Happy Dance in the South Loop: The 78 Gets Updated

Last week ended with architecture nerds bouncing off the walls like a Roomba that just slurped up some crack.  River North development concern Related Midwest released the latest iteration of its plans for The 78; and, man, are they something.

Rending of the flagship commercial building concept on Crescent Park (Contributing architect: SOM. Courtesy of Related Midwest)

Rending of the flagship commercial building concept on Crescent Park (Contributing architect: SOM. Courtesy of Related Midwest)

If you’re just tuning in, “The 78” is the name of the patch of harrowed ground south of Roosevelt Road between Clark Street and the south branch of the Chicago River.  You may know it as “the wasteland,” or “the badlands,” or “that place where I can fly my drone after work without anyone getting all up in my Kool-aid.”

Related Midwest and friends see it as Chicago’s next city-within-the-city.  Sandburg Village with heart.  Lakeshore East with soul.

Rendering of Roosevelt Road looking south (Courtesy of Related Midwest)

Rendering of Roosevelt Road looking south (Courtesy of Related Midwest)

As we reported back in October, SOM’s Phil Enquist is designing this Chinatown-adjacent neighborhood for Related.  In fact, in spite of the local media and insta-blogs reporting this as “new” and an “unveiling” of the plans, what came out on Thursday was nearly identical to what we saw back in October.  The biggest change seems to be to a new PR firm.  So The 78 may be “new” to them.

There are a few updates, though. Among them:

  • The 78 will have 11 acres of public space, including a seven-acre park.  For an idea of how big that is, Lakeshore East park is six acres.
  • The park will follow the former curve of the Chicago River, which once ran through this site before the waterway was straightened.
  • The park will clean stormwater runoff before it enters the river.
  • 100-foot-wide riverwalk.
  • The new CTA Red Line station that was hinted at back in October is going to happen.
  • 20% affordable housing.

The renderings showing tiers of quasi-brutalist low-rise buildings backing into a mountain range of high-rise towers are straight out of a Buck Rogers matte painting.  But in a good way.  In industry jargon, it’s a “sidescraper” surrounded by density along Roosevelt and Clark.  It lets even the most casual viewer understand immediately that this isn’t an office park.  Or a neighborhood of skyscrapers.  It is the epitome of “mixed use,” and fulfills the project’s marketing promise of, “A place to live, work and play.”

In one of the most ambitious infrastructure proposals in a long time, the Metra commuter rail tracks that currently run along Clark Street will be moved one block west — away from Clark Street.   This may seem counter-intuitive because it will put the rail line deeper into the middle of The 78.  But SOM’s design calls for the new Metra route to be enclosed, cutting down on noise and diesel fumes.

This will be the second shrouding of a local rail line in recent years.  The previous one was the capping of the Amtrak line beneath what is now the park in front of River Point.

Infrastructure work is expected to begin in a couple of months, with the construction of a street connecting Wells Street to Wentworth Avenue through the middle of the site.  The entire project is expected to be done around… 2038.  Robot overlords permitting.

Editor’s note:  Related Midwest is a long-time sponsor of this publication.  Contact us if your company wants to be awesome, too.

Location: 1331 South Lumber Street, South 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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