Pizzuti Officially Unveils West Van Buren Residential Tower To Decidedly Mixed Reviews

Drawing of 1061 West Van Buren

The West Loop may get a new sleek, tall building. Size, of course, is relative.

At 32 stories, the proposed 1061 West Van Buren Street residential apartment building might be considered puny in the South Loop or Streeterville. By West Loop standards, it qualifies as a bona fide skyscraper.

The West Loop is a magnet for developers, with construction projects popping up like spring daisies. But West Loop folks like their buildings capped off at nine stories. Every announcement of anything higher spurs emotions from concern to outrage.

Ad hoc community groups and young professionals worry about quality of life and preserving a “neighborhood feel.” Long-time residents who remember the West Loop’s industrial past like things the way they are, too.

Mike Chivini, executive vice president of Pizzuti Companies

Mike Chivini, executive vice president of Pizzuti Companies

Columbus, Ohio-based Pizzuti Companies, the developer of the 1061 West Van Buren property, presented its plans at a community meeting tonight (April 9, 2014) at the Merit School of Music. Mike Chivini, executive vice president of Pizzuti, called the development “transit-oriented.” It’s a five-minute walk from two Blue Line stations and five CTA bus stops, it backs up to a highway and it’s a stone’s-throw from the nearest Divvy Bike rental location.

Most of the new or rehabbed buildings on West Van Buren top off at nine stories. The Pizzuti development would definitely break that trend. It will have 16 units per floor, and cater to customers who want a nice apartment but can’t afford the upward spiraling costs of West Loop condominiums. A City of Chicago development plan actually called for more dense development along the Eisenhower Expressway, Chivini said.

The structure will rise 330 feet. At ground floor will be 9,000 square feet of retail space. Parking will occupy floors two through four. A floor of amenities will sit above the parking. Floors six through 31 will be residential, with mechanical plant on the 32nd floor. The roof will likely include a pool and additional green space.

The residential units will be compact, ranging from 519-square-foot studio apartments to 1,154-square-foot two-bedroom units. There will be 236 parking spaces for residents (based on usage of 60%), but Pizzuti feels that estimate is conservative, and believes most residents will opt for no car.

Sam Luckino, architect, Arquitectonica

Sam Luckino, architect, Arquitectonica

Then there’s the design of the building itself, which also breaks a West Loop mold of industrial brick. The design of the proposed tower is striking, constructed primarily of concrete, metal and glass. Sam Luckino, an architect with New York-based Arquitectonica, described the inspiration.

“We wanted to achieve movement in the design,” Luckino said, by way of explaining the zig-zag pattern along the center of the structure. “We also pushed back the tower from the podium to minimize uncomfortable wind conditions.”

Pizzuti is proud of its track record of high-grade, LEED-certified developments. The West Van Buren building will be another typical Pizzuti development, with clean lines, a green roof and first-class amenities. The developer showed the basic design to about 100 residents in attendance at the meeting and asked for feedback.

That’s exactly what they got: unvarnished, candid comments.

Residents fell largely into one of three camps: First, those who welcomed the project as a much-needed injection of life into a fairly sleepy corner of the West Loop; second, those who hated it because of the modern, bold design (described by one audience-member as a Harry Potter-fantasy); and third, those who hated it because it is, well, tall. 

Drawing of 1061 West Van BurenThe haters outnumbered the lovers by about 60/40. A fair number felt compelled to begin their comments by stating how long they’d lived in the West Loop, as evidence of some sort of legacy and future expectations. Following is a representative sampling:

Why 32 stories? Why can’t it be 22? I’ve lived here 17 years and this is a slap in the face, an insult. It’s a monster.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 48 years, and I think this will create a new gateway for us, and bring in new foot traffic for retail. Change isn’t always comfortable but it’s needed. I complement you on the design.
I’ve been here for 13 years, when we still had remnants of skid row. The plan for high rises along the expressway got SNUCK IN by the city.
I’ve been here for 11 years. We didn’t want it to be the South Loop. Progress doesn’t mean high rises. This is not what I was sold when I moved here.

Chicago is not like other cities you’ve worked in. We try to fit IN with the feel of the neighborhood. A glass structure is just not West Loop.

I know West Loopers have a reputation for being NIMBYs, but I’m concerned that there’s not enough demand for all these new units. I’m concerned about property values.

Chicago architecture is all about big, bold design, NOT context. This is exactly where density SHOULD be, near transit. This is big, and bold. I say, Godspeed!

High density is New York, NOT Chicago.

