CRE N Illinois

Tapping the infill potential of downtown Chicago

Tapping the infill potential of downtown Chicago,ph1
The surface parking lot at State Street and Chicago Avenue that will be home to One Chicago Square, an 869-unit, mixed use project across from Holy Name Cathedral.

A city’s greatest asset, especially within the CBD, is its density. A robust corporate environment, variety of residential options, cultural institutions, restaurants and shopping are what define a CBD. And in cities across the globe, including Chicago, that space isn’t being used efficiently.

A new study by COMMERCIALCafé focused on the inventory of vacant parcels located in central business districts, with in-depth research on CBD construction activity. The findings show a disconnect between some cities and their residents, who desire affordable housing options. In just about every market, urban sprawl is defying the sustainable, compact, walkable communities that today’s Americans aspire to.

Chicago is one of the country’s two most active commercial markets, along with New York City. Since 2013, Chicago completed approximately 7 million square feet of construction in its CBD—roughly split 50/50 between housing and office space. Despite this level of activity, there are 16.86 acres of vacant land within the Loop and surrounding areas, just ahead of the 16.49 acres locked up in Manhattan.

There are currently 4.6 million square feet of office space and 2,130 residential units currently under construction in Chicago, which will increase density in the near future. Those residential figures may be too little and too high-end to fill the demand gap, according to survey respondents.

“In our efforts to get a feel for the direction urban planning and design should take, we conducted a 25-city survey, in which we asked 1,549 individuals living and/or working in these locations what developments they want to see in their city’s downtown, as well as what projects their city needs most right now,” the study’s authors wrote. “The number one issue on everyone’s mind was crystal clear—the need for housing.”

When asked what developments they want in their city, 72 percent of respondents chose housing and homeless shelters. When pressed for what their city most desperately needs, that number grew to 83 percent. One long-vacant property in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, just north of the Loop, is a surface parking lot across the street from Holy Name Cathedral at the corner of State Street and Chicago Avenue.

The Chicago Plan Commission recently voted in favor for a plan by JDL Development that will put two towers, the tallest reaching 1,011 feet, on the site. Designed by Goettsch Partners and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, the $500 million project will include 869 residential units. JDL has committed more than $13 million to the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus system and an additional $11 million in affordable housing financing for 22 units in the Lawson House across the street.

Walkability is the top infrastructure improvement highlighted in all 25 cities, with subway upgrades and bike lanes following suit. For Chicagoans, walkability and infrastructure upgrades rated as equally important. Car pool lanes came in second among desired improvement.

Urban sprawl is rampant in the southwest. Dallas topped the list of 25 cities that COMMERCIALCafé looked closer at, with 86.37 acres of total vacant land in their CBD. Las Vegas, Austin, San Antonio and Phoenix rounded out the top of the list.

The densest cities—all with availability under nine acres, were surprisingly smaller markets. Tampa’s 6.29 acres was the least amount available, followed by Sacramento, Buffalo, Kansas City and Milwaukee.