Proposed West Loop Skyscraper to Include Robotic Valet Parking

In “4 Days Out” from the second season of “Breaking Bad,” Jesse Pinkman posed the question to Walter White: “What are we building . . . A robot?”

Messrs. White and Pinkman were, of course, building a battery. Robots? They’ll be parking cars in the West Loop, if a proposed retail-residential skyscraper gets the go-ahead from community groups and the Department of Housing and Economic Development, and 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Junior.

725 West Randolph drawing - east view

725 West Randolph drawing – east view

That may be a smooth path, based on the warm reception the developers received from about 100 residents last night at a community meeting held at Venue One at 1044 West Randolph Street. The proposed tower will contain 3000 square feet of retail space at ground level; and 220 rental units, each ranging from 500 square feet to 1,150 square feet. Its location is at 725 West Randolph Street, east of Haymarket Brewery, and just shy of the Kennedy Expressway.

Scott Sarver, principal of SMDP, described the design of the proposed structure as fully integrated with the architecture of the neighboring West Loop buildings and the character of the neighborhood.

“The implied energies of the city will be reflected by the form of the structure,” Sarver said.

On the rooftop, residents will enjoy amenities like a dog walk, a pool and parklike setting. A series of ring-like design elements rising from the roof reflect the sky, and perhaps the rings of Saturn.

Just above the first floor along the east facing wall, a green design accentuates the lower levels where cars will park. The color was deliberate since the parking garage is greener than Kermit. It will need no light or heat within, and cars will not be running when they’re parked. The robots will do it.

725 West Randolph model

725 West Randolph model

It’s a nifty robotic parking system called The Lift. Drivers will enter the garage and leave their cars to be parked—without any human intervention—automatically in one of the 260 parking spaces. When you want to retrieve your car, you can even summon it directly from a smartphone.

“It’s similar to the way you see a vending machine work, but on a larger scale,” said Rolando Acosta, the attorney representing the developers. “The cars will be put on a shelf.”

A similar system is being used near City Hall in Philadelphia. The key advantages are speed (the entire parking experience is completed in under two minutes) and efficiency. There’s also the matter of saving the planet.

The Lift is expected to reduce carbon emissions up to 83% over a standard garage. The concept of a robotic parking system like this dates back to 1929, when Westinghouse proposed an auto-parking machine that would whisk cars out of sight with machinery.

An environmentally-friendly building will warm the cockles of the hearts of any West Loop hipster, so the design of the building and its futuristic parking system got a collective thumbs-up from the attendees at last night’s meeting. Even the height of the building didn’t freak them out.

The proposed structure will rise 31 stories at 359 feet tall. That will make it about 60 feet shorter than the West Loop’s current tallest structure, Skybridge, at Washington and Halsted.

Attorney Rolando Acosta (left) and Park Easy representative Michael Ezgur (right)

Attorney Rolando Acosta (left) and Easy Park Development representative Michael Ezgur (right)

Clearly, neither is in the competition for tallest skyscraper in the U.S. (which 1 World Trade Center Tower just nabbed from the Willis Tower). But anything taller than nine stories usually gives West Loop residents the heebie-jeebies. That wasn’t the case with this proposal.

The east side of Halsted is already zoned DX-7, so the height isn’t even part of the community review process. The biggest single issue noted during the presentation was traffic flow. The developers thought that through, and performed a traffic study to determine the impact of the structure on Halsted and West Randolph. The design of the structure includes the creation of a more efficient flow of traffic around the building. The alley-like Court Place just to the south of the proposed structure will be redesigned to allow cars to more easily get in and out of the development. Once they do get outside, there are no robots to drive away. Not yet, anyhow.

725 West Randolph drawing with Skybridge on left

725 West Randolph drawing with Skybridge on left

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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7 Comments

  1. Editor

    I, for one, welcome our new robotic parking overlords.

    I hope the illuminated drums at the top of the building end up looking something like they do in the drawings. They’re a nice nod, and a bookend, to the drums across the freeway atop 311 South Wacker.

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  2. I’m a bit skeptical on the parking. Robotic parking is ridiculously cost-prohibitive. There is a reason it is usually only used in cities like Tokyo. In most cases, it does not make financial sense in dense areas of NYC. That’s why I find it hard to believe it pencils out in the West Loop (full disclosure: where I live).

    I guess if they are passing along the costs to the renters, we’ll see if they’ll happily eat it. I doubt it will make it through to construction. It is a great tool to buy support for your project, however.

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    • Editor

      Everything you say makes sense, but there is one intervening factor— The owners of the building are a family that is also the owners of a small parking lot empire. It would make sense for them to want to show off the latest in parking tech to their friends. They might even be able to write it off as some kind of business promotion expense. (IANACPA)

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    • In actuality, there are multiple automated parking projects already online across the U.S. Including several within and outside of ‘dense urban areas such as NYC, Philadelphia, etc. The City of West Hollywood has a new fully automated municipal garage under construction as of this post (200 or so space), and there is a 354 space automated garage in Hoboken NJ, in addition to 200 space garage in Center City Philly and over 6+ in NYC alone.

      Also the cost (per space) tends to be comparable to conventional due to its reduction in construction materials and height (e.g. no ramps, low deck to deck height 6.5-7′ min, and minimal tempering). I understand from last nights meeting that the site is actually too narrow to park conventionally (80’ or so) and that this is the developers 2nd or 3rd project so it seems they are ‘putting their money where their mouth is.’ I’m also a resident of West Loop and I for one am pleased to finally see a project that is attractive and innovative (not a vanilla box. If the robots can park my car cleanly and efficiently Im all for it!

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      • The cost is more expensive to construct than traditional above grade structures. Traditional garages are still cheaper (unless you start going below grade). If the site constraints are correct, that may be the only option.

        Where they get you is operating costs (minus utilities which are cheaper). It costs twice as much to operate a robotic garage (~$400/stall/month) vs. a traditional above grade garage (~$200/stall/month).

        Unless they are willing to eat the difference in costs, they’ll pass the operating costs onto the residents. It will be hard to compete with all the Kinzie Station projects and the new ones directly close by at Adams & Halsted and Madison & Halsted which all do not have the burden of robotic parking operating costs.

        Like I said before, curious to see how it plays out.

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  3. Bill Motchan

    It seems like a pretty interesting set-up. I’d stand there and watch it move cars, but then, I’m a sucker for looking through the glass and viewing my car go through the car wash. Even though I know how that movie is going to turn out. I get the impression the developer may want to use this location as a specimen to help promote its parking systems elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if it brings a modern, energy-efficient parking system to the West Loop in the process.

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  4. Editor

    What would make a lot of sense is for the wall facing the freeway to be all glass so that people driving by can see the robotic parking at work. It might even become something of a minor tourist attraction.

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