Chicago Neverbuilt: The Oriental Near Lakeshore East

215 North Michigan/300 North Stetson

Hey, Baby. Do you live around here often?

Not all vacant lots in Chicago are the same. Sure, they all have weeds. Most have the crushed bricks of architectural dreams past. And a few have the spicy goodness of thorium as a hidden treat.

But there are certain vacant lots that are — for lack of a better term — sexier than others. They have the power to make architects dream of the glittering tower they’d design for it; to make developers imagine their empires expanding; and to make bankers’ lips move, silently pushing out the word “Gulfstream IV.”

One of those lots has just come out of a bad long-term relationship, and is looking for love. She’s just sitting there in the shadows of the skyscrapers in The Loop, waiting for Mr. Right Developer to come along. Her birth certificate reads “300 North Stetson Avenue,” but long ago she adopted a classier name: “215 North Michigan.”

She’s not actually on Michigan Avenue, but you don’t mind. She’s on the same block, right next to Michigan Plaza. And best of all… She’s pedway-adjacent. Rowr!

Mandarin Oriental Chicago (Courtesy of SCB)

Her last big date was with a Mandarin Oriental, who commissioned friends-of-the-blog SCB to outfit her. They came up with with a lovely bespoke blue glass skyscraper. 74 stories and 900 feet tall, it was sleek, elegant, and glittered in all the right places.

Ah, but that was 2006. Back then there were visions of a 250 room hotel, a hundred-and-a-half condominiums, and the highly prized Mandarin Oriental Residences. Just one hundred of those, please.

But like Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston, and the other beautiful people of yesteryear — One day it all came crashing down.

She landed in foreclosure court with creditors snapping at the scraps of her appraised value. She once was worthy of a $750 million skyscraper. By 2009, she was in the red $82 million.

Like many who have fallen from grace, she’s managed to make a comeback. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, she’s about to exit the legal system thanks to a sheriff’s sale. And like Lindsay, there may be great things ahead of her.

She hasn’t changed much in the last ten years. She occasionally allows construction crews to stage on her. And then there’s the Ethiopian food truck that joins her for a late dinner with the local cabbies most nights.

But the neighborhood around her has changed. It’s full of hipsters, yuppies, empty-nesters, and more tourists than you can shake an old plastic White Hen Pantry cup full of change at.

In 2006, bean counters thought she was worth spending three-quarters of a billion dollars on. Today, it could be more.  After all, the area is so in demand that they’re building extra floors on top of hundred-year-old buildings to make more hotel rooms.

Sure, some say another 74-story skyscraper won’t work because the views would be blocked by the Aon Center, the Illinois Center, and Michigan Plaza. Well, those buildings were there back in 2006, too. The shadow studies haven’t changed, only the developers reading them.

Location: 300 North Stetson Avenue, The Loop

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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