One community organization had already begun a dialog with Pizzuti prior to the April 9 meeting. Neighbors of The West Loop (NOWL) asked Pizzuti for several considerations. They included:

  • Reducing the number of studio and one-bedroom apartments, and increasing the size and number of two-bedroom apartments. NOWL made this request to minimize transient renters and stimulate more stable, long-term family residents. The initial proposal called for 81% of the units to be one bedroom or smaller. In a Feb. 27 response to NOWL, the developer appeared disinclined to modify the mix of unit sizes, based on market demand and trends.
  • The current state of the planned location of the 1061 West Van Buren skyscraper

    The current state of the planned location of the 1061 West Van Buren skyscraper

    The development hinges on a zoning change (to DX-10) and the ability to close off a tiny chunk of Aberdeen Street (between West Van Buren and the Eisenhower Expressway). That half-block of street is city property and enables access to another smallish street—South Tilden—that begins just east of South Racine Avenue and ends at South Morgan Street. NOWL requested Pizzuti to adequately compensate the city for vacating this public property, and ideally make sure the funds go toward investment of some sort in the West Loop. Regardless of how the city is compensated for the loss of Aberdeen Street, Pizzuti is sweetening the pot by contributing a $3 million bonus to schools and affordable housing.

  • A third NOWL request was made not to Pizzuti, but rather to Blue Plate Catering, which now calls this stretch of Van Buren home. Blue Plate will need to move, but its happy to do so, since business is good and the caterer has outgrown its current facility. NOWL wants Blue Plate to stay in the West Loop, and while that’s a possibility, the caterer made no promises.

Other recommendations and suggestions raised by NOWL were largely cosmetic and dealt with such issues as a dog run for residents. (The West Loop might well be called “Dogtown,” but that’s already been taken, as the nickname for a gritty section of St. Louis). Pizzuti recognizes the popularity of dogs in its potential customer base, so yes, there will be a large dog play area contained within the property.

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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  1. It’s funny how people think that just because they lived somewhere for a while it makes their point of view more valid or correct than someone else’s. Whether someone’s lived in the neighborhood 20 years or 2 months, their vote counts exactly the same. It’s called “democracy.” Look it up, NIMBYs.

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  2. “(described by one audience-member as a Harry Potter-fantasy)” I made the comment about the tower as the zig-zag pattern reminds me of Harry Potter. I don’t know how that statement would put me in the category of being against, which is by no means the case. I actually received a few giggles because of my comment and another speaker later in the meeting agreed with me, liked my comment and said she liked the tower. I stated that other than the base which seems austere, that it’s a nice design and that I liked the scale.

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  3. I applaud those long-term residents who showed up to support preserving the character of their neighborhood. They are the individuals who help frame the constructive dialoguue, who take the time to show up, participate and make their community what it is. They show up in person, offer their background as validation of their viewpoint and do not hide behind an anonymous pseudonym on a website comment board The naive commenter above should look up “Chicago Politics” along with his definition of “Democracy” and try to reconcile the two.

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  4. Start building for the next generation!
    Many of the new developments in this neighborhood are modern in design and a blend is the new narrative of the city.
    Time to jump start this neighborhood and along the expressway is a perfect spot.
    Yes in my backyard.
    This is my city too, build it!

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  5. A few additional observations about last night:
    The residents in attendance appeared to have their minds made up about the merits and shortfalls of this development before they entered the meeting. That’s not uncommon for the West Loop. In fact, many of the same people who spoke out against the height and/or design were the same residents who frequently attend community meetings. It’s great that they take such an interest in the growth and evolution of the neighborhood. Are they a representative sampling? I’m not sure. But they’ve taken the time to study the issue, and make their voices heard. Perhaps Pizzuti will tone down the modern look of the structure before they finalize design plans. What they are unlikely to do is make the building shorter. Inevitably at these meetings where a developer unveils a “non-West Loop” tall building, a few residents ask a question beginning with “Did You Consider. . . “ As in, “did you considered making it a wider building but with only 20 stories?” OK, people, figure it out. The developer is a business. They’ve crunched the numbers and determined the height, density, number of units, size of units, etc., etc., in order to make a tidy profit. The cost of real estate in the West Loop and the shrinking availability of same means it only makes sense to build up, as Chicago buildings have done for a century. The question is, will 20- and 30-story buildings look out of place in a community where nine stories has been the unofficial limit for some time.

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  6. Bill,

    Unbelievable job summarizing the meeting. This is more than I could have dreamed of. With this type of work, your website traffic will increase dramatically!

    With that, the NOWL, I believe now includes the Fulton River District Association. Would NOWL then have to consider my opinion since I live in their boundaries?

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  7. Also, what did the local alderman or his rep have to say about the plan? After all this projects fate is entirely up to him. What are the chances this plan goes thru at 32 stories, 330 feet, 416 units, and gets the zoning change to DX-10?

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  8. Alderman Solis was not in attendance at the meeting, but it’s my understanding that his representatives/staff were there.

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  9. Alderman Solis’ legislative assistant attended the full meeting. Alderman Solis himself came in after the presentation started and left sometime after a number of the residents’ questions and comments. They were sitting to the far left of the room (facing the stage), 3-5 rows back from the front.
    NOWL’s website states it has committees for residents in each Ward in the West Loop, Parks & Green Space, Events, etc. and there is a link for anyone to become involved.
    Bill – thanks for the great recap of meeting.

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  10. I would love to see this project built. I’ve been in Little Italy for almost 10 years and chicago my entire life… This sounds so nimby… yuck

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