Holy Name development wins local alderman’s approval, thanks to traffic changes

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Artist’s rendering of a new high-rise development proposed in River North at the site of the current parking lot for Holy Name Cathedral. | Image courtesy of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture

It looks like developers are about to get the green light to build a pair of residential towers — one nearly as tall as the Hancock Building — on a parking lot once reserved for parishioners at Holy Name Cathedral.

Local Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he’s “leaning toward support” for the massive project known as One Chicago Square, even though the influx of 869 residential units has the potential to change the face of River North.

That’s because of what Hopkins calls a “Chicago Avenue transit improvement program” being incorporated into the plan development.

“We’re finally gonna be able to address the traffic backups on Chicago Avenue. We’re also using part of the funding from this to improve Seneca Park. That would be the local developer’s contribution. And we’re using this to finally get the Chicago Avenue bridge widening off the books. It’s been talked about for years,” Hopkins said.

“Chicago Avenue is currently a traffic gridlock nightmare most of the day. The types of improvements we’ve got CDOT working on are going to reduce that congestion. We’re gonna increase the capacity flow, remove some of the parking allowed so you have four lanes, instead of two. The net result will be better traffic conditions.”

Hopkins said he’s working on specific language to be incorporated into the plan development.

“We have a draft. If we can get that revised and the language is final by [Thursday’s] Plan Commission meeting, I would expect I would support it then. If not, we’ll push it back to February,” the alderman said.

Last fall, JDL Development applied for zoning approval to build two residential towers to fill the parking lot owned by the Archdiocese of Chicago at State Street and Chicago Avenue.

One tower would be 75 stories tall. The other would have 45 floors. They would be directly across from Holy Name Cathedral’s stately doors and stained glass rose window.

Both towers would rise from a nine-story base housing a mixture of residential and commercial space, including a state-of the-art fitness club and a grocery store.

Roughly 225 of the development’s 1,090 parking spaces — none visible from the street — would be reserved for use by Holy Name parishioners.

JDL President Jim Letchinger acknowledged Monday that, at Hopkins’ request, the developer has agreed to make the Chicago Avenue building “a little skinnier.”

JDL has agreed to bankroll all changes needed to improve traffic on Chicago Avenue; Letchinger estimated that cost at “well over $1 million.”

Even with those concessions, some local residents still believe the block-long development will bring too much density to an already-congested area.

“There’s always residents who are opposed. They don’t want anything built. [But] this is a very dense portion of the city. It’s got a very dense underlying zoning to begin with. We’re making all the accommodations that we can for traffic,” the developer said.

Letchinger argued that a surface parking lot has no place in the heart of a thriving city. He called the project a “tremendous improvement.”

“Currently, State and Chicago has its issues from a safety standpoint. And by putting activity at this corner and eyes on the street and a well-lit building, we believe it will have a major impact on safety and security,” he said.

Hopkins agreed that a surface parking lot is “not something that we need anymore” in downtown Chicago.

“It’s an attractive design for a high-rise building. It is tall. But, it’s also thin. Tall and thin is what a new urban environment should consist of,” the alderman said.

Barring any last-minute complications, JDL hopes to break ground on the $700 million project sometime this fall.

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