Setback For Planned West Loop Residential Skyscraper

A developer’s plan to build a residential skyscraper in the West Loop has hit a roadblock.

The plot in question is bounded by West Madison Street, South Desplaines Street, West Monroe Street, and the Kennedy Expressway. It has the address 655 West Madison Street.

The location of 655 West Madison Street (Base map via Apple Maps)
The location of 655 West Madison Street (Base map via Apple Maps)

An unknown developer recently asked the city how many residential units it might be allowed to build on the block. It’s a logical question considering the location, the trend toward downtown Chicago living, and the block’s juicy zoning. Right now it’s zoned for residential use and has a permitted Floor Area Ratio of 17.48. That’s massive. By comparison, Presidential Towers’ F.A.R. is just 7.9.

But when asked how many units, the answer that came back from the city was a big fat zero.

The reason is interesting. The zoning ordinance that governs 655 is also the zoning for Presidential Towers. As it is written right now, Presidential Towers is allowed to have 2,400 homes. The block next door: Goose egg.

It sounds like a case of getting bitten by someone else kicking the can down the road.

Back in 2012, Chicago City Council voted to allow residences on this block. But as the Chicago Department of Planning and Development noted in a letter to the recently interested developer, the request to add residential use was “to assist with marketing the site only.”

The Bulk Use Table was never updated, and when the city decided to permit a certain number of residences to be constructed here, that certain number became the default number under its previous zoning: zero.

What this means to you and me, girls and boys, is that someone really wants to build a residential tower there. And the current zoning would permit quite an enormous tower. But first, the developer has to convince the city, the alderman, and the neighbors to let it do so. It’s a setback, but it’s not a Jesus burrito.

If the address 655 West Madison sounds familiar, it may be because in early July, the Chicago Tribune reported that Chase might be interested in building a new trophy tower there. The city delivered its bad news about residences in mid-July, after the Tribune article came out, so it’s not clear if this means Chase didn’t like 655 and the developer was investigating Plan B, or if the two are not related in any way.

Location: 655 West Madison Street, West 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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