Greek-Themed Skyscraper Planned for Greektown

765 West Adams - July, 2012 rendering

It was just about a month ago that we brought you the first whiff of news about 765 West Adams: That it would be a 33-story skyscraper with residences over a retail podium. Now we can fill in all the details.

If you’re not familiar with the location, it’s the surface parking of across the street from Walgreens in Greektown. With all of the development going on in the West Loop area, it’s understandable that people may confuse one project with another. Still, it was with considerable mirth at a public meeting last night that we encountered a cadre of troublemakers intent on raising hell over the proposed Old Saint Pats Tower. They discovered with much disappointment that their rage would find no outlet this night.

765 West Adams - July, 2012 renderingFitzGerald Associates design for the building is pretty typical for a Chicago residential tower. Lots of balconies on top of lots of paring. The designers and developers took a couple of interesting steps to make the building friendly to the neighborhood.

First, it’s oriented with the narrow portion of the tower facing east to west. Instead of maximizing rents by providing epic downtown views, the developers are maximizing the preservation of skyline views for other residential buildings in the area. In the same vein, the footprint of the podium has been pulled back from the existing property line by ten feet to make the sidewalks wider and allow the planting of trees.

Second, this building doesn’t forget it’s in Greektown. The white and blue color scheme is deliberate, though the exact shade of blue is still being worked out. And surrounding the podium on three sides is Greek-themed art.

Facing I-90/94 and wrapping around the eastern and southern sides of the podium are stylized Olympic runners. The design is taken from a famous piece of ancient Greek pottery. It is followed by the word “Greektown.” On the northern side of the podium is a depiction of the Parthenon, giving the neighborhood its first significant icon since the concrete torches were erected along the Kennedy Expressway years ago.

The designs aren’t merely painted on the building. They’re punched metal screens, like the kind being installed at the Loop Target store that opens later this month. That means the designs won’t fade over time. More interestingly, the designs will be black on a white surface during the daytime. At night when the garage is illuminated from within, they will appear to be white on a dark background. Further glittering visual interest should come from the headlights of cars driving around behind the screens.

“This building is in Greektown. We think this building has to acknowledge where it is and have a Greek theme,” said the building’s architect, Pat FitzGerald, which has its offices a few blocks away on Lake Street.

As for the name, “765 West Adams” — don’t get used to it. The developer is whittling down a list of a couple of hundred Greek-themed names for the building,

Third, the podium will act as a barrier against the constant noise of the freeway that filters through the neighborhood.

765 West Adams - July, 2012 renderingNot everyone thinks that barrier is a good thing. There are some concerns from those living west of Halsted Street that the tower, combined with Skybridge (1 North Halsted Street) and a planned tower for the Crowne Plaza property at 1 South Halsted, will visually and culturally cut off Greektown from The Loop.

“You can’t argue with a feeling — the feeling that you’re being enclosed,” said White Oak’s Richard Blum. “However, there’s a lot of benefits that are going to be derived from this building as well. There’s going to be parking. There’s going to be residents that support businesses. There’s going to be upgrades to the streetscapes. There’s going to be jobs created. There’s additional tax revenues generated from this property which is going to help support the neighborhood.”

The developer also tried to point out the need for a rental building in the area. In spite of its popularity in recent years as a residential neighborhood, there are virtually no rental buildings in the sub-market.

That’s just fine with many people at the public meeting who displayed an unusual type of bigotry. They’re afraid of renters. “You know… those people,” was whispered in hushed tones. Others were more vocal in their objections to, “the type of people who rent.” They’re convinced that people who rent have a negative influence on a building and the community because renters don’t have a large financial stake in its future.

Someone should tell that to Aqua, the John Hancock Center, and Trump International Hotel and Tower — Three of Chicago’s five best residential buildings, all of which entertain renters.

Further, the whole reason there is a lack of rental buildings in the West Loop is because the buildings the naysayers live in now started out as rental buildings, but then went condo during the housing boom. If it wasn’t for renters acting as urban pioneers in these buildings, a certain percentage of the grumbling grannies wouldn’t even be living in the West Loop.

