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2014's Most Dramatic Stories in Chicago Real Estate & Architecture

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Nick Fochtman

As 2014 comes to a close, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of this year's most important events in Chicago real estate and architecture. Overall, 2014 brought a lot of change to the city — with many new projects proposed, new parks completed and the installation of one particularly infamous sign. The city experienced a boom in hotel and apartment construction this year, and it's likely to continue well into 2015. But as the city's landscape and built environment changes, there's going to be some friction, setbacks and even some spectacles. Let's just just straight into it.


11. Parking Dibs — a Chair-ished Tradition
Although this December has been pretty mild for a Chicago winter with its lack of snow and not-so-terrible temperatures, last winter more than made up for it with its absurd amounts of snow and Chiberia temps. Parkings dibs became more than just a dumb game that Chicago neighbors play with each other — it was basically a contact sport. Some neighbors got creative with their dibs while others took a more altruistic approach. One person even took it upon himself to take parking dibs items throughout the city to create an ironic memorial to previous Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic. In the dibs bandit's own words, parking dibs is a "chair-ished tradition" in Chicago.


10. Making Big Moves
2014 brought about many preservation fails this year, but there were also a number of major victories. The highest profile preservation win this year was the move of the landmark Harriet F. Rees house just one block to a new location. The move took two whole days and was excellent fodder for some really cool photos and videos. In addition to the Rees House move, the historic Van Bergen House made a big move across the North Shore, starting in Wilmette and ending in Evanston.


8. City of Lights
The city formally unveiled a new plan this year to bring lots (and we mean lots) of new lights to the downtown area. First announced in January and formally unveiled in June, the plan is to deck some of Chicago's most famous structures in lights in hopes of boosting tourism and reviving some underutilized areas of the Loop. In addition to the city's official program, an independent team of designers proposed their own idea to bring bright lights to the Wabash 'L' tracks.


7. Lots of New Public Park Space
New park space will continue to be a major topic in 2015, but new and upcoming public spaces have really changed the game for some neighborhoods this year. Although the 606's opening was pushed back to next summer, construction along the trail has been the cause of excitement for recreationists and homeowners alike. The opening of the 606 may not come until next year, but the city was able to deliver the Grant Park skate park and sections of Maggie Daley Park by the end of this year. We'll still have to wait just a bit longer for the Chicago Riverwalk extension.


6. Chicago's Presidential Ambitions
Just what in the world is happening right now with the Obama Library bids here in Chicago? You'd think that bringing the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago would be a no-brainer, but somehow we're managing to screw this one up. The mayor originally announced that he wanted a single, unified Chicago bid, then everyone just started doing their own thing, and then eventually a couple of South Side bids were axed. Now Rahm is talking about donating a bunch of land to bring it here, but the Obama Foundation doesn't seem to like the strategy. At this point, it's really hard to tell what will happen, but we'll know in a few months when the foundation makes its decision.


4. Blob Architecture and Lucas' New Museum
When George Lucas announced that he had decided to ditch San Francisco and bring his museum to Chicago, the idea was an incredibly exciting one to many Chicagoans. Then Lucas announced that MAD Architects and Studio Gang would lead the design duties for the museum and its surrounding grounds, and Chicago's architecture fans went wild. However, the city's exuberance for the museum quickly transformed into contempt due to its lakefront location and wild blob architecture style design. With such an incredible team of designers, how could things go wrong? Well, things did go wrong and now the museum is wrapped up in a legal battle that could prevent it from moving forward.


3. Jeanne Gang's New Supertall
If you had to sum up the rollout and announcement of the new Wanda Vista tower in one word, the word would simply just be odd. The whole thing was very strange, odd, weird — whichever you prefer most. For those who missed the story, here's an abridged version: in July a Chinese news outlet reported a story about a Chinese conglomerate's plan to build a new supertall tower in Chicago, and although the architect was not named, all indicators pointed to Studio Gang. However, Studio Gang would neither confirm nor deny their involvement in the design of the tower. Fast forward to this month, and we finally received confirmation that indeed, Studio Gang was/is behind the design of the new tower. There were even some new renderings. Maybe it was all just an honest miscommunication between the parties, but it's always a good thing when rumors can be laid to rest and a project becomes much more real.


2. Rumble at Wrigley Field
If the Cubs are the city's lovable losers then Wrigley Field is its hottest mess. And it's not so much that Wrigley itself is a hot mess. Ok, well, scratch that — it is, er, was. Wrigley Field is one of the city's most cherished landmarks, but a plan to renovate the stadium and its surroundings ignited one of the biggest real estate battles in recent years. Normally, when big changes are being made in a neighborhood, the neighbors themselves become the most vocal opponents. However, when it came to the Wrigley Field plan, the loudest opponents were the owners of the rooftop bleachers that surround the Friendly Confines. The Ricketts family stuck to their guns, and eventually initiated the nuclear option by just moving ahead with the renovation plans regardless of threats of legal action from the rooftop owners. The whole thing was a big fiasco but now the bleachers have been demolished and are being rebuilt and two of the rooftop bleachers are being foreclosed on. Oh yeah, and then after all of the drama, the Cubs decided to actually alter their plan yet again and drop one of the outfield signs that everyone was fighting over so much — all so that the Ricketts can receive a federal tax break by getting Wrigley on the National Register of Historic Places. There's really much more to the story, so just go ahead and point yourself to the archives to get the full picture.


1. The Donald's Sign vs. the City of Chicago
What happens when you have two high profile media savvy egos go head to head over a big shiny sign that spells out the letters T-R-U-M-P? You get an epic battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and noted birther, real estate mogul, reality television personality and hairdo, Donald Trump. The Donald received approval to put up his big dumb sign last year, but when the thing started going up, it became one of the hottest topics in the country. And although many Chicagoans found the sign to be aesthetically unappealing — or a "blemish" as the mayor called it — Trump became the sign's biggest fan, calling it "magnificent" and "popular." The Chicago Tribune's architecture critic Blair Kamin got involved in the public feud, and the Donald had some words for him. Although Alderman Brendan Reilly and the Chicago City Council approved the sign to begin with, the city would later create and pass a measure that would limit and/or ban large signage along the Chicago River. However, Trump's sign gets to stay.

·Year in Curbed archives [Curbed Chicago]