Six years ago, we published a series of articles heralding the opening of Pritzker Park (344 South State Street) — The first public greenspace inside the Loop proper (as defined by the L tracks) in a generation. Now it turns out that the pocket park, which has become a lunchtime hangout for office workers, a refuge for tourists with weary feet, and a breath of fresh air for those seeking a slice of nature in the core of this metropolis, was only temporary.
Yesterday we told you how the Friends of the Parks organization put out a press release about the demise of public parkland in Chicago. it had a laundry list of public and private projects that are turning greenspaces into concrete. Among those endangered spaces is Pritzker Park.
The FotP point to the minutes from the January 20, 2015 meeting of the State Street Commission as proof that not only is there a proposal to sell the park and turn it into a building, but that it is already a foregone conclusion without any public input.
We looked at the minutes from the State Street Commission for that date, and found this:
7. Loop Development Report – Commissioner Andrew Mooney, Department of Planning and Development
In the absence of Commissioner Mooney, Robert McKenna reported that DPD is finalizing the contract to offer Pritzker Park and the city garage behind it for sale. Some groups may not know this yet. The Chicago Park District said that they would handle any repercussions. The site is 48,000 square feet altogether and is zoned DX12.
The line about “Some groups may not know this yet. The Chicago Park District said that they would handle any repercussions.” is particularly ominous. It indicates that the State Street Commission is aware that this will be an unpopular move, and when there is blowback from the public, that responsibility will be pushed off onto the Chicago Park District. That’s like a firewall because the Park District is an independent entity which conveniently operates as an island and cannot be touched or influenced by the public, or 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, whose jurisdiction the park is in. The Park District’s immunity has long been a bone in the throat of Chicago’s aldermen and city watchdogs.
The meeting notes from January 20 indicate the Pritzker Park deal is almost done. Has it actually been completed? It’s hard to tell. The Commission next met on March 17th and hasn’t chosen to publish the minutes of that meeting yet, likely because those minutes have not been approved by the commissioners yet. That should happen at the next meeting, which is scheduled for April 21. So, essentially the public is left in the dark about what happens with this group for up to three months at a time. A group appointed by the mayor and responsible for spending millions of your tax dollars.
We reached out to the person at the Chicago Loop Alliance who is listed as the e-mail contact for the State Street Commission, and will provide you with an update when we get a response.
Until then, we’re left to speculate.
If a developer wanted to build something on the site, and bypass most of the city’s approval process, he could do so by building a building just 12 stories tall. Its envelope would look something like this:
If he didn’t build to the lot line, and instead took up half of the available footprint, the building could be 24 stories tall before triggering the aldermanic and public review process. A 24-story building’s envelope could be something like this:
Again, this is purely speculation.
A prime piece of property like this doesn’t become available very often, and should fetch a pretty penny. In order for any developer to make his money back on a project in this location, he’d likely have to build much higher than 24 stories. Such permission could be attained from the city in exchange for adding things like green roofs and environmentally-friendly toilets. Or by hiding the parking garage behind a wall of retail stores. Or by simply having the building step back as it gets higher. But all of that would also trigger the city’s review process. So even if the sale of the park to a private company happens without the public being clued in, you’ll at least be given a chance to voice your opinion on the design of the impending skyscraper.
Update: April 7, 2015 @ 3:00pm
We received a response to our query to the State Street Commission. It came from Elizabeth Neukirch of the P.R. firm The Silverman Group:
We are not aware of any final development proposals or plans, only that the City is looking for someone to sell the property. In the meanwhile, Chicago Loop Alliance will continue placemaking activations in Pritzker Park this year, as they have in the past, as part of their ongoing Loop Placemaking Initiative (originally announced in 2014: http://loopchicago.com/_files/docs/y-2014—release—loop-placemaking-initiative.pdf).
Once Chicago Loop Alliance learns of any proposed plans for the site, they will collaborate with the city and other partners moving forward to ensure it is a successful project for all involved.