Tribune Media wants to redevelop 30 acres of riverfront property and transform a significant swath of the River West area into, essentially, a new neighborhood.
The conceptual development plans, submitted to the city Wednesday, call for more than 9 million square feet of mixed-use space with nearly 6,000 residential units.
The site is bounded by Grand Avenue to the south, Chicago Avenue to the north, Halsted to the west and the Chicago River to the east. It’s across the river from the old Montgomery Ward building.
“Our goal is to create the same in-demand dynamic neighborhood seen in tech centers such as San Francisco and Seattle,” said Murray McQueen, president of Tribune Real Estate Holdings, a subsidiary of Tribune Media.
Also in the mix is Amazon, the massive online marketplace hunting for a site for a second world headquarters. Chicago is widely considered a contender for that prize, which would bring up to 50,000 jobs, and the Tribune Media site is among the possible locations.
Wednesday’s proposal, designed by architecture firm SCB, calls for about 15 towers, from 20 to 50 stories tall, spread across the entire 30-acre site. However, a significant northern chunk of those 30 acres is currently under a lease that could last for decades.
The spoken-for acreage currently houses the Freedom Center, the 800,000 square foot printing and distribution facility which Tribune Media leases to the publishing unit it spun off three yeas ago. The publishing unit — rebranded for the digital age as Tronc — is the parent company of the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Sun-Times also has a printing-and-distribution contract with Tronc.
Tronc’s lease extends through 2023; Tronc also has the option to renew the lease for two more 10-year periods, which means future development of that part of the property hinges on Tronc’s decision to either stay or vacate — at a price.
“The plans do not impact Tronc at all,” Tronc spokeswoman Marisa Kollias said Wednesday. “The company has no plans to relocate the printing operation.”
With this in mind, plans call for the first phase of construction to begin on what Tribune Media describes as 18 “shovel ready” acres that comprise the southern portion of the property. The remaining 12 acres could “later be built-out based on market demand,” according to a Tribune Media news release.
Plans call for the development, at 777 W. Chicago Ave., to be about 25 percent green space, including 5.1 acres of riverfront, a public park, and landscaping. It also will have a pedestrian path at least half a mile long along the river, according to a Tribune Media news release.
The city has asked interested parties who own possible sites for Amazon to step forward; Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he’s heard the city plans to submit as many as six sites and leave it to Amazon to choose the one that best fits its needs.
Hopkins identified those sites as the same ones the Chicago Sun-Times has previously highlighted: the old main Post Office straddling Congress Parkway, perhaps in conjunction with the adjacent Union Station project; two in the North Branch Industrial Corridor, which would include the Tribune Media land; the Michael Reese Hospital site; the 62-acre site in the South Loop once owned by convicted felon Tony Rezko; and a site at Roosevelt and Ogden avenues that is in the Illinois Medical Center District.
Hopkins called the multiple-site strategy a mistake that will only make Amazon’s job more difficult and, ultimately, weaken the city’s chances.
“We should look at which of the six potential sites really has the most to offer based on the criteria they have stated are priorities for them, then put all of our eggs in that basket and present a proposal to Amazon that focuses on the best that we have. That’s what the other cities are doing to do,” Hopkins said.
Pressed to identify that best possible site, Hopkins cited the other River North Corridor property: a prime riverfront parcel at 1685 N. Throop currently occupied by the city’s fleet maintenance facility that developer Sterling Bay has agreed to purchase from the city for $104.7 million or $133.53-per-square-foot.
“It’s right off the Kennedy. It’s near the Metra station. It’s close to the CTA. And it’s got all the potential for the type of development that Amazon is looking for,” Hopkins said.
“Plus, it’s on the river and the Amazon workforce is known to be a young, health workforce that likes to recreate. So, you’ve got the 606 trail right there. You’ve got the river for kayaking. You’ve got open space. It really has everything they’re looking for. It lends itself to the Amazon culture.”
Sterling Bay has targeted Amazon as the anchor tenant for a $10 billion mixed-use, riverfront development on land it’s assembling in Lincoln Park and Bucktown that includes the old Finkl Steel plant.
Hopkins said the Finkl site on one side of the river could be combined with the fleet maintenance property on the other side.
“You could construct a bridge that would actually enhance the beauty of the campus. Amazon could have literally a river runs through it,” he said.
The Freedom Center development, dubbed The River District, would create more than 18,000 construction jobs, according to a statement released by Tribune Media.
Plans also call for the development to gel seamlessly with a seven-acre development just north of the 30 acre site that Tribune Media announced last month it planned to turn into a four-tower mixed-use complex.
Tribune Media partnered with a developer on that project, but none has been named for its latest and largest-scale vision.
Billions would be needed, but details of financing were not available for the nascent project, which Tribune Media hopes to begin construction on as soon as 2020.
The River District project long pre-dates the nationwide contest among cities seeking to lure Amazon’s second headquarters. But a Tribune Media spokesman confirmed that the company asked city officials to include the development plans as part of its Amazon courtship proposal.
The ambitious Tribune Media project wouldn’t be built in Hopkins’ ward. But the massive plan would impact the entire area, which is why the alderman has grave reservations.
“The density does raise questions about what Chicago Avenue can handle. It’s at complete failure rates right now. It’s jammed up most of the day. The bridge is a choke point. The Halsted Street viaduct needs to be re-done,” Hopkins said.
“And if you’re gonna add this type of density and development, we really need to completely re-engineer Chicago Avenue as an arterial street.”
Tribune Media’s announcement said the plans include a new “major arterial boulevard” connecting Grand and Chicago avenues.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) was equally critically of the massive plan.
“This type of development, while perhaps appropriate for downtown, is certainly no model for development in the parts of the North Branch that are wedged between the established residential communities of Lincoln Park and Wicker Park with thousands of families with children,” Smith wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.