More than a decade ago, the people of the then-new Central Station development in the South Loop were promised a pair of parks. Daniel Webster Park, which now exists at the corner of South Indiana Avenue and East 14th Street, and Mark Twain Park, which only partially exists.
A public meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday to discuss transferring the portion of Mark Twain Park that currently exists from the ownership of Central Station to the Chicago Park District. This transfer will allow two things to happen: The missing portion of Twain Park east of Prairie Avenue will be completed, and something called Gateway Avenue will be created.
Gateway Avenue will hug the Saint Charles Air Line railroad embankment from South Prairie Avenue and East 15th Street down to 16th Drive. Why would the Park District allow a road to bifurcate a brand new park? Because that road would be a vital artery linking the long-planned Gateway development to the rest of the city.
The Gateway in the South Loop (not to be confused with the already partially-built Gateway in the West Loop) is envisioned as a series of skyscrapers erected using the air rights over the Metra electric rail tracks. According to a 2001 Chicago Tribune article, the developers already own the rights, and have already plotted out where the support structures would go so that the tracks could be decked over and turned into the lakefront’s next big community.
So, is the establishment of Gateway Avenue the first step towards the revival of The Gateway plan?
We asked the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, and got a virtual shrug of the shoulders. Central Station Development Corp. is notorious for keeping its plans close to its chest. Further, the PDNA pointed to blog postings from a few years ago that cast doubt on the financial worthiness of the project.
But that was 2008. And as anyone who owns a crane rental company can tell you, things have changed since then. There are at least a dozen skyscrapers in various stages of construction in downtown chicago. Real estate analysts say it’s because big companies are building new towers now so they can be ready to take advantage of the eventual housing rebound.
While people tend to focus on local developer Fogelson as the driving force behind the Gateway project, it’s important to note that the other part of Central Station Development is a company called Forest City Enterprises, which just scored a huge slam dunk with its Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. It’s apparently alive and willing to take big chances in urban environments.
Best case scenario — Forest City and Fogelson get their road and it moves them to pulling the trigger on this project.
Worse case scenario — The South Loop gets a new park.
Sounds like a win-win.