Multifamily N Illinois

Infamous Chicago Spire site to get two-tower development

The veil has finally been lifted on the development plans for 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. What was once to be the site of the Chicago Spire will now feature two soaring towers with a mix of a rental, condo and hotel uses. Representatives from Related Midwest, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Kimley-Horn & Associates joined 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilley at the Sheraton Hotel last night to present the plan to area residents. 

The taller South Tower will contain 300 luxury condominiums and a boutique, 175-key, five-star hotel. A full suite of residential and hotel amenities will be located in the towers and the shared podium between them. The shorter North Tower will contain approximately 550 luxury rental units.

“The development of 400 Lake Shore Drive presents an immense opportunity to strengthen Chicago's connection to its greatest natural assets—Lake Michigan and the Chicago River,” said Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest. “Over the course of several years, we have collaborated with numerous stakeholders to create an inspiring new gateway to our city. The proposed sister towers, designed by David Childs with SOM, are not only beautiful, but buildable.”

The towers will feature glass and metalwork detailing on the facade, but in a throwback of sorts to the Chicago School designers, much of the edifice will be terra cotta. The classic material will create a contemporary rippling effect on both towers, symbolic of the surrounding waters. The podium connecting the buildings will have an organic character along with stone and masonry to dampen noise from Lake Shore Drive.

Designed by David Childs, consulting design partner out of SOM's New York office, the pair of towers will rise to heights of approximately 1,100 and 850 feet, tapering as they rise as if eroded by strong winds at those heights. But they aren't that tall, at least compared to the site's previous design. Stacked atop one another, the two towers still wouldn't match the Spire at its tallest proposed height of 2,000 feet.

And while ambitious, the presentation took pains to show Streeterville residents that this design is smaller in scale than the scuttled Spire project. For example, the new project calls for 1,025 combined residential and hotel units compared to the 1,200 residential units that would have been in the Spire; the four-level, underground parking garage will have capacity for 750 vehicles instead of 1,350 and at a proposed 1.3 million square feet, the project is also over 1 million square feet smaller in scale than the Spire.

Accessing the site will also occur differently than past proposals. The design calls for a “Water Street Court” at the end of North Water Street, where taxis and rideshare vehicles can stage, off of the street. But to relieve traffic in the neighborhood, a second access point will be created on intermediary Lake Shore Drive. There will be no connection between North Water and Lake Shore Drive, eliminating through traffic in the community.

The two towers will be set at a slight angle to one another, and slightly misaligned. The bird’s-eye view of their footprints is reminiscent of dance steps. The angling and varying heights “will create tension with one another,” Childs said. Separated by 150 feet, the towers also form a gateway that offers spectacular views along the lakefront and river corridors.

“Their positioning on the site will maximize lake, river and city views while transforming the eastern end of Chicago’s skyline,” Bailey said. “In creating a public extension of the Riverwalk and supporting the long-awaited development of DuSable Park, 400 Lake Shore Drive bridges the gap between downtown and the lakefront, advancing the vision of Chicago as a two-waterfront city."

The buildings will be constructed on one of the most high-profile, undeveloped plots downtown, a spit of land where the Chicago River and Lake Michigan meet. The locality partly inspired the design, according to Childs. “It’s a place of extraordinary motion but it also happens to be a place of memory, where the city itself was founded.”

Not far from where Chicago’s founder, Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, settled his homestead, the site comes with a burden of sorts: DuSable Park on the other side of Lake Shore Drive. It is a park in aspiration only, first imagined by former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. Much has prevented this 3-acre peninsula from being developed, notably the imposing Lake Shore Drive physically separating it and its past as a Superfund site after years as the Lindsey Lights factory left behind thorium-contaminated soil.

Developing 400 N. Lake Shore Drive was contingent on helping create the park and Related Midwest has committed $10 million to finally bring that park to fruition. The final design will create riverwalks along both the Chicago River and Ogden Slip under the bridge and into the park, fully connecting it with the rest of the city.

Related Midwest will use DuSable Park as a staging area for construction on the towers, but they hope to deliver the final park at the same time as the completed buildings, in about four and a half years. The park will also connect to the Navy Pier flyover, which is currently under construction.

First imagined as the 2,000-foot tall Fordham Spire when revealed in 2005 by Fordham Company developer Christopher Carley, what would have been the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere had a tumultuous development. Originally planned as a 116-story hotel/condominium with a broadcast antenna mast atop the helical structure designed by Spanish starchitect Santiago Calatrava, the plans for the building changed several times. The site’s ownership also changed hands, with Irish developer Garrett Kelleher taking on the project in 2006, only to cede the property to the project's biggest creditor, Related Midwest in 2014.

The circular foundation hole—the only construction progress made on the site—has occupied the site since, a reminder of the Great Recession that brought the last construction cycle and the economy as a whole to a halt.