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Activity at The 78: New geodesic dome sparks Amazon HQ2 rumors

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Recent work at the 62-acre South Loop site left the neighborhood guessing

Pictured center, the sprawling riverfront parcel sits between Chicago’s South Loop and Chinatown neighborhoods.
Image courtesy of Related Midwest, photo by Mark Segal

Construction crews are up to something at the massive South Loop development site known as The 78. The recent activity at Related Midwest’s 62-acre parcel fueled rabid speculation. Was it a movie set? Or perhaps related to forthcoming announcement from Amazon regarding its HQ2 campus?

Last week, neighborhood blog Sloopin first reported that workers poured a concrete pad in the middle of the vacant riverfront site. Days later, the shallow foundation was used to prop-up a new building topped by a geodesic bubble.

The mystery dome.
Facebook/Hello South Loop

Given the dome’s basic visual similarity to the recently completed Amazon Spheres at the company’s Seattle HQ, the activity left many development-watchers and neighbors wondering if the design was purely coincidental. After all, The 78 is one of ten Chicago locations named in the city’s official bid for Amazon’s coveted second North American headquarters.

Others on on the Facebook group Hello South Loop! speculated that the building could be part of a movie set. The suggestion isn’t too far fetched considering that scenes for the 2014 film Divergent were shot at the nearby corner of Wells and Harrison—a previously vacant site now home to the multi-phase Riverline development.

The official explanation, however, is less exciting. According to developer Related Midwest, the structure is nothing more than an on-site operations center. “With construction of the Wells-Wentworth Connector starting in just a few months, we are creating an area for our team to conduct operations,” said a Related spokesperson in an email.

The Wells-Wentworth Connector is a long-discussed CDOT roadway project that would extend Wells Street south—directly through The 78—to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. The downtown thoroughfare currently dead-ends at Roosevelt Road.

Interestingly, the site in question was issued a building permit late last year calling for a “30-foot diameter dome” to be used for a “24 hour press event.” According to its description, that permit was set to expire on December 13. Interesting stuff indeed.

A rendering of The 78 mega-development.
Rendering by ICON, master planning by SOM, architectural contributions from ASGG and SOM.