Change Coming to the Corner of State and Wacker

If you were hanging around western Turkey 2,500 years ago and big into philosophers, you might have heard Heraclitus say something along the lines of “change is the only constant in life.”  The young Greek philosopher must have been inspired by astral projecting himself into modern-day Chicago, because it is absolutely true that the only thing that doesn’t change in downtown Chicago is the fact that downtown Chicago keeps changing.

Case in point: The Renaissance Hotel on the corner of State and Wacker.  For a generation it has been a light spot in the wall of buildings along the Chicago River because its main 27-story mass is set back from Wacker Drive with its main driveway traveling underneath a second floor space topped with al fresco dining.  Sure, it’s a little awkward, but once you get used to it, it works.  But like all things in Chicago, it’s subject to change.  Right now.

The owners of the 560 room hotel want to brick up the open area below the restaurant, cutting the porte cochere in half in favor of new retail space.

1 West Wacker Drive (via Apple Maps)
1 West Wacker Drive (via Apple Maps)

Now before you freak out that this corner of downtown is going to be burdened by yet another Walgreens, yet another CVS, yet another Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or currency exchange, know that the news isn’t all bad.  It’s a bank.  But considering the hours that most Loop banks are open and how sparsely they’re staffed, we get the feeling that this is going to be yet another retail space that will function as a billboard for the tourists and not as a neighborhood amenity.  This is why we can’t have nice things.

A proposal to the city describes it thusly:

Retail Addition: Enclose the Porte Cochere to create more retail/business space at the ground level along State and Wacker Drive.  The enclosed area will add 4,120 SF of commercial space and will have direct access to State St. The majority of the exterior will be storefront infill between the existing columns supporting the restaurant/terrace above.  Currently the space is in lease negotiations with a bank.  

Is this allowed?  The hotel owners think so.  The building’s 1985 zoning permitted a certain amount of retail space, but not all of those retail square feet were built.  The hotel has 3,644 square feet left over — 476 square feet less than it needs.  To get those square feet, it will use some interesting mental calculus and a sledgehammer.  But we’ll let DXU Architects over on Wells Street explain it the way they did in a city filing:

In review of the 3rd floor of the hotel we determined that there is an existing mechanical room containing 2,659 SF.  Adjacent to this mechanical room are 2 storage rooms one containing 937 SF and the other 1,468 SF.  We are proposing to remove the drywall partitions separating the storage rooms… and combine them with the existing mechanical room to create a larger mechanical room of 5,084 SF.  As indicated PD 381 mechanical spaces of 5,000 SF of greater shall be excluded from the FAR calculation.  The remaining FAR available is 8,728 SF of area that can be used for any permitted uses within the PD.  We propose to use 4,120 SF for a business under the Porte Cochere.

Got it?  If you see a bank at 1 West Wacker Drive in the near future, it means the city understood all of that, too.

Location: 1 West Wacker Drive, The Loop

Author: Editor

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

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