In the last several years, Chicago has been experiencing a development boom that has not only added thousands of new rental apartments and hotel rooms, but it’s one that is transforming neighborhoods and the city’s skyline. Billions of dollars are being invested in the city to bring not only new housing but also new office and retail space that translates to new jobs. Chicago has hit record numbers of active construction cranes and continues to lead the nation in residential tower construction and corporate investment.
To put it simply, the development boom has been mind-boggling and continues in a big way. There are numerous projects underway which are valued at $1 billion or more each. Many of these megaprojects will take years to complete, but they represent the convergence of good timing, opportunity, and stiff competition among powerful interests and developers. While Chicago’s financial struggles won’t magically disappear anytime soon, the city has become a beacon for big investment.
Here’s a look at some of the transformative developments that will not only reshape the areas they’re being built in, but will also make a noticeable impact on the city’s iconic skyline.
Located at the intersection of the Chicago River’s three main branches, the peninsula known as Wolf Point is perhaps Chicago’s most highly visible development site. The large downtown parcel, which was previously nothing more than a lowly surface parking lot, will eventually become home to three glassy skyscrapers along with public green space and a new stretch of riverwalk. The megaproject comes from the Kennedy family and development partners Hines Interests and the AFL-CIO trust.
While the first tower—a 48-story, 509-unit rental building known as Wolf Point West—opened last year, work is now fully underway on the taller, 60-story Wolf Point East structure. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the phase two building is expected to deliver its 698 rental units by late 2019.
The crown jewel of the Wolf Point development is easily its third and final skyscraper. Dubbed Wolf Point South, the yet-to-be-built structure has zoning entitlements in place to rise to at least 950 feet. The design of the tower is likely to still evolve, but early indications suggest mixed-use programming with a heavy office component. Not exactly a supertall tower (officially 300 meters tall), the final Wolf Point tower will become a visible presence in the Chicago skyline.
The upcoming Vista Tower is a big one for a number of reasons. Backed by Chicago’s Magellan Development and China’s Wanda Group, the project represents a $1 billion multinational investment in the Lakeshore East community and a major addition to the Chicago skyline. And with a 94-story, nearly 1,200-foot-tall design from Chicago’s Studio Gang Architects, the uniquely-shaped building will become the city’s third tallest tower when it is completed in 2020.
But the tower isn’t just big in its sheer size and scale, it’ll feature 406 ultra luxury condos, a 192-room five-star hotel, and over 300 parking spaces. Construction officially kicked off last September, and as of this month, crews have begun installing the first of many angled columns which will give the tower its unique stacked frustum shape. Recent reports have indicated that the developers have already sold about 35 percent of the tower’s upscale residences.
A once vacant stretch spanning nearly 14 acres along the Chicago River’s South Branch will one day feature 16,500 square feet of retail and 2,699 private dwellings spread across a collection of apartments, condo units, and townhomes. The upcoming Riverline development comes from partners CMK Companies and LendLease with Perkins+Will serving as both lead design architect and master planner.
With an estimated cost of $1.5 billion and a projected construction time of ten years, Riverline is one of the most ambitious megadevelopments currently underway in Chicago. The completed project will eventually feature ten total buildings from Perkins+Will, 3.5 acres of new riverfront park space, and a half-mile of new riverwalk.
Ground was formally broken at the site last September with crews working on the project’s first building, a 28-story tower called Ancora. The tower will contain 452 apartment units, an amenity deck, and a parking garage for 230 vehicles. Next up is a an 18-story, 251-unit tower named Current, along with a series of nine three-story townhouses collectively referred to as Watershed.
This large tract of land which was previously in the hands of disgraced political operative Tony Rezko evaded development during the power broker and businessman’s indictment and federal prison sentence. In 2005, the site fell into the hands of the Luxembourg-based General Mediterranean Holding (GMH), which paid $131 million for the property. Last summer, the prominent developer Related Midwest inked a deal with GMH to finally develop the property.
Related’s plans for the 62-acre site are quite ambitious—the project is estimated to cost $5 billion and will include 10 million square feet of residential and commercial space. Specifics are still a bit fuzzy, however, Related has suggested that in addition to vast residential offerings, the redeveloped site will also feature office campuses, hotels, retail corridors, public art, and events spaces. Related suggests that there may even be some tall towers and new public transit hubs for the site as well.
While its ties to Rezko have inspired informal nicknames (such as “Rezkoville”), Related has officially named the project “The 78.” In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, a streetwear-clad Related Midwest president Curt Bailey declared that the site will become Chicago’s 78th community area, hence the formal title for the project.
Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has been tapped to assist in master planning and design for the upcoming megadevelopment, which isn’t likely to start construction until late 2019 at the earliest.
Closed in 1992, US Steel’s sprawling 430-acre South Works plant on Chicago’s Far South Side has long been at the center of grandiose albeit unrealized redevelopment plans. Located at the mouth of the Calumet River, the lakefront parcel was tapped in 2004 as the site of a $4 billion multi-phase, mixed-use development from US Steel and developer McCaffery Interests. Known as Chicago Lakeside Development, the ambitious plan for 13,000 homes, 17.5 million square feet of retail, wind turbines, and a marina fell apart in early 2016.
Despite this plan failing to get even a single building off the ground, new developers Barcelona Housing Systems and WELink have entered talks to purchase the overgrown South Works property. Their vision—dubbed 8080 Lakeshore as a nod to the site’s 8080 S. Lake Shore Drive address—would see the former industrial plot built-up as 30 urban blocks inspired by Barcelona’s so-called mega-block approach to pedestrian friendly city planning. The four-phase project would deliver recreational space, new retail, and 12,000 homes.
The Finkl Steel site
One of the North Side’s largest redevelopment sites, the 28 acres of riverfront land previously occupied by the A. Finkl & Sons Steel Company represents a major opportunity to transform the formerly industrial land at the border of Chicago’s Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods. The parcel is part of the greater North Branch Industrial Corridor—an area where the City of Chicago has taken recent steps to lift Planned Manufacturing District (PMD) zoning protection in favor of new mixed-use development.
While the Finkl site was purchased by developer Sterling Bay for the hefty sum of $140 million, the real estate giant has yet to reveal detailed plans for the parcel. While many questions remain, it’s believed that Sterling Bay will take a phased approach to delivering a mix of riverfront offices, residences, and open space. The developer also plans to extend Chicago’s 606 Trail eastward—past the Kennedy Expressway, Metra rail track, and the Chicago river—to connect with the redeveloped Finkl campus.
Lakeshore East Parcels I, J, K, L, and O
Four new towers featuring a combined total of 2,043 residences, 926 new hotel rooms, and tens of thousands of square feet of new retail space are on tap for the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago. Unveiled just this month, the new plan would not only help to complete the Lakeshore East community, a megadevelopment which has been in the works for decades, but it’d also add some new and notable entries to the Chicago skyline.
Broken up into two main sites, the plan for Lakeshore East’s Parcel O at 195 North Columbus Drive calls for a 650-foot-tall tower which will house 643 residential units, two hotels, 191 parking spaces, and roughly 14,000 square feet of retail space. Meanwhile, over at Parcels I, J, K, and L, three additional towers are planned. A 80-story, 875-foot tower for Site I on the northeastern edge of Lakeshore East is the most dramatic, while a 40- and 50-story tower just south will help fill out the undeveloped space.
Chicago’s Magellan Group will deliver the new building at Parcel O while Magellan and the Australian-based developer LendLease are partnering on the remaining three towers at sites I, J, K, and L. All four buildings are designed by Chicago’s bKL Architecture, a firm which is also helping to oversee the construction of the nearby Vista Tower.
In addition to the new towers, developers plan to add a total of 134,340 square feet of new park space (including a permanent dog park) between the towers at parcels I, J, K, and L. A spiraling walkway and staircase would border the park, allowing residents to walk from Lakeshore East to the lakefront. Developers plan to break ground at some point during the first quarter of 2018.
There’s been no major news to report on the Chicago Spire front for some time now. However, it’s a Chicago development story for the ages—grand ambitions that came tumbling down with the country’s economy during the last decade. Despite the rollercoaster of false starts and financial struggles, the plan to build the giant 2,000-foot skyscraper from architect Santiago Calatrava officially ended in 2014 when developers Garrett Kelleher and Atlas Apartment Holdings ran out of money and lost the site to megadeveloper Related Midwest.
Related has been busy planning out moves for the 62-acre site which will eventually connect Chinatown with the rest of the South Loop, but the developer has also previously hinted that they haven’t forgotten about the Chicago Spire site yet. Shortly after acquiring the site in 2014, Related released a statement suggesting that the firm was planning an “architecturally significant” tower for the site. Last year, Related landscaped the property with a berm and trees, leading some to wonder if the location of the failed Spire had been placed on the back burner. Formal plans and a timeline for the long-vacant site still remain to be seen.
