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River North Parking Lot Could See Expanded Shopping Mall, Maybe More

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Is Santa Monica-based Macerich readying its North Bridge shopping annex?

This morning a busy crew collected soil samples in the middle of the large parking lot bounded by Illinois, Rush, Hubbard, and upper Wabash in River North. Formerly home to the bunker-like 1978 Lake Shore Athletic Club building, the 1.5 acre lot spans a full city block and is certainly ripe for redevelopment. The location has been the center of much speculation since the club closed its doors in 2007 with the property changing hands twice.

In 2011 the property was purchased by Zeller Realty Group and BDT Capital Partners as part of their joint acquisition of the Wrigley Building. In 2013 the parcel was rumored to be tied to a plan by the National Association of Realtors that involved replacing the group's 13-story Michigan Avenue headquarters with a 93-story mixed-use tower one block west. The NAR plan ultimately unraveled and Zeller/BDT razed the shuttered Lakeshore Athletic Club in the summer of 2014. The vintage SOM-designed structure was then replaced by a surface lot to lower the tax burden as well as collect parking revenue in the interim.

In late 2014 the block sold for $42 million to California-based Macerich, who also own the adjacent Nordstrom-anchored Shops at North Bridge to the north. Given Macerich’s reputation for developing high-end shopping malls, it was generally understood that whatever would be built here was going to be retail-centric. Soon after the sale, it was reported by Crain's that Macerich was considering the site to house an expansion of the Shops at North Bridge to "more than double" the size of the existing mall. Such an addition would likely bridge Illinois Street in the same manner as North Bridge currently spans Rush.

Considering that the firm owns a block-sized blank canvas in the heart of River North with generous DX-12 underlying zoning, it’s also possible that Macerich may fold their plans for an enlarged mall into a taller, mixed-use development — though nothing beyond retail has been confirmed. Speculation aside, today's presence of a soil testing rig all but guarantees that this underutilized block won’t remain a parking lot into perpetuity.