Chicago Neverbuilt — Episode 9: Not the Optima Solution

Photo collage showing The Saint Clair.  Courtesy of SMDP.

Photo collage showing The Saint Clair. Courtesy of SMDP.

Our Chicago Neverbuilt series continues to celebrate the work of great architects that, for one reason or another, failed to make the transition from imagination to reality.

Advertisement for The Saint Clair in 2009.

Advertisement for The Saint Clair in 2009.

Last month we published a status update on the Optima Chicago Center’s second tower, known locally as Optima II (220 East Illinois Street). A reader wrote in asking about the foundation of the building, specifically its caissons which seemed to be left over from something else.

After I drew a blank, friend-of-the-blog Joe Zekas over at YoChicago! filled in that blank with The Saint Clair.

Back in the day it was listed as designed by DeStefano and Partners. Today, friends-of-the-blog SMDP, and cribmates Ratio, list it on their web site as their baby. You know how that goes. Regardless, it was intended to be phase two of the CityFront Plaza project. Described by SMDP:

The very early phases of construction at The Saint Clair.

The very early phases of construction at The Saint Clair.

This three phase development on a prominent site at CityFront Plaza in the Streeterville area will be a new center for downtown living. The master plan completes the infill of two city blocks between the Michigan Avenue corridor and the lakefront. The project consists of retail amenities and public gathering spaces along upper Illinois Street, 800 luxury residential units, a five-star hotel, and parking for 1,200 cars for a total of approximately 2,700,000 ft2 of enclosed space. Phase one, The Fairbanks, incorporates an existing parking structure, converting a portion into 42 loft condominiums and adding a 24 story, 239 unit residential tower above. Phase two, The St. Clair, completes the street wall along upper Illinois Street with retail and adds 253 residences in a 43 story tower at the site’s west end. At the center of the site, phase three includes a 300 room hotel with 325 residential units in a 63 story tower. All three towers are oriented on the site to maximize views to the Chicago River, Navy Pier, Lake Michigan and Magnificent Mile.

You may be asking yourself, “What 63-story hotel tower is that?” We assume it’s the building planned for the surface parking lot just north of NBC Tower because the other candidate space is the surface parking lot just east of Tribune Tower.  That’s where the new Tribune Media Company is thinking of putting its own great big skyscraper because it’s one of the few plots the once land-rich company still owns.

The Saint Clair got pretty far. It put up banners and opened a sales office and even started the early phases of construction. The building was one of a handful that intended to experiment with the whole “hotel condo” method of living before the Great Recession ate it.

Location: 220 East Illinois Street, Streeterville

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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