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Aon Center observation deck passes key vote, could start construction in spring

The sky-high tourist attraction was one of several notable projects approved by the Chicago Plan Commission

601W Companies

At the last Chicago Plan Commission meeting of the year, a number of notable developments were on the docket. All were given the okay, except for a residential tower on the Near North Side which received an unusual split vote. Here’s a look a what happened at Thursday’s meeting:

A proposal to add a public observation deck and a 1,185-foot exterior glass elevator—North America’s tallest—to downtown’s Aon Center got the OK. The project could begin construction as early as next spring, provided it earns full approval from the Chicago City Council as expected.

Building owner 601W Companies unveiled the proposed changes in May. The design went before the city with minimal changes, save for the removal of exterior LED lighting from the elevator and the addition of streetscape improvements such as new pedestrian crosswalks.

The $185 million addition, designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, includes a new entrance pavilion at the office building’s base as well as a rooftop “thrill ride” that would dangle tourists in a glass-bottomed gondola over the tower’s edge.

The Aon Center attraction will become the city’s third observation deck—joining the Willis Tower’s Skydeck and the 360 Chicago observatory at 875 N. Michigan Avenue, formerly the Hancock Center. Upon its completion, Chicago will join New York as the only cities in the country to have three or more observation decks.

Additionally, the commissioners voted in favor of zoning changes supporting the restoration of two historic former movie palaces: the 93-year-old Uptown Theatre and 92-year-old Congress Theater. Partners Jam Productions and Farpoint Development will bring the Uptown back to life and expand its capacity to 5,800 people.

New Congress LLC will revitalize Logan Square’s Congress Theater and add 14 affordable apartments and a 50-room hotel to the building’s upper floors. The Congress plan also includes a new 72-unit rental development from Woodhouse Tinucci Architects across the street.

Also approved was a 17-story, 318-unit micro-apartment development at 808 N. Wells Street in River North, a five-story addition to the Chicago Tabernacle of the Assemblies of God in Kilbourn Park, and a new master plan for the area surrounding the Jefferson Park Transit center.

And finally, in an unusual draw situation, the commissioners voted 6-6 regarding the third phase of the Old Town Park redevelopment of the Near North Side’s Atrium Village mixed-income housing complex.

Developer Onni Group was seeking approval for a 41-story tower with 456 rental units, office space, retail, and parking for 193 vehicles. Instead, the HPA-designed proposal will now head to the city’s Zoning Committee for a vote without a formal Plan Commission recommendation.