We’re not much on rumors around here. If we published every Chicago development rumor that someone whispered in our ears while standing at a urinal in Millennium Station, we’d have to stop drinking coffee.
But sometimes those rumors are accompanied by facts. And if there are enough related facts, then it becomes worth mentioning. And that’s what we’re doing here when we say that we’ve finally heard enough to predict that the 200 North Michigan tower is happening.
There are still a number of key elements that have to fall into place before this goes from prediction to reality. As of May 30, we don’t see any demolition permits issued for the building currently on the site. There don’t seem to be any plans submitted to the city that we can find. And it would be highly unusual for a project of this scale to launch without the very public support of 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly.
The trail of what we do know started last year with an article in Crain’s Chicago Business in September of last year. It mentioned that a joint venture of Chicago’s John Buck Company and Becker Ventures, from suburban Detroit, wants to put a tower up at 200 North Michigan Avenue — at the time a grey, six-story office block best known for its dance studio and its tiny Starbucks, perpetually and hopelessly choked with tourists.
Not too much later we received a letter from one of the companies we did business with in that building letting us know it was moving to a new location. Then over the next few months we watched as one by one the shoe store, the bank, and even the dance studios papered up their windows and moved on.
Another sign of progress came when one day we received an e-mail from a Loop Spy telling us something was going on behind 200 North Michigan on Garland Court. We popped by, and sure enough there was a crew from Strata Earth Services there with a drilling rig. Strata is a “geotechnical” company, which means it pokes holes in the earth to let you know what’s underneath. Absolutely a precursor to heavy construction.
Then this week, That’s My Bag, one of the few remaining stores in the current 200 North Michigan building, put up an unusual sale sign, and a Gold Coast spy sent us a picture. You’re probably familiar with the luggage chain — it has a number of stores around The Loop that always seem to be plastered with signs claiming that its going out of business and everything must go right at low low discount prices so hurry and buy today before these deals are gone forever. But this new sign at 200 North Michigan is different. It contains the following key phrases like “Closing this location August 31st,” “Lost our lease,” “All fixtures for sale,” and most importantly “Demolition Sale”
At this time no demolition permit has been issued for the current 200 North Michigan building. But someone feels confident enough that this is going to happen that nearly all of the retailers have been forced out (I believe Starbucks is the last man standing). No building owner wants vacant space. That’s just losing money. So if you’re going to take a loss like that, you’d better have a very good reason.
That reason may be the rumor we alluded to at the start of this article. We’ve been told that the proposed new building for 200 North Michigan is expected to be about the same height as the Hard Rock Hotel, and include both apartments and a hotel.
At first it sounds like an outrage — How can you put another skyscraper on Michigan Avenue so close to Chicago’s beloved Carbide and Carbon building (wherein lies the Hard Rock Hotel)? It’s simple — the people who own the Carbide and Carbon building are the same Detroit-area group who are part of the plan to put a new tower next door at 200.
And why wouldn’t they?
If there’s one thing the Hard Rock Hotel desperately needs it’s space. I spent ten days there recently, and while there’s nothing wrong with the rooms, it is clear that sacrifices were made in the public spaces to wedge a major inn into the historic skyscraper. Room service, usually a pretty good profit center for hotels, was handled by the Chinese restaurant next door (since replaced by a nice looking burger joint called Chuck’s Manufacturing).
Perhaps more importantly, as the hotel industry is changing, meeting, banquet, and reception space are becoming more important. And this building is right at the junction of the business district, the tourist zone, and the convention belt. Not having meeting space and banquet capabilities seems crazy.
Our prediction is that construction will start on the new tower by the end of the year. It will be a very reflective glass tower so that it will highlight the old Carbide building, and not plunge it into a shadow in the skyline. It will be apartments on top and a hotel on bottom, because those are the two hottest real estate segments in downtown Chicago right now, so financing will be easier.
We also suspect that this new hotel will actually be an extension of the current Hard Rock Hotel and they will operate as a single entity. Inter-Continental tried doing a two-tower/two-hotel thing at what is now the InterContinental Chicago. But early in its life, the north tower had its own identity as The Forum Hotel.
Having two hotels on what was essentially the same property proved to be unworkable, so now it is a single building with a north tower, and an “Historic Tower.”
Now the big question — how tall will it be? The land is already zoned DX-16, so from a legal standpoint, the sky’s the limit. But it seems likely that the new building will be kept short enough so that the Carbide and Carbon building’s gilded top will remain very visible to the public.
We’ll keep an eye out for more clues as they emerge. And if you know something about 200 that we don’t, drop us a line at editor@ChicagoArchitecture.info.