Baby Steps Toward The Spire

Chicago Spire

The daring, beautiful, controversial, despised, exuberant, loved, hated Chicago Spire took another baby step toward reality in a bankruptcy courtroom yesterday.

Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the main parties involved in a three-way tug-of-war over the project have some to an agreement about the site’s short-term future. But the long-term vision is still a little hazy.

Garrett Kelleher, the Spire’s most recent developer, and the only one to ever turn dirt at the site at 400 North Lake Shore Drive, would pay Related Companies $109 million to settle debts. In return, he gets to keep the property. The money comes from Atlas Apartment Holdings in Northbrook, which is giving the money to Kelleher in exchange for almost half of the residences in the completed building.

ChicagoSpire-005In theory, this should make everyone happy. Related makes a tidy profit on the debt it bought. Mr. Kelleher gets to start wooing banks into lending him $2 billion to put up his dream building, and Atlas gets to own hundreds of the most exclusive and expensive homes in Chicagoland for a fraction of their retail price. Win. Win. Win.

But as we repeatedly caution when writing about the Spire, or any Chicago development more ambitious than a Dunkin’ Donuts, nothing is simple or easy.

The agreement must still be approved by the bankruptcy court. And even if it is, when people are moving around big crates full of money like this, expect more grabbing hands to come out of the woodwork intent on convincing a judge that they’re owed something somehow somewhere.

And then there’s the two billion dollar question. Who’s going to pay to build the Spire? Atlas and Kelleher have stated publicly that they are committed to building Santiago Calatrava’s 2,000-foot-tall design. But have you tried to get a business loan these days? It’s not 2006 anymore. Plus, and let’s be honest here, as much as we love Chicago, this is still Chicago. All of Mayor Emanuel’s jingoism aside, getting $2 billion together is a tough job in New York or L.A., let alone here in flyover country. For that kind of money you could simply buy the Willis Tower, the Hancock Center, and make a credible run at Trump Tower with the change.

So while we’re happy that Mr. Kelleher is somehow making magic in courtrooms and boardrooms, and in spite of his terrible fortune, hasn’t given up on Chicago, the road ahead is still very long, very twisty, and full of bad people waiting to do bad things.

If the Chicago Spire gets built, I suggest it be named the Lazarus Tower for the miracle that will have happened on the lake.

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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