Tuesday night, on the dance floor of the Studio Paris Night Club in River North, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly hosted a community meeting to introduce the public to 205 West Hubbard — the tower project proposed for the intersection of Wells and Hubbard Streets. Once a sizable crowd settled into the posh benches beneath an unlit disco ball, Howard Hirsch, president of Hirsch Associates Architecture, filled everyone in on his company’s design for the location, which is currently occupied by a pair of parking lots.
The project consists of two buildings: The east tower, a nine-story office building; and the west tower, a 22-story residential high rise. In adapting to this particular space, bisected by the CTA’s Brown/Purple line L tracks, the lower building would have a curved “front” along its Wells-to-Hubbard facade, matching the elevated railway directly in front of it. The L tracks overhead would form a sort of canopy over the curved front of the steel and glass offices. It is reminiscent of the Randolph-to-Clark face of the Thompson Center. But in a good way. Not in the please-tear-that-eyesore-down sort of way the Thompson Center screams. Lighting under the L would would brighten the walkways, adding a layer of safety against the darkness of night.
The residential tower, also steel and glass, would be a rectangular edifice comprised of 193 rental units and 91 parking spaces. A large ground-level space has been deemed suitable for a major restaurant. Floors 2-5 would be parking levels. And the residences themselves would occupy floors 6-20. The 21st floor would include a lap pool and other common amenities. The 22nd floor would be mechanical areas. Both buildings would have green roofs, and both are planned to be LEED certified.
Mike Riordan of River North Residents took the mic next to moderate the public discussion. Upon opening the floor to questions from attendees, the first concern from the public was, not surprisingly, noise from the L trains themselves. However, not for the proposed buildings. Rather, a representative of 400 North LaSalle voiced concerns about train noise being deflected off the smooth, glassy front of the proposed office building back toward his own tower. As it happens, Hirsch Associates has already begun talking with an acoustics consultant about placing panels at track-level that would help absorb the sound of the L wheels on the rails, which become particularly loud on curved sections of track. This method is already being utilized in other parts of the city by the CTA.
Another speaker, a resident of 400 North LaSalle, expressed concern about the residential tower being rental units. It is his belief that the River North neighborhood currently has a shortage of condo units available. The developer, citing economic reasons, maintained that apartment projects are of greater value, making financing much more easily attainable.
Two issues very commonly raised during residential project proposals, parking and affordable housing, were addressed quickly. The 91 parking spaces meet requirements of the zoning being sought for the buildings, and the developers will be paying nearly $1.4-million to the city in lieu of building 10% of affordable housing units in the building.
Less than one hour after the meeting began, no one else in attendance had questions or concerns for the Alderman, architect, or developer, and the quiet, friendly crowd was adjourned. No shouting, no finger-pointing, no chanting. Not being used to such an amicable evening, I struck up a conversation with a few residents of River North as we left the club. They voiced concerns about 100+ public parking spaces being replaced with 91 private spaces. They are also concerned about the planned restaurant becoming a bar becoming a tavern that would draw more suburbanites into the neighborhood. In the words of Alderman Reilly, there is a history of these types of people “treating [the neighborhood] like a toilet.”
The neighbors I spoke with liked the looks of the two structures as a whole, and had no serious reservations about welcoming the project. One resident, however, did voice the opinion — one I’ve heard elsewhere — that this proposal already seemed more-or-less signed off on, and their voices, while heard, likely wouldn’t have much impact.
That remains to be seen. Tuesday night was the public’s introduction to this project. There is a long process yet to play out here, so we’ll keep an eye out for roadblocks or compromises to the two shiny new buildings at Wells and Hubbard.