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Redesigned Nobu Hotel ‘Breaks Ground’ But Still Faces Key Hurdles

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The developers must to re-apply for greater density allowances under the mayor's new plan

Facing 90-plus degree heat, Mayor Rahm Emanual was joined yesterday by the partners of Nobu Hospitality Group at the corner of Randolph and Peoria to celebrate the ground breaking of Chicago’s upcoming Nobu Hotel. Despite being one of the West Loop’s most anticipated new developments, early objections to the project prompted a reduction in overall height from twelve to eight stories. However, the design has crept back to ten stories plus penthouse. Plans also include a 10,000-square-foot Nobu restaurant from namesake chef Nobu Matsuhisa on the ground level as well as an indoor pool, private event space, and rooftop bar and lounge.

The announced height bump plus a handful of carefully-cropped official renderings confirm last week’s tip off regarding a major redesign. Also confirmed is the departure of Booth Hansen, Nobu Chicago’s architectural partner of several years. Building design has now been handed off to Modif Architecture. The shakeup also sees the addition of Chicago-based Studio K to handle interiors. Momentum seems to be on Nobu’s side, but for all of yesterday's pomp, the latest iteration of the Nobu hotel is far from a done deal.

To achieve their height bump, the Nobu development team plans to be one of the very first adopters of the mayor’s Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus program. Nobu will now "buy" an additional Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 3.1 via a new or possibly amended Planned Development (PD) seeking to reclassify the C1-5 site with a downtown zoning designation of DX-5. The proceeds of said sale will go into a special fund to be reinvested in the city’s underserved neighborhoods at the mayor’s discretion.

Meanwhile, a trip back to the City Hall for re-approval isn’t the only potential hurdle facing the up-sized hotel. Yesterday, an official statement from the Neighbors of the West Loop (NOWL) contended that local residents stand in opposition to Nobu’s additional height. The group also voiced traffic concerns over the hotel’s valet parking plan, requesting that the development’s 35 off-site stalls utilize a closer lot. However, with a pair of residential proposals from Bridgford Foods and Tucker Development expected to add two new parking garages just feet from Nobu’s front door, this valet question will likely take care of itself at some point.

Nevertheless, the neighborhood group is currently in the process of drafting a letter to 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. asking for an additional community meeting prior to the revamped zoning proposal going before the city. Whether such a request is honored remains to be seen. Burnett, who participated in yesterday’s ceremony, briefly remarked on the density of the building in regards to its surrounding. "This is probably going to be one of the taller developments in the area," the city councilman told the crowd. While the number of hotel rooms cited in the NOWL memo is 119, Nobu’s official press release puts that figure at 103 — perhaps a sign they are already walking things back towards a compromise. Maybe.

With zoning still up in the air, the project’s announced 2017 delivery date may not be entirely realistic. While "breaking ground" on a project still seeking approval is unusual, it is not unheard of in the city of Chicago. Often the timing such events are influenced by political gamesmanship, commercial interests, or force majeure. In the case of the Nobu hotel, the influencing factor was likely the busy schedule of its most famous partner, Mr. Robert de Niro. The Academy Award winning actor rarely makes it to Chicago, revealing to DNAinfo that he last visited the Windy City nearly 20 years ago.