Residents counter that there are plenty of rentals available inside the existing condominium buildings. However, traditionally those units will be the first to dry up when the economy recovers, and there are a large number of renters who won’t rent from an individual landlord. Either because they’ve had previous bad experiences, or they prefer the benefits of working with a large professional management company instead of a single homeowner.

If everything goes well, construction on 765 West Adams could start in around six months and be finished 18 months after that, around summer of 2014. But 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. is concerned about the process the building’s gone through so far.

765 West Adams - July, 2012 renderingThe developers have met with several community groups in the West Loop and Greektown, and made changes to the building in response to their concerns. Burnett, however, says that he feels sandbagged by the building proposal, indicating that he believes he was left out of the loop on its progress, especially considering that it hasn’t gone before several city departments yet.

Comically, in front of his constituents last night, the developers and their lawyers had to explain portions of the city’s zoning laws and building approval process to the alderman. In building proposal meetings in the Second Ward with Alderman Robert Fioretti, and in the 42nd ward with Alderman Brendan Reilly, it is the aldermen explaining the nuances of what is and is not allowed to the developer, and not the other way around.

This may be because projects of this size don’t come around very often in the 27th ward. As the alderman noted, “It’s nice to have something going on in our community, because some days we don’t have anything going on but foreclosures and other things happening in the neighborhood. So for people to be interested in our neighborhood is a blessing. It’s good to be wanted.”

In the case of the plot of land bounded by West Adams Street, South Halsted Street, West Quincy Court, and I-90/94, what is currently allowed by the city’s zoning ordinance is known as “DX-5.” This means the developer has the right to build a building five stories tall, plus parking, using the entire block. Or ten stories tall using half the block. Or 20 stories tall using a quarter of the block. Again, plus floors for parking.

This is because the city’s master plan for development envisions a line of skyscrapers eventually flanking the expressway, hiding the visual and aural blight of the transportation scar.

The developer is asking for the DX-5 to be changed to a DX-7 so it can make the building 33-stories tall. This is a change from White Oak’s original plan to ask for DX-10 zoning for an even taller building.

765 West Adams - July, 2012 renderingSo, what happens if it can’t get the DX-7 its asking for? A tower with fewer units isn’t economically viable, so White Oak will walk away and Greektown will get to keep its surface parking lot.

Building Details

  • Developer: White Oak Realty Partners in Rosemont
  • Architect: Pat FitzGerald
  • Architecture firm: FitzGerald Associates
  • Height: 355 feet
  • Floors: 33 stories
  • Residences: 351
  • Average apartment size: 759 square feet
  • 13 residences per floor
  • Current parking on this location: 90 spaces
  • New parking garage capacity: 338 spaces
  • One level of retail
  • Four levels of parking
  • Narrow end of the tower is 74 feet wide
  • Vehicle access is via Quincy Street to avoid backing up traffic on Halsted or Adams Streets
  • The building has its own covered dog run
  • Estimated cost: $100 million

Other Notes of Interest

  • Building approved by West Loop Gate
  • Building approved by the Greektown SSA
  • Building approved by the West Central Association
  • The Greektown restaurants don’t use the surface parking lot being eliminated; they have their own private lots for valet parking.
  • The surface parking lot is used primarily by commuters looking for cheap daily parking who then walk to work in the Loop.
  • Proposed building is about 95 feet shorter than Skybridge.
  • Greektown business owners association happy with the increased parking.
  • Although the West Loop west of Halsted Street is zoned for low and medium-height buildings, the strip east of Halsted Street is zoned for large skyscrapers with no height limit
  • Some residents compare the combination of 765 West Adams and Skybridge and the proposed 1 South Halsted unfavorably to Michigan Avenue. They consider Michigan Avenue’s landmark streetwall a “matchbox” eyesore
  • The developer had a grocery store ready to go for the ground-floor retail space, but abandoned the deal when community groups objected to it
  • The developer was going to have a 45,000 square-foot XSport fitness health club in the building, but abandoned that deal due to community group concerns about parking and traffic
  • The traffic impact study is not currently available because it is being revised to remove the impact of the proposed health club

 

Editor

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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