Firmly in Pivot Mode, Trib Wows Again With Another Massive Development Proposal

For the second time in two months, Tribune Media is making headlines in the real estate industry.

The company, which is in the process of being bought by suburban Baltimore’s Sinclair Broadcast Group, is best known for WGN-TV, KTLA in Los Angeles, and WPIX in New York.  It’s half of what’s left after the Tribune Company imploded like a supernova, leaving behind a pair of dwarf stars.  Consult the Adler Planetarium if you need help with the analogy.

River District rendering (Courtesy of SCB)

River District rendering (Courtesy of SCB)

In September, Trib announced it was going to take some of its fallow ground along Chicago Avenue near Goose Island and turn it into a multi-tower office and residential complex called 700 On the River.  Now Big T is taking its property across the street at 777 West Chicago Avenue and turning that into a huge live-work complex including upwards of 15 high- and mid-rise office, residential, hotel, and other buildings designed by SCB.

The idea is to become the geographic hub of Chicago’s emerging tech hub, and to that end both the 700 project and the 777 project are now being tied up in a bow labeled The River District.

This 777 portion of the project involves building 5,900 new residences and nine million square feet of office space along the rail lines between Chicago Avenue and Grand Avenue.  That’s two Willis Towers’ worth of office space.

But don’t start moving your timber-loft dot-com startup out of Ravenswood just yet.  Like any development proposal of this scale, the splash is tempered by bean counters, so this project will go up in phases.  Phase one is surprisingly on the Grand Avenue end of things.  Trib calls it “shovel-ready,” which in Chicago means don’t expect to see any shovels until 2020.  The rest will arrive bit-by-bit, or as Tribune puts it, “based on market demand.”  That’s Illinois for, “If they come, we will build it.”

All of that caution, however, will likely go out the window if the city’s pleading for Seattle’s Amazon.com to build its second headquarters in Chicago works out thanks to this plan’s not-so-subtle, “Oh, hey! Look at all this empty awesome brand new office space in funky downtown Chicago we’ve suddenly got!  And there’s a Starbucks!”  If Amazon’s HQ2 does for downtown Chicago what HQ1 did for South Lake Union, the whole thing will go up faster than a Patrick Kane slap shot.

Various estimations rank Chicago anywhere from #2 to #18 on the list of what Amazon’s looking for in a new location.  The problem is that one of the things that ranks Chicago so high is its transit system.  Good for the city as a whole, but bad for this location.  The reason that HQ1 works so well in its downtown-adjacent location is that transit was good from the outset.  Bus service is excellent, and connects to a regional ferry network.  The very cheap SLUT trolley connects to the excellent and growing light rail network.  There’s even two commuter airlines that run seaplanes from South Lake Union to the neighboring tech hub of Vancouver.  And the only thing that dot-com kids like better than fair-trade coffee and rainbow kale chips is some good mass transit on which to show off their AirPods and strategically torn skinny jeans.

(Protip: The secret sauce that makes Seattle’s transit system work is that it understands that its primary objective is to move people around, not to be a source of revenue. To that end, if you’re poor, forgot your wallet, just got mugged, or whatever, Sound Transit will let you on without paying — just to keep people moving.  In fact, at the time that Amazon relocated to South Lake Union, the entirety of downtown Seattle was a fare-free zone, for buses and trains. Again, to move people around, not to act as a tax-hungry piggy bank.)

Unfortunately for The River District, the only transit options are the Halsted, Chicago, Grand, and Milwaukee buses.  If you want rail, you’ll have to hop a freight toward Milwaukee like a hobo.  But water taxi service could be added pretty easily, which in Chicago terms is the “most extra” way for hipsters to get around.

We’ll have much more on this project in the next few weeks.  Until then, enjoy the renderings.

Tribune Media Announces Plans for Transformational Riverfront Development at 777 W. Chicago Avenue

The River District will convert 37 acres of underutilized industrial land into a dynamic new neighborhood that inspires innovation and community

Tribune Real Estate Holdings, a subsidiary of Tribune Media Company (NYSE: TRCO), today filed a planned development (PD) application with the city of Chicago for a transformational riverfront development at 777 W. Chicago Avenue (777).  The proposed plan for the 777 site was submitted a month after Tribune Media and Riverside Investment & Development jointly filed a plan to redevelop Tribune Media’s neighboring site at 700 W. Chicago Avenue (700).

