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Developers Reintroduce Essex Inn Redevelopment and Tower Addition

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This old hotel is looking to get a big boost

Last night's meeting in the South Loop wasn't just about the sky-high tower designed by Helmut Jahn for Michigan Avenue. That tower may be joined by a couple of others if developers' plans follow through.

The second project of the evening presented was the proposed tower next to the Essex Inn at 800 South Michigan Avenue. The development team is a joint venture of Oxford Capitol Group and Quadrum Global, which have hired Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) to design the slender 476-unit apartment tower to replace an existing parking garage fronting onto Michigan Avenue and Grant Park.

The development team kicked off the presentation by describing the tower as essentially the same as in previous community meetings, but with refinements. The height, which has grown and shrunk during the community engagement phase, has now settled in at approximately 585 feet to the very top of the building, but could still change slightly with design tweaks.

The slender 60-foot wide tower rises from a base which stands wall to wall with the adjacent structures, maintaining the Michigan Avenue streetwall until the third floor, where an outdoor garden space would be located between the new tower and the existing hotel. The replacement parking garage would make up floors two through six and none of the parking component would be visible from Michigan avenue as the garage would be located behind a 20-foot wide active space on each floor.

The space in front of the parking garage is to be filled with a fitness center and other hotel amenities allowing the hotel to recreate 22 rooms in the existing building, which have been removed in prior reconfigurations over the years. As part of the project, the Essex Inn would receive a full renovation adding an additional star to its rating and the building would be added to the National Register Historic Places. The total hotel room count is expected to come in at 279 after the renovation is complete. Oxford, an investor that is also in the finishing stages of the LondonHouse hotel at Michigan and Wacker, recently purchased the Essex Inn and intends to retain ownership of both the hotel and the new apartment tower long after construction is complete.

The existing garage currently has space for up to 140 cars, but the parking component of the proposal has increased slightly since the last meeting going from 155 spaces to 187 for an overall increase in the parking ratio from 0.34 to 0.4. The amenity deck would be located on the 8th floor, and this is where the biggest design change has occurred. In what was once an open void framed by distinctive diagonal columns, is now a fully enclosed winter garden that can be used year round. The change was prompted in large part by the Landmarks Commission who strongly desires maintaining a streetwall in the historic district. The winter garden spans 60 feet wide by 60 feet deep and runs through floors 8 to 12. The glass wall at the first floor of the enclosed space will open in the warmer months and will be flanked by outdoor terraces. The folding walls will create an opening on the north, east and south sides of the tower covering as much as 80 percent of the exterior.

A distinct visual separation between the base and the tower helps the development align with the roofline of the existing Essex Inn. A grid of diagonal mullions continue the visual arrangement of the columns visible in the winter garden up the exterior of the tower on all four sides. The facade then climbs past the main roof line to form a screen wall covering mechanical uses. The building has a 10,000-square-foot floor plate divided up among a variety of apartments, ranging from studios to three bedroom units. The bulk of the unit mix is geared towards one and two bedroom units, while the three bedrooms and studios account for just 5-6 percent each of the total unit count. The ground floor will have a expanded hotel lobby as well as a restaurant with seasonal outdoor space.

The development team would like to break ground this summer if all entitlements are in place. Power Construction has already been selected as the contractor for the project.

The final project presented was the micro unit proposal for the northwest corner of Dearborn and Polk Streets at the south end of Printer’s Row. Known as 776 South Dearborn, the 130-unit project will stand in at a total of 15 stories and 166 feet in height to the uppermost portion of the mechanical penthouse. The project by LG Construction and Development was designed by Myefski Architects and will take advantage of the transit oriented development (TOD) ordinance by including no parking in the building. The proposal in its zoning approval would need a special use approval for the micro-units and a variation to remove the requirement for a loading dock.

The project is following a national trend of small apartments with as little as 300 square feet and developed as fully furnished luxury units. This project's apartment units will average about 326-square-feet each and would have movable furniture to increase the efficiency of the small interior spaces. As a result of the furnished nature, there won't be moving trucks lining the streets and alleys when tenants move in and out, hence the ability to not have a full size loading dock in the plans, but rather just a rear door leading to Federal Street.

The units will be split between 90 standard apartments and 40 extended stay units. The apartments will come with a minimum of one year leases for maximum of one person per unit, while the extended stay option comes with shorter and more flexible leases starting with a one month minimum. The residences will make up floors 2-14, with the standard rentals arranged at 10 units per floor within the small building footprint. At the ground floor, a single retail space would be located along Polk Street and a lobby entrance would then face towards Dearborn Street. The 15th floor is setback with an open air terrace and serves as amenity space spanning the entire top of the building.

Design wise, there was a strong desire from the Landmarks Commission to match the height of the neighboring Franklin Building to the north. The new building would also stand wall-to-wall with the Franklin Building, reinforcing the streetwall within the historic district. All three street facing sides of the building will be designed to the same standards, leaving no rear facade appearance to pedestrians walking around the end of the block. The facades will have a brick exterior, hand laid and brown in color with bronze colored window frames. The corner brick piers feature an angled point for which a specialized "cut-off" brick will be custom ordered.

Annual tax revenue anticipated from the project is expected to be between $500,000-$700,000, depending on final assessment of the tower once completed. The development team also wishes to break ground this summer and is anticipating a 12-13 month construction cycle. The lack of parking garage will assist in expediting the construction schedule as compared to the typical residential high-rise. LG has their own construction business and will serve as the main contractor through the completion of the building.

The meeting then came to a close with the mention that LG is also looking at the possibility of acquiring the vacant Plymouth Building at 417 South Dearborn Street. The narrow building was gutted in a previous attempt to convert the structure to residential use, but has since been left in that state. LG is planning a rental project with 47 units featuring a mix of studios to two bedrooms. Any interior finishes which still exist in gutted building, such as marble stairs in the existing lobby will be preserved. The project does not need a zoning change and could begin quickly once the sale is complete.

·Helmut Jahn's Revised 1000 S. Michigan Avenue Tower Breaks Cover [Curbed Chicago]

·Proposed Helmut Jahn Supertall and Essex Inn Tower Make Their Public Debut [Curbed Chicago]

·Here's Another New South Loop Michigan Avenue Tower Because Why Not [Curbed Chicago]

Grant Park

337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601

Essex Inn

800 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605