7 Days Until Spirepalooza: Chicago’s Biggest Building Event

Glasses are fogged, butts are perched on seat edges, and pearls are clutched in anticipation of Tuesday, May 15th. The that’s the day Chicago finds out what will become of the city’s infamous Chicago Spire site.

Good riddance to bad memories.

Good riddance to bad memories.

Streeterville neighborhood group S.O.A.R. will host a meeting one week from today for real estate developer Related Midwest to unveil its plans for the space that was supposed to hold a 2,000-foot-tall skyscraper by now.

What we ended up with is a circular scar in the ground on one of the city’s most prominent waterfront parcels, and a pair of unused highway off-ramps.

The tale of the protracted and agonizing failure of the Chicago Spire (nee Fordham Spire) has been told in publications around the world. Now Chicago has a chance to redeem itself. Or at least hide a haunting symbol of failure.

Related ended up with the Spire site at 400 North Lake Shore Drive after a series of legal and financial gymnastics too involved for this space. Since then, everyone from Rahm Emanuel to Manuel at Cafe Rom has been wondering what kind of rabbit the River North firm has in its hat.

The last few years have been very good for big projects in Chicago. Here’s a brief rundown of the larger things going up, or proposed to:

  • Vista Tower
  • 1000M
  • Essex on the Park
  • One Grant Park
  • One Bennett Park
  • One Chicago Square
  • The 73
  • Riverline
  • Southbank
  • Tribune Tower East
  • 700 at the River District
  • Lincoln Yards
  • Northeast corner of Lakeshore East

…and probably one or two more that we forgot.

This didn’t happen. Something else will.

The big questions on everyone’s lips right now are “How tall,” and “How soon?”

400 Lake Shore Drive is property so prime that mathematicians can only divide it by itself and one. The plot is so choice that it deserves a USDA certificate. We’re talking an opportunity so rare that it should be served at Ditka’s with a side of creamed spinach and the city’s best Caesar salad.

400 is right on the Chicago River and shares a mailman with Lake Michigan, so it’s worth a bundle. Everything we know about real estate development tells us that to make the investment worthwhile, Related Midwest is going to have to build up… up… up!

But everything we know about Related Midwest and it’s cousin, Related, is that they enjoy skunking the punters. When the chattering classes zig, they zag. When the mouth-breathing skyscraper needs scream “higher!” they go wider. When Crain’s writes for the umpteenth time that downtown’s home market is overbuilt, they put up the city’s tallest all-residential tower.

This means a revival of 2,000-foot-tall ambitions is unlikely.  Unless they’re really pressed for space (1 Chicago, Trib2), developers these days seem to gravitate toward mini-campuses of normal-sized skyscrapers instead of enormous statement pieces.

At least the tension will soon break. Beans are scheduled to spill next Tuesday at 6:00pm at the Sheraton at 301 East North Water Street. Then we’ll find out if there’s another big big big big project to add to the list above, or if the city’s collective excitement has been “value engineered” into mediocrity.

Location: 400 North Lake Shore Drive, Streeterville

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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