The Chicago Loop Alliance and 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly held an event tonight where the people behind the proposed new Hilton Garden Inn in the Loop (66 East Wacker Place) talked about their plan.
The hotel is planned to consist of 192 rooms, averaging 280 square feet; a small restaurant; a small bar; and a wee media room for small business meetings.
How big the hotel is depends on how you measure it. From ground level, it’s 26 stories. From its street address at 66 Upper Wacker Place, it’s 25 stories—24 floors of rooms atop a lobby. Facing Lower Wacker Place is a lower level with fitness facilities, a small loading dock, and other back-of-the-house functions. In the below-grade basement it’s mostly mechanical.
At 225 feet tall, the hotel plan is slightly taller than the neighboring Chicago Motor Club building, but significantly shorter than the Hotel 71 immediately north.
The developers are eager to start construction as soon as they can. To that end, they met with Alderman Reilly’s office several times to head off anticipated problems early on. Richard Klawiter, of DLA Piper, the attorney for the developer, says the “best case scenario” opening timeframe is spring, 2015.
The development company is MHF Chicago MC IV, LLC. The representative for the owner is G.D.S. Companies. But when queried about who the actual owner is, the attorneys at the meeting shuffled their feet and exchanged furtive glances. A member of the public had to ask several times, and finally ask if there is a reason the name of the owner is being concealed. That was when someone finally blurted out that it is Magna Hospitality, of Warwick, Rhode Island. A quick Google search turned up nothing about Magna that would make a bunch of lawyers nervous.
One unnecessary mystery solved, attention turned to the landmark Wacker Tower next door, formerly known as the Chicago Motor Club Building (68 East Wacker Place).
The Wacker Tower is not part of this project at this point. However, the developers of 66 East Wacker Place anticipate that its owners will also turn it into a hotel in the future. According to Greg DeStefano, a representative of 66 East Wacker’s owner, “they are looking at a similar brand.” For that reason, the developers of this project have asked the city to allow them to have a joint 100-foot-long loading and valet zone shared with the Wacker Tower, and also to operate a shared loading dock with the Wacker Tower.
This is necessary, because of the very tight footprint this building will have. It’s just 48 feet wide, and 100 feet deep. It will sit three inches from Wacker Tower’s western wall. This will block some of the Tower’s windows, but not affect its landmark status. When the Wacker Tower is finally redeveloped, those windows will have to be sealed up anyway because of city fire codes.
At ground level, 66 East Wacker will have a limestone facade, similar to the travertine facade of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist to its immediate left, and also blending in with the limestone of the Wacker Tower. Above the lobby, the north and south sides of the new hotel will be mostly glass, as that is where the guest room windows will be.
The western side, which faces down Wacker Drive and the Chicago River, will not have any windows at all. Instead, it will be covered in a grid of large metal panels in five shades of grey. The panels will be arranged in a dithered pattern that from a distance is intended to mimic light reflecting off of the river.
While the western wall would seem a natural location for epic views of downtown Chicago, from an architectural standpoint it just doesn’t work. The reason, once again, is the city’s fire code.
Because the western wall of the hotel is up against the church’s property line, the interior hallway would have to be pulled back a minimum of 12 feet from the window. With a 48-foot-wide building, that leaves just 36 feet of space on the floor for elevators, stairwells, and other hotel rooms. It simply doesn’t work.
When asked if they considered buying air rights from the Seventeenth Church and cantilevering the hotel over the church, Klawiter remarked, “We did dream about it a little bit.” But the idea was rejected as being too complicated.
Also complicated is the traffic situation on East Wacker Place. The one-block street is already frequently clogged by double- and triple-parked vehicles in front of the main entrance to the Hard Rock Hotel.
The current conditions out on Wacker Place are not acceptable to me,” said Reilly. “We’ll be doing more enforcement, the city, on Wacker Place.”
The developers don’t think the new hotel will exacerbate the situation because it is such a small hotel, and the type of traveler who patronizes a limited service hotel typically arrives and departs by taxi or airport shuttle van, not a personal car. It is estimated that the Hilton Garden Inn will valet just 20 cars per day because of this.
While a deal has yet to be inked, the developer is in final negotiations to have Walsh Construction be the general contractor on the project. The hotel is privately funded, and is not receiving any tax money from the city of Chicago.