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City planners OK tall neighbor for Tribune Tower

The $700 million development could start in late 2021, depending on the economy.

A rendering of the proposed new tower east of landmark Tribune Tower.
A rendering of the proposed new tower east of landmark Tribune Tower.
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The city’s planning authority Friday approved zoning for a hotel and residential high-rise just east of Tribune Tower that would become the second-tallest building in Chicago, a major step forward for a project imagined for years.

But despite the approval from the Chicago Plan Commission, the 1,422-foot building remains a highly speculative deal that may take years to realize. Its residential component, including condos and rentals, and its hotel all are vulnerable in an economy with continuing damage from the pandemic.

“It’s tough to be able to predict in today’s world,” one of the developers, Lee Golub, told the commission. Golub, executive