The public got its first official look at the new Apple Store coming to Pioneer Plaza, arguably the epicenter of both Chicago’s retail and tourism industries.
In a courtesy presentation to the Chicago Plan Commission for Zeller Realty Group, architect James McGrath of London’s Foster+Partners promised that in spite of the intrusion of a large roofed-in and glassed-off space that the square would retain its primary function as a public plaza, and pledged there would be, “no retail activity on or in the plaza level.”
“On” the plaza level, meaning Apple won’t be selling anything outside the glass box it intends to erect as a gateway to its below-grade store. And “in” the plaza level, meaning that even within the glass confines of Apple’s space there won’t be people in brightly colored t-shirts and white lanyards hawking iDevices. Whether there will be a large, illuminated, suspended Apple logo remains to be seen. There are none in the drawings presented to the Plan Commission, but every single other Apple Store in the world features this item. It is unlikely that even powerful neighborhood group SOAR can keep the glowing fruit from appearing here.
Building a new Apple Store in this location is possible because beneath Pioneer Court is an unused cafeteria, part of the adjacent 401 North Michigan building. Right now the courtyard ends in a balustrade above the river, with a mostly unused riverwalk path below. It is most often used by lost tourists who assume that the pathway continues under the north side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. They find out the hard way that it doesn’t, and are forced to climb a staircase to escape the maze.
The new Apple Store would essentially uncap the cafeteria space and allow for the construction of a grand staircase connecting the public plaza with the riverwalk. In the middle of this stair would be inserted the retail space, with the roof above Pioneer Court sheltering and marking the perimeter of the building.
The new riverwalk will still be elevated above the actual river at the same height it is now. It’s not possible to go any lower because beneath the Apple Store at river level is a parking garage.
While a two-story retail store taking up ¾ of the width of the river frontage is not ideal, the remaining quasi-public stair space is certainly a vast improvement over what is there now. It is more logical, and more welcoming than what is happening now, which effectively fences off the river from pedestrians.