Located along the North Branch of the Chicago River, the phased redevelopment of 777 and 700 W. Chicago Avenue will be reimagined as The River District, a landmark urban tech-centric neighborhood that will reflect how people want to live and work. The new neighborhood extends Chicago’s downtown district and establishes a natural connection between The Loop, River North, Fulton Market, and River West.

Drawing from the best thinking and practices in urban planning, sustainable development, and established innovative work and live spaces, The River District will reaffirm Chicago as among the most innovative cities in the world.

“Our proposed plan for The River District builds on Mayor Emanuel’s North Branch Framework vision – to unlock growth by creating and connecting vibrant sustainable neighborhoods, and attracting and retaining new jobs and talent.  Chicago’s growth and innovation as a result of the Framework will cement it as a top destination for companies and talent, and we view The River District as a major contributor to the future success of the city,” said Murray McQueen, president of ‎Tribune Real Estate Holdings.  “The River District plan leverages best practices from Chicago and other major cities and reflects how people want to live and work today.  Our goal is to create the same in-demand dynamic neighborhood seen in tech centers such as San Francisco and Seattle.”

As Chicago looks to further establish itself as a hub for innovation and technology, the site will become the heart of city’s “Tech Triangle”, which includes the Merchandise Mart and 600 W. Chicago (the Montgomery Ward building) on the east, the UI Labs on Goose Island on the north, and the Google headquarters in the West Loop.

“Expanding the Downtown District in the ‘Tech Triangle’ will create the city’s first innovation district and become a city within a city, where people will live, work, play, and innovate,” said McQueen.

Once completed, The River District will achieve an appropriate balance of mixed-uses where demand is great, the tax base will expand, thousands of jobs will be created and the city will realize not only the property’s initial development fees, but a multiplier of the potential property taxes, sales taxes and various user taxes generated from the new site.

Under the current plan for 777, more than 9 million square feet of mixed-use development rights will accommodate over 19,000 jobs and 5,900 residential units.  More than 18,000 construction jobs will be created in the build-out of the site.  Approximately $1.1 billion in municipal tax benefit to the city will be generated by the project over the next 20 years.

McQueen added, “The River District is based on our vision for the site, on which we have been working with the city for a number of years.”

Benefits from the redevelopment of 777 will include significant infrastructure upgrades including transportation improvements, expansive publicly accessible green space and river access, and utility enhancements.

  • Increases public access and green space: 25%, or more than 12 acres, of The River District will be dedicated to public use.  This includes 5.1 acres of riverfront improvements, a public park, associated pocket parks to activate the building/streetscape relationship and site-wide landscaping.
  • Celebrates the Riverwalk expansion: As part of the Riverwalk expansion, the space will feature 3,200 linear feet (more than half a mile) of continuous publicly accessible pedestrian paths on the river.
  • Supports City’s pedestrian and bike programs: The plan capitalizes on natural connections to surrounding neighborhoods by providing pedestrian and bike path connections and direct visibility from nearby streets.  The site will also include multiple Divvy bike-share stations.
  • Improves Infrastructure Enhancements: Under the plan, a major arterial boulevard linking Grand to Chicago and an extension of the city grid at Ancona and Superior will be built and associated signalized intersections installed.  Viaduct construction to connect to Halsted and Chicago and site-wide upgrade of utilities will be made, and the plan calls for a sustainably developed storm water management system and access to high-speed fiber throughout the site.

Pending City approval, the first phase of the redevelopment of 777 will occur on the site’s southern end, on 18 “shovel ready” acres that could support 5.5 million square feet beginning in 2020.  The second phase redeveloping the remaining 12 acres could later be built-out based on market demand and support an additional 3.7 million square feet.

“This master plan helps the city achieve its vision to transition from the North Branch Industrial Corridor and ensure the area remains an important economic engine and vital job center in the city of Chicago,” added McQueen.

 

 

 

 

 

Location: 777 West Chicago Avenue, Goose Island, River West, Fulton River District

Editor

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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