Chicago Union Station
The ambitious plan to revitalize Chicago’s 92-year-old Union Station and redevelop 14 acres of surrounding Amtrak-controlled real estate and air rights officially broke cover this spring. The multi-phase undertaking comes from Riverside Investment & Development, development partner Convexity Properties, and architecture firm Goettsch Partners. It includes 3.1 million square feet of combined office, residential, hotel, and retail space and is estimated to cost in excess of $1 billion.
The project is expected to be built in three phases. The first focuses on Union Station’s headhouse and would see the historic structure topped with a pair of new 12-story residential/hotel structures. Phase two would replace the parking structure south of the station with an elevated park and two new office towers delivering a combined 1.5 million square feet of rentable space. The final phase of the development calls for a residential high-rise to be built on top of existing Amtrak tracks to the immediate east.
Michael Reese Hospital
Yet another multi-phase exercise in master planning, the upcoming redevelopment of the old Michael Reese Hospital in Bronzeville is expected to transform Chicago’s Near South Side. Located south of the McCormick Place convention center and just west of Lake Shore Drive, the Reese site encompasses both the 49-acre area occupied by the demolished hospital plus air rights over the 28-acre truck marshalling yards controlled by Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.
A redevelopment team of Draper & Kramer, Farpoint Development, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, McLaurin Development Partners, and Bronzeville Community Development Partnership was selected by the city in June. Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will serve as architectural consultant.
Initial phases of the Reese project are expected to include a logistics center servicing McCormick Place as well as a new event space. The long-term plan calls for more than 5 million square feet of technology-oriented commercial spaces, retail uses, homes, and possibly a hotel. Other improvements such as the creation of a Metra Electric Line station, new parkland, and connections across Lake Shore Drive are also being considered.
Old Main Post Office
Similar to other ill-fated megadevelopments, the hulking Old Main Post Office has been the center of a number of failed plans for redevelopment in recent years. However, its revitalization is currently underway for real this time. A steady stream of building permits signaling exterior and interior renovations have been issued for the Art Deco behemoth since last October.
But renovation work is going to take time. After years of sitting idle, the 2.5 million-square-foot building has been left in a neglected state, decaying over time and catching on fire numerous times while also racking up $800,000 in city penalties.
Developer 601W Companies’ pricey $500 million overhaul of the long-vacant structure will eventually see the creation of new office space, retail space, a rooftop club level, and public amenities such as a new stretch of riverwalk, a pedestrian plaza, and outdoor cafes. Construction is expected to be completed by 2020.
Smaller, though still major developments
Just like the city itself, Chicago’s development boom is dynamic. It’s not just all about the megaprojects—there are numerous other developments in the works that will see the transformation of iconic buildings and neighborhoods. Some, like the overhaul of the Willis Tower, are already moving forward, while others, like the ParkWorks plan for Pilsen, remains in a preliminary planning and proposal phase.
After purchasing Chicago’s iconic Willis (formerly Sears) Tower for $1.3 billion, Blackstone Group took the wraps off an ambitious plan to renovate and reposition the 1,451-foot-tall skyscraper. The $500 million plan will completely reshape the SOM-designed tower’s street level presence by wrapping its base in a new three-story structure designed by global design firm Gensler. Far more than just a reimagined lobby, the redevelopment of Willis Tower’s base will feature 300,000 square feet of new retail, dining, and entertainment space.
The tower’s money-making observation deck is also set to receive a major overhaul. Under the plan, the 103rd-floor space will be expanded to the 102nd floor and will see the addition of new “thrill attractions” including a chance to rappel—or descend via rope and harness—inside a two-story enclosed glass box hanging off the tower’s exterior. Another proposed idea dubbed “Ledgewalk” would allow visitors to stroll along a glass ledge with an open top more than 1,300 feet in the air.
Wrigley Field developments
A 2016 World Series Championship banner is far from the only new addition headed to Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Under the ownership of the Ricketts family, the ballpark has experience major investment including the addition of two large video boards and improvements to the structure’s exterior facade, player clubhouses, and famous red marquee.
Immediately outside the ‘Friendly Confines,’ Cubs fans will spot a new structure containing corporate offices and new dining options plus a landscaped public lawn. Meanwhile, across the street, things are getting even more interesting.
