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

Share This Post On


  1. I don’t think this description is correct. The St. Clair was intended to be built on the site of Optima 1, not Optima 2. Optima 2 is being built on the site between the St. Clair/Optima 1 site and the Fairbanks building (above the Whole Foods).

    The Caissons for Optima 2 are proabably part of the “Original Original” development for this area. In the late 90’s there was a plan to build two towers, the first one at the corner of Illinois and Fairbanks, and the second right next to it at the head of City Front Plaza Drive. They were only able to build the 10 story parking garage, that is the podium of the Fairbanks, and a 1 story parking garage for the Dominicks/Whole Foods, that takes up the South half of the Optima 2 site. the 1 story parking garage must have been preped for the second tower of the “original original” development. Those are the caissons that are being incorperated into Optima 2.

    Post a Reply
  2. Oh, thank God! I thought this was an update on the Tribune redevelopment, and that they were tossing that “massing study” and building on the eastern parking lot! But then I saw “Neverbuilt!”

    Please tell me, do you think it’s more likely Tribune will build their skyscraper north-east of the Tribune Tower as it’s shown in this massing study or in the eastern lot?

    I think they absolutely must go by the massing study because of the views looking over the shoulder of the Tribune Tower at this potentially iconic view:

    Tribune Real Estate Holdings said they want to utilize their real estate assets… they said they’re looking at residential, retail, and hotel components… they said they want the Tribune Tower to become a destination….
    On the floor with this view, they should put a restaurant, or something that Mag-Mile shoppers would pour into. It would certainly bring in more money than a couple of extra-pricey condo/hotel units in its place would. This would be THE place!

    This is a serious opportunity that Tribune needs to know about! I need a response; I’ll emailing you this!

    Like I said: ICONIC VIEW.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      The reason the buildings in the massing study are massed that way is actually very simple. It is illegal to block the view of the Tribune Tower from Ogden Slip.

      That’s why the NBC Tower is on the south side of its block, and there is only a studio podium on the north side. It’s why the Loews Hotel is situated the way it is. It’s why the condo buildings on North McClurg Court are bisected by a pedestrian plaza.

      Sounds crazy, I know; but it’s probably among the less crazy zoning anomalies in Chicago.

      It’s on my list of things to do a story about someday.

      As for the restaurant in Trib II, while it would be a great asset to the city for there to be a restaurant or some other public space half way up so people could admire the Trib Tower’s crown, Tribune’s #1 priority is money. And you can make a metric assload more money renting out that space to a law firm trying to impress its clients than you’d ever make with something designed to appeal to the average Chicago resident or visitor. it’s sad, but it is also true. That’s why there are so many abandoned or repurposed observation decks in Chicago. Kemper Building, Trib Tower, InterContinental Hotel, Prudential Plaza, 401 North Michigan, and at least a dozen other buildings have observation decks that are either abandoned (sealed up, mothballed), or converted to office space.

      Post a Reply

Leave a Reply to Editor Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Human Verification: In order to verify that you are a human and not a spam bot, please enter the answer into the following box below based on the instructions contained in the graphic.