A new riverfront path built by a private developer — which is being officially unveiled later this week — offers a bit of serenity from the fast pace of life in the South Loop.
Pedestrians can enter the 2,000-foot path from Harrison Street.
The view across the river includes the Old Main Post Office (now hip office space) just to the north, an old industrial brick structure with two smoke stacks rising into the air to the south, and, directly across the river, postal trucks parked at the Cardiss Collins Post Office.
Strollers can eavesdrop on architecture boat tours, which pull u-turns near the location to head back downtown.
A series of native trees, plants and flowers flank the path, as well as six birdhouses meant to attract native species.
Industrial design students from the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago designed and built the birdhouses.
“New developments along the river are required to include publicly accessible riverfront space, so they could have plopped down a cement sidewalk and called it a day,” said Donald Moore, who lives nearby and was enjoying the park recently. “This is nice.”
The path quietly opened to the public over the summer. Before its construction, the vacant space along the water had been occupied by the tents of a homeless encampment. Much of the land had been undeveloped for decades.
River City, the lesser known riverfront building designed by Bertrand Goldberg, the architect behind Marina City, sits just south of the new pathway, which dead ends into a landing that sits next to tiered stacks of limestone that have a unique origin story.
“The land formerly housed the city’s old Grand Central Station until it was torn down in 1971,” said Ted Weldon, executive general manager of development for Lendlease, the company that owns the seven-acre parcel.
“When we were excavating we found huge limestone blocks that were part of the old foundation and we used the actual stones from the foundation to create this amphitheater,” Weldon, who tapped architectural firm Hoerr Schaudt for the project, said of the space.
“The stones are beautiful, but also embrace the history of the site. And it’s a great flexible space, you can sit there and have lunch and we’re trying to work with the community to have events there,” he said, adding that live music will be in the mix.
Lendlease has dubbed the green space Southbank Park.
The path is not well known yet, and currently serves as more of peaceful respite than functional commuter route for the masses. But Weldon says the goal is to eventually connect to new paths through “The 78” — a huge plot being developed south of Roosevelt Road — to Ping Tom Park. A more distant dream would be to connect north to the Chicago River Walk downtown.
In the meantime, when users get to the end of the path, they can turn around or walk east, through a manicured lawn and walkway and around a new 452-unit rental building to Polk Street.
The serenity of the park and path will be interrupted though. Over the next few years, Lendlease plans to construct four more buildings on their remaining vacant land.
A new river taxi stop near the site is in the works, Weldon said.