A seven-story, 238,000-square-foot hotel project known as The Zachary has topped out at the northwest corner of Clark and Addison. It will feature multiple restaurants, meeting space, and roughly 175 guest rooms. Opposite the hotel, the massive mixed-use Addison & Clark project is bringing 148 apartments, 405 parking spaces, and a multi-screen cinema to Wrigleyville.
Set to rise at the site of Lincoln Park’s old Children’s Memorial Hospital, the mixed-use Lincoln Common is envisioned as a “new crossroads” for the North Side community. Designed by Antunovich Associates in collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the $350 million project from McCaffery Intersts and Hines will deliver a combined 600 dwelling units across a pair of 20-story apartment towers and a mid-rise condo building.
The Lincoln Common development calls for 150,000 square feet of retail, 57,000 square feet of publicly-accessible open space, and numerous streetscape improvements. The plan will utilize an underground loading dock and spruce up the former hospital’s large parking garage.
In the works for many years, the plan to redevelop the 6-acre site reached an important milestone earlier this summer when the high-rise towers landed their first set of construction permits. The entire complex is expected to open some time in 2019.
Over the years, the Chicago Housing Authority has collected millions in federal funds for public housing that has sat vacant and has worked out privatization deals for CHA sites that will see the redevelopment and overhaul of existing public housing developments. One of the highest profile redevelopment schemes is for the Julia C. Lathrop Homes between the neighborhoods of Roscoe Village, Lincoln Park, and Logan Square.
The plan will deliver 1,116 total housing units over four phases: 400 units are set aside for public housing, 222 will be affordable (ARO units), and 494 will be rented at market rate. One of the key features to Lathrop's redevelopment is activating the large spread of prime riverfront that it sits on with a new riverwalk, boat launch, dog park and a reimagined central park area designed by noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.
The proposed redevelopment for the Lathrop Homes hasn’t come without plenty of controversy however. The plan eliminates 525 public housing units, it will see the demolition of numerous structures which preservationists have deemed to be architecturally significant, and it will be funded in part through the creation of a new TIF district.
A set of mid-rise buildings originally proposed for the redevelopment were axed from the plan last October, meanwhile permits allowing for the demolition of existing structures and construction of new ones have been recently issued.
A proposed development for Pilsen could transform a sprawling 7.85-acre site in the center of the neighborhood into a series of new buildings which would deliver hundreds of new residential units and 10,000 square feet of commercial space to the Pilsen community. The proposal, dubbed ParkWorks, comes from the New York-based developer Property Markets Group which seeks to transform a largely vacant site which is bound by the upcoming Paseo Trail on the west, Newberry Avenue on the east, 16th Street on the north, and 18th Street on the south.
In reintroducing the proposal, its developer claims that the plan would create more affordable housing than any other privately funded development in the history of Chicago as twenty percent of the units created will meet the threshold for the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO).
However, the proposal has an uphill battle—the developer and alderman clashed in 2015 over the original plan which sought to build 500 units by right, and without any affordable housing units. Criticism of the plan continues, although the proposal’s developer suggests that residents support the plan.
Harold L. Ickes Homes
Vacant since the 1950s era public housing high-rises were demolished between 2009 and 2010, the 11.3-acre former site of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA)’s Harold L. Ickes Homes has been tapped for large scale mixed-used redevelopment.
Located at the border of the South Loop and Bronzeville neighborhoods, the transit-friendly project is currently seeking zoning approval to support 972 mixed-income housing units spread across a multiple townhomes, six-flats, and a new high-rise slated for the southwest corner of Cermak and State.
The Ickes project is a joint venture comprised of McCaffery Interests, the CHA, and The Community Builders out of Boston. The phased development’s design team includes Gensler, Antunovich Architects, Brook Architecture, Nia Architects, Terry Guen Design Associates, and Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects.
Chicago Tribune sites
Located at the south end of Chicago’s evolving North Branch Industrial Corridor, real estate owned by Tribune Media has been tapped for mixed-use redevelopment. So far, official plans have only surfaced regarding the future of the seven-acre site at 700 W. Chicago. Here, Riverside Investment & Development envisions three high-tech loft style offices towers, a single residential high-rise, and 4.5 acres of open space.
Longer term, Tribune Media is expected to cash-in on its larger, 30-acre site to the immediate south. Currently the location of the sprawling Freedom Center printing plant, the near-downtown parcel is practically large enough to support a whole new neighborhood.
Though no concrete plans or redevelopment partners have been announced, the City of Chicago’s move to open the North Branch to new, non-industrial uses is a clear sign that big things could be in store for both waterfront Tribune properties.