Riverside Investment and Development has been selected by Amtrak to redevelop its property in Chicago’s West Loop, including the historic Chicago Union Station.
In the decade-and-a-half that this blog has been chronicling Chicago’s built environment, Amtrak has put forward a series of increasingly ambitious plans for maximizing its real estate assets in downtown Chicago, which include the station’s “headhouse,” the parking garage to its south, and the train shed to its east. This one, designed by Goettsch Partners, is the most dramatic of the bunch, but it remains to be seen if it will actually happen or if it will disappear after a flourish of newspaper headlines like the others did.
One upside to this latest proposal is that it does not require any of your tax dollars to complete. So it’s got that going for it. Which is nice.
Here’s what we can look forward to, if it happens:
- The upper floors of the historic Union Station main building (headhouse) will be transformed into office space and a hotel
- The headhouse will finally get the towers it was designed to hold. In this case, a pair of 12-story residential towers
- 110,000 square feet of retail space will be added to the headhouse at street level, and inside
- The Amtrak parking garage will be replaced with two 750,000 square-foot office towers, with 800 parking spaces
- The train shed will be topped by a half-million square-foot residential tower
What’s a little disappointing is that there is no information on how the Union Station redevelopment will help, or hurt, the city’s overall mobility problem. It’s clearly a proposal put together by real estate developers used to thinking of skyscrapers as islands of civilization, rather than pieces of a networked whole. But that’s exactly what Union Station is — the nucleus in a West Loop travel web.
The supplied renderings don’t show a single CTA bus jockeying for position; not even in the transit center. There are no double- and triple-parked ranks of honking taxis. The staging areas for gypsy bus services like MegaBus are magically replaced by politely manicured lawns. And the swarms of cars that constantly circle Union Station waiting for their loved ones to emerge from its subterranean maze because they can’t or won’t pay for garage parking have mysteriously disappeared.
If you ride Amtrak, you know that over the last decade or so it’s been redeveloping a number of its stations, both revitalizing them with modern amenities and expanded retail options, while also preserving the stations’ histories. We’ve seen it at Los Angeles Union Station, Seattle’s King Street Station, and Washington Union Station. Chicago is lucky to have a beautiful old railroad station left to restore. Most of Amtrak’s “stations” are little more than concrete or asphalt strips paved next to the tracks, even in major cities like Houston.