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Four Areas of Chicago That Are Transforming Before Our Eyes

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Nick Fochtman

It's no secret that the development deep freeze Chicago felt during the recession is long gone. Everywhere you look in the city there's tower cranes, scaffolding, and river barges full of heavy equipment. Money is once again flowing into the real estate industry and some big things are in the works. If you've been tracking development news lately, your head might be spinning from trying to keep up with all that's going on. Let's take a moment to step back from the flurry of individual project updates to look at the big picture, and focus on a few areas of the greater downtown area that are undergoing dramatic changes right now. Here's what we've got to look forward to.

↑ Magnificent Mile South
Chicago's Magnificent Mile is easily one of the most famous streets in the country, and one of the things every visitor who comes to town has already heard of. It's a shame, though, that the fun stops so abruptly at the river. Continue walking down on Michigan Avenue between Wacker and Randolph Streets and you'll find yourself in a different scene altogether, with very little for pedestrians to see or do.

However, things are changing. Take a stroll down this section of Michigan Avenue and you'll find that on every block and on both sides of the street there's something happening. Several new hotels are on the way, many of them inside historic and landmark buildings receiving expensive rehabs. The entire block of 200 N Michigan was demolished to make way for a new glass apartment tower. Don't forget about shopping, too, as tons of new retail space is being built along the street level with a lot of stores and restaurants already signed on to fill out the space.

The real question now is whether this newly activated strip of Michigan Avenue will be considered an extension of the famed Magnificent Mile, or if it will form its own identity. One developer in the area is trying to rebrand the strip as "Millennium Mile" after the park it connects to. We'll see if it sticks.

The London Guarantee Building at 360 N Michigan is turning into a boutique hotel.
The new bKL-designed apartment tower at 200 N Michigan looks gorgeous.
The old Chicago Athletic Association building is also receiving a boutique hotel makeover.

↑ River Corridor

One of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's first priorities when taking office was pumping new life into the Chicago River area of downtown. Anybody who's taken one of the city's numerous architecture cruises knows that any building along the river receives a lot of prestige due to its location, but for the past few decades the river area has been pretty stagnant with an underutilized riverwalk area and lots of prime river-front real estate sitting as vacant dirt fields or parking lots. But now, at long last, the river is one of the busiest development areas in the city.

Two empty lots along the western bank of the river are getting brand new skyscraper office towers. Across the river at Wolf Point, the triangular outcropping of land near Merchandise Mart, the first tower of a three-tower megadevelopment is already climbing skyward. It's hard to know exactly what effect these new towers will have on the local economies, but it's easy to guess that a few new restaurants and stores could quickly open to cater to the swell of new high-paid office workers and renters.

Let us not forget about the new Chicago Riverwalk extension also under construction. One of five major new park projects coming soon we highlighted last month, the new Riverwalk is sure to bring dramatic change to how visitors and locals experience the river. A single, uninterrupted walkway stretching from State Street all the way around to Lake Street, the Riverwalk will have gardens, water features, kayak rentals, new retail options, and lots of seating perfect for taking in the extraordinary river views. It may even have some bright new lights in the near future.

The Riverwalk extension project is a can't-miss.
River Point is sure to offer some amazing views to office tenants.
Construction just began on 150 N Riverside, the future home of William Blair.

↑ West Loop

The easiest way to describe what's going on in the West Loop right now is to say that it's kind of becoming the new River North. Just as the River North area blew up seemingly overnight with tech startups gobbling up loft office conversions and trendy restaurants and experimental donut shops opening beneath them, the West Loop is in the middle of an explosion of similar development. Food distribution and storage buildings are being converted into offices, dining hotspots are popping up left and right, and developers are staking claim to any undeveloped piece of land so they can build new apartments as fast as possible. Uber-swank properties like Soho House and Nobu are also moving into the area, and there's even a Banksy there.

There's undeniably one name behind most of the West Loop revival: Sterling Bay. The Chicago-based developer sprung into the spotlight with their ambitious renovation of the Fulton Cold Storage building into high-end office space, especially when Google announced plans to take up a huge chunk of the new building. Sterling Bay now owns at least 20 buildings in the area, many of which are in the midst of redevelopments.

Google's future home at 1K Fulton and the new Morgan/Lake CTA station may have helped spark the area's development boom.
JeffJack apartments is one of several new residential buildings coming soon.
Jetsetting visitors may have trouble deciding whether to stay at Nobu or Soho House.

↑ McCormick Place

The south side area right around the McCormick Place convention center is someplace you might not ever be around unless you're in town for a trade show or accidentally booked a hotel there thinking it was in downtown. That may soon change, however, as a redevelopment project for the area is now underway. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (aka McPier), the organization that operates the largest convention center in North America, is moving forward with a $600 million plan to construct a new entertainment district that will center around a Pelli Clarke Pelli designed arena. In addition to the new arena, the McCormick Place redevelopment and expansion will include a 55 story hotel and data center, along with new retail and office space. The area will also be getting a new CTA station.

To kick off the two year project, McPier will first relocate the landmarked Harriet F. Rees House to a new location just one block away. After the historic home has been resituated, McPier will start the permitting process for site clearing and demolition to begin construction of the new arena, hotel and data center.

The new Pelli Clarke Pelli designed arena will become the home of DePaul University's athletic program.
The Marriott Marquis will add 1,200 hotel rooms to the area.
The CTA's new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station will connect the new convention center and entertainment district to the public transit system.

— Aaron Dunlap & AJ LaTrace

150 N. Riverside

150 N. Riverside Plaza, Chicago, IL 60606