The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday got a courtesy look at a glitzy project with the potential to shift retail farther south on Michigan Avenue: a futuristic and translucent Apple Store overlooking the Chicago River that would be accessed by a glass box entrance on Pioneer Court.
Apple has estimated that as many as 4,000 people each day will walk down a grand staircase at 401 N. Michigan Ave. — or take an elevator, if need be — to a 20,000-square-foot store adjacent to the riverwalk.
The Plan Commission did not vote on the project, which already has the go-ahead from the city’s Department of Planning and Development. But because it’s a marquee location with potential to serve as a catalyst for development further south, city officials and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) thought it important to hold a public hearing.
“I’m very pleased to be welcoming a new Apple flagship store to this section of Michigan Avenue. Clearly, Apple understands the value of location. . . . Apple has hit the bullseye again by choosing this prominent location along the Chicago River,” Reilly said.
“This is an innovative design. . . . It fits well in this location. It will go a long way toward extending the retail and shopping march south to the river and likely south of the river, which is good for the Mag Mile and those three blocks between Wacker Drive and Randolph Street.”
Reilly acknowledged that Apple’s original plan “required some adjustments” to fit more neatly within the “historic and commercial fabric of this corridor that is developing quickly along the riverfront.” He called it a “highly trafficked location” with “one of the most celebrated river views and public amenities” in Chicago.
Among the changes was eliminating a large video screen facing the river, which didn’t fit with riverfront design guidelines adopted last year, he said.
Apple’s revised design also includes “substantially more transparency,” Reilly said.
“It was important that the structure appear as light and unobtrusive as possible — not only at the plaza level of the building, but also the cascading portion down the riverwalk stairs,” he said.
“The originally proposed design was bulkier and blocked some of the vistas from Pioneer Plaza. And our thanks goes out to the architect and his team for making this structure far more transparent and light on its footprint. There are also changes made to the roof design to create a less-imposing birdseye presence on the plaza in addition to enhancing the pedestrian experience of the overall building.”
Ted Novak, a Chicago attorney representing Apple, noted that the company with a cult-like following has drawn 23 million customers to its store at 679 N. Michigan since 2003.
“We’re now creating something even more remarkable for Chicago,” Novak told the Plan Commission on Apple’s behalf.
The Plan Commission was told Thursday that the 14-foot-high, glass-enclosed entrance on the southern portion of Pioneer Court would be the gateway to a retail store beneath the plaza in concourse space most recently used as a food court.
A “series of terracing stairs” will “increase public access to the river and provide for a new pedestrian relationship between Pioneer Court and the river,” officials said.
“It’s a very glass-enclosed building with a large overhanging roof. And the design is that, if we could build this building as an outside building and have this as an outside experience, we would. But of course, the climate in Chicago doesn’t allow for that,” said London-based architect James McGrath.
“So that’s why we have this glass enclosure, which we want to try and keep as transparent as possible, so that we maintain site lines through the building towards the river.”