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Tribune Media looks to sell massive ‘River District’ development site

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The 30-acre parcel recently secured zoning for more than a dozen mixed-use buildings

Solomon Cordwell Buenz

Just a handful months after landing city approval for its 8.5 million-square-foot megaproject, Tribune Media is looking sell the 30-acre downtown site known as the River District. The company enlisted broker Eastdil Secured to market the property for an undisclosed asking price, reported Crain’s on Friday.

Stretching between Grand and Chicago avenues, the waterfront parcel has desirable zoning which could allow 14 mixed-use buildings supporting an estimated 4,100 residential units and 19,000 jobs. It is currently home to the Tribune’s Freedom Center printing complex and accompanying parking lots.

Tribune Media could sell the River District property outright or choose to partner with a developer. It already has a similar arrangement with Riverside Investment & Development to co-develop an adjacent parcel at 700 W. Chicago Avenue into a quartet of office and residential buildings.

“We are excited to take the next step in bringing to fruition the vision supported in the North Branch framework and approved by the City Council,” said Murray McQueen, head of Tribune Media’s real estate division, in a statement to Crain’s. “The River District will extend the downtown district and bring to life a new vibrant mixed-use neighborhood where Chicagoans will live, work, and play.”

An aerial rendering of the completed River District project.
Solomon Cordwell Buenz

The River District is one of three mixed-use megaprojects in development along the Chicago River, positioned between Lincoln Yards to the north and The 78 to south. While its competitors seek approval for tax-increment financing (TIF) districts to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure improvements, the River District has a headstart when it comes to breaking—provided it finds a new owner or joint venture partner.

At October’s Chicago Plan Commission meeting, Tribune Media representatives said that work on the River District might begin in 2020. Phase one would start with two high-rises and two mid-rises with a combined 1,500 residential units on the vacant land between Grand Avenue and the Ohio-Ontario feeder ramp.

Future phases of the Solomon Cordwell Buenz-designed masterplan will not only be contingent on favorable market conditions, but also the status of the Freedom Center. Tribune Publishing has a lease to operate the massive printing plant through 2023 plus two 10-year options to extend, reported Crain’s.