Streeterville Citizens Take New Skyscraper Scheme In Stride, But Fret About Park and Parking

Concerned Chicagoans lining up to ask questions about 451 East Grand Monday night

Concerned Chicagoans lining up to ask questions about 451 East Grand Monday night

Even in the high-altitude environs of Streeterville, a proposed 67-story building will draw a bit of attention.

Drawing of the proposed tower at 451 East Grand Avenue

Drawing of the proposed tower at 451 East Grand Avenue

Last night, a packed house at the InterContinental Hotel listened politely and intently to a detailed description of Related Midwest’s plans to build a new residential skyscraper at 451 East Grand. Then, they lined up to speak their mind.

The comments focused on the usual: height (“Why not just stop at 28 stories?” asked one S-ville resident); and loading/unloading (It will done be inside the structure, not exposed to the street); and traffic flow (Schwartz & Associates has completed a traffic impact study, which is now being reviewed by CDOT).

But mainly, what the Streeterville folks groused about was parking. A dozen and a half residents asked questions and nearly two-thirds were concerned about how the development would impact the already-scarce number of public parking spaces available in the neighborhood.

If the project goes forward the way it is now, there will be fewer parking places, but 300 spots will be always be available, due to a long-term agreement with the nearby AMC Theater. The remaining spaces are intended for the residents of the 500-unit tower (100 condos and 400 apartments).

There is no parking structure in the new building. Instead, it will use an existing underground facility next door, underneath the neighborhood park bordered on the north and south by East Grand and East Illinois. A key part of the plan to develop 451 East Grand is to replace the mostly featureless green strip with a far more ambitious park.

Drawing of the proposed 451 East Grand Park

Drawing of the proposed 451 East Grand Park

“Parks are one of the most important parts of making a city livable,” said Laura Solano, a landscape architect with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. “The current park is a little tough to love. It lacks mystery, it’s too open, too exposed.”

Solano described the design for the new park as offering four distinct areas for residents to sit, play or just commune with nature. A newly-designed dog play area is also planned. The park renderings drew a few raised eyebrows and non-parking related questions from residents. They may not be thrilled by the current green space, but the idea of a grove of trees caused some heartburn and concern about security (“I don’t want to see drug deals go down in daylight,” whiffed one resident).

Drawing of the proposed 451 East Grand Park

Drawing of the proposed 451 East Grand Park

Perhaps the only aspect of the development that did not draw any controversy was the design of the tower itself and how it would fit in with the Chicago skyline. There are already neighboring buildings stretching from 29 stories to 70 stories. So while a new 67-story building would get the town council tarred and feathered in Lake Forest; in Streeterville, not so much.

Lead architecture firm Robert A. Stern & Associates (RAMSA) conceives of a classic setback behind limestone at the lower levels, and precast concrete rising above.

RAMSA Architect Dan Lobitz

RAMSA Architect Dan Lobitz

“We’ll also use metal work details like bay windows, metal and glass windows, pergolas, loggia elements to hold the streetwall,” said Dan Lobitz of RAMSA. “It will create a rhythmic pattern along the street and create an ornament for the neighborhood.”

Don’t expect the Streeterville Christmas tree to have that ornament placed very soon, though. Before ground can be broken (best-case, 2nd quarter 2015), there’s a small matter of rezoning the property to allow construction of a 780-foot tower. Hence, the community meeting.

The meeting started with SOAR president Gail Spreen and Alderman Brendan Reilly offering their commitment to having projects in Streeterville that are done the right way.
“We are always pushing for the best projects to be put before us,” Spreen said. “We have kids, we have pedestrians, we have needs and we need to have good stakeholders. Related is a big stakeholder in the neighborhood.”

Spreen told me before the meeting started that she read in the Chicago Architecture Blog that “As goes Streeterville, so goes Chicago.” She said she liked the line and planned to use it in her introduction (she did, and Alderman Reilly did, as well).

The main question now is, how will Streeterville parking go.

Editor’s Note: Ms. Spreen is likely referring to an article we published last month titled To Understand the Future of Chicago, Understand Streeterville. It contained the line, “the future of Streeterville is the future of Chicago.”
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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