. Friends of Wolf Point doesn’t have the history, credibility, or money of an organization like Streeterville’s SORE (Seniors Opposed to Really Everything). It was only founded a month ago (April 12, 2012). In fact, while Friends of Wolf Point describes itself as “a not-for-profit, educational organization” it can hardly be considered a neutral third party considering it is headquartered in a residence on the 35th floor of the Riverbend Condominiums (333 North Canal Street). Over the years, that building has been spotlighted in movies, on television, and in advertisements because its epic views of the Chicago River. Views its residents are sure to lose if Wolf Point becomes anything better than a surface parking lot.

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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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