Could The Gateway Stir To Life in the South Loop?

One Museum Park West - Chicago, Illinois - March, 2006 - 001a

The start of construction on One Museum Park West in March, 2006

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.

If you’d like to attend the meeting about  Twain Park, it will be held Wednesday, December 5th at 7:00pm at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 South Michigan Avenue

Author: Editor

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

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  1. I am having trouble finding any information on the Gateway project, or even its specific boundaries. Could it be possible to draw an outline in Google Maps and link it to the article for those of us less informed? Thanks

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    • Editor

      Here ya go:

      This is a map showing the air rights that Central Station owns over the train tracks for this project. The northern end is Roosevelt Road. The southern end is McCormick Place.

      The three segments don’t represent building heights. I think they illustrate the minimum clearance that has to be given to the railroad, but I could be wrong on that.

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      • Thanks for the graphic, it covers a much larger area than I was expecting. This could be quite transformative for the South Loop…
        and really the city. For years I have been displeased how the development along the near South Lakefront is disorganized, creating a sloppy/ piecemeal LSD wall. Hopefully if this ever gets built it will be organized in a manner which gives the area some much needed presence.

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  2. Where will the roads go through 15th/16th st and S. Indiana Ave?

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      • Actually, the proposed road has been shown in the PDNA newsletter. If you are familiar with the park as it sits currently, the road will go from the corner of 15th/prairie through what is now a jungle-gym, down the hill along the traintracks and over to where 18th street hits LSD.

        Needless to say I can’t imagine the families who currently use the park (myself included) being too thrilled with an LSD on/off ramp being placed in what is currently a very quiet residential neighborhood.

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  3. The current proposal to place the road along the embankment of the railroad curve will place entrance and exiting Gateway traffic on two local streets that are designed to serve residents of a townhouse and low density condominium. The roads are not designed to handle through traffic. These roads provide access to Indiana avenue only. 15th Place is a “T” intersection with a three way stop sign, no other traffic controls. Prairie Ave. is a local street with barely enough room to allow two cars to pass each other. Speed limits are minimum and actual speeds are usually 25 miles per hour because of speed bumps and pedestrian volume, not to mention children in the area. What are the alternative routes studied? What about 16th St.? What about 18th St.? Has their been an environmental assessment or impact study completed? If not, the city can expect a lawsuit. It would appear that the proposal to connect Gateway via 15th Place/Prairie Ave. is a least cost – Highest negative impact with little or no thought given to the impact on the existing neighborhood and its residents. TRY AGAIN!!

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