2-tower plan brings attention back to old Spire site

The developer is changing tactics for a coveted tract left with a pit symbolizing the 2008 financial crash.

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A rendering of the residential towers that would arise from 400 N. Lake Shore Drive.

A rendering of the residential towers that would arise from 400 N. Lake Shore Drive.

Related Midwest

This week, we’ll learn more about the immediate future of Chicago’s most notable hole in the ground.

It’s at the east end of North Water Street, with an address of 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. That’s where builders 12 years ago installed the caissons for the Chicago Spire, which would have been 2,000 feet tall.

The financial crisis, and perhaps the project’s own audacity, killed the deal, and the workers left behind a 76-foot-deep circular hole that has collected water ever since. Fortunately, the site is secured and somewhat out of the way in busy Streeterville, so I’ve never heard of anyone falling in and drowning.

Chicago skyscrapers are mostly stately or brawny. The Spire, the product of celebrated architect Santiago Calatrava, was bold but different, with its curves that suggested a silky, flowing skirt. When the design was first shown in 2005, I wrote it could be the city’s first metrosexual skyscraper, although I predicted it would never get built. Yeah, I was right, but true foresight would have had me not covering real estate and instead shorting everything in the market ahead of the crash of 2008.

The property went into the hands of developer Related Midwest, which has gone not with Calatrava but Chicago’s own Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The plan calls for two towers for residences. An earlier version in 2018 included a hotel, too, but neighbors didn’t like how the buildings would mesh with the neighborhood. Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) put a brick on the deal and ordered the developers back to their CAD programs and calculators.

Chicago Enterprise bug

Chicago Enterprise

Related and SOM came back with a reduction in the height of the towers. They remain quite tall — 875 and 765 feet — and the hotel is gone, probably a wise concession anyway to the lodging sector’s overbuilding here in recent years. The proposal calls for 1,100 residences. Reilly has scheduled a community meeting about the project at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Intercontinental Hotel Chicago.

Gail Spreen, a real estate agent who co-chairs the development task force for the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, said she’s looking forward to the redesign of a terrific development. Spreen, giving her own view and not those of SOAR, said she wants to see changes in the buildings’ podium and other improvements to how it works at ground level.

“It’s a great location, really at a private end of North Water Street. It will be very exclusive,” she said. The parcel is bracketed by the Ogden Slip, the Chicago River’s meeting point with the lake and DuSable Park. One issue, Spreen said, is a plan for a riverwalk for the property and whether it would cause security issues for neighboring townhomes.

Related’s president, Curt Bailey, was unavailable for comment. Developers here typically adopt a “quiet period” before a community meeting as not to say anything to nettle aldermen. Reilly did not return calls.

So details are scarce, but Spreen believes Related will want one tower to be condo, the other rentals. With the views, both could set new standards in pricing for the ultra-rich.


Architect Santiago Calatrava with a model of his proposed curving Chicago Spire in 2005.


Gail Lissner, managing director at research firm Integra Realty Resources, said the Chicago market has enough demand to absorb the project. The central area has been getting from 3,000 to 4,000 new housing units yearly, she said. She’s particularly interested in the mix of unit sizes the developers will propose, as most newer buildings here favor smaller units over two- and three-bedroom layouts.

Chicagoans also will want to see in detail buildings that, if they go up, will be front and center on the skyline for the rest of everyone’s days. Reilly’s office has issued only one rendering that’s a distance view; the earlier buildings from SOM showed off a cascading silhouette with Chicago touches such as use of terra cotta and a tubular design reminiscent of the firm’s own Willis Tower.

Some will eagerly await what the developer proposes under the city’s requirement to provide 10% affordable housing. Will the developers pay into the housing fund to avoid building the units on site?

To maximize premium views, the buildings will be angled away from each other, like a stand-offish couple. Some units will have outdoor terraces that promise unobstructed 180-degree views.

“Metrosexual” is out in this case. Overarching ambition with a wisp of grandiosity is back in. There’s something very Chicago about that — and about that hole in the ground.


The Chicago Spire’s foundation hole as its appeared in 2008.


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