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Hotel, residential and office space planned for land around Union Station

The plan to redevelop Union Station and the area around it includes building two residential towers — and rooftop greenspace — on top of the historic transit terminal. | Riverside Investment & Development rendering

After years of big-picture planning and behind-the-scenes bargaining, plans are finally forging ahead to redevelop Amtrak-owned Union Station, the air rights above it and the land around the station.

Preliminary plans call for 330 hotel rooms and 404 residential units to be built above Union Station and for construction of an adjacent office building, officials said.

Thirteen months ago, a team led by Riverside Investment & Development was chosen to serve as master developer for commercial elements of Union Station project and adjacent property.

Now, the development team is finally preparing to take the wraps off its ambitious plan.

The long-awaited unveiling is scheduled for 6 p.m.-to-8 p.m. next Monday in the Burlington Room of Union Station.

Riverside Investment and Development CEO John O’Donnell could not be reached for comment.

Plans also include office towers on land around the Union Station. | Riverside Investment & Development rendering
Plans also include an office tower on land next to Union Station. | Riverside Investment & Development rendering

“Representatives of the Riverside Investment and Development Co. and Convexity Properties development team propose an amendment to Planned Development No. 376 to permit the developer to build 330 hotel rooms and 404 dwelling units above Union Station, and build an office tower on the parcel bounded by Clinton Street, Van Buren Street, Canal Street and the CTA Bus Depot,” downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) informed his constituents in an email.

In a follow-up email to the Sun-Times, Reilly refused to say much more.

“Because the Union Station proposal calls for a significant increase in density in this area, we’re using this Planned Development as an opportunity to finally improve traffic circulation; address curbside abuses; eliminate illegal staging and better organize the various modes of transport in separate staging areas around the Station,” he wrote.

“I have required that a Traffic Management Plan (TMP)be implemented much like the one we developed with the approval of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Streeterville. That plan included traffic control aides and loading zone enforcement and is in place today.”

His email to constituents makes it clear that the protracted process of seeking community input is just beginning.

“Both projects have not received Alderman Reilly’s support, and these informational meetings are only the beginning of his rigorous, transparent community process. Alderman Reilly looks forward to hearing any concerns and comments you may have about these proposals,” the email states.

Civic and business leaders toured the area that will be turned into a new food hall and viewed a rendering of what the space will look like once it is renovated. | Madeline Kenney/For the Sun-Times
Civic and business leaders last year received a behind-the-scenes tour and saw plans to renovated some under-used areas of Union Station. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Over the years, there has been no shortage of grand plans for Union Station. The nation’s third-busiest commuter rail station has grown increasingly crowded and uncomfortable for passengers who ride 300 trains into and out of the station every weekday.

The problem is, many of those plans have been too grand and too costly. As a result, it’s been more than 20 years since the last remodeling.

A few years ago, City Hall lowered its sights to more realistic short-term projects with identified funding, while still maintaining a list of medium- and long-term plans that could be done if money ever were found.

Short-term projects included: improved station entrances; expanded Amtrak waiting rooms; enhanced bus lanes on Clinton and Canal Streets and construction of an off-street CTA bus terminal on a surface parking lot south of Jackson Boulevard between Canal and Clinton.

The plan said projects that might be delivered in five to 10 years include: reallocating space currently occupied by baggage platforms to make way for wider commuter platforms; converting “unused mail platforms” to accommodate “inter-city passenger trains”; reorganizing existing station facilities to “improve capacity and flow” and rebuilding the Canal Street viaduct above parts of the station in a way that “improves street access” to the station concourse below.

There have been many plans over the years to make Union Station a better facility for rail commuters. | Sun-Times file photo
There have been many plans over the years to make Union Station a better facility for rail commuters. | Sun-Times file photo

Long-term ideas described as more “visionary” included “expanding or completely replacing” Union Station in the 200 or 300 blocks of South Canal.

The master plan also evaluated the concept of adding more “track and platform capacity in one of two alternative underground alignments: Clinton Street or Canal,” according to a press release issued by the city’s Department of Transportation.

After welcoming Walgreens to the old main Post Office on Monday, Emanuel credited the Union Station project.

The Post Office, he said, “is viable and is now gonna come to life after being empty for two decades not only [because] you have the most talented workforce, but the investment in modernizing Union Station makes this a viable option,” Emanuel said.

“I’ve been working on this idea for four years. Once they heard the Union Station piece, that made a concept come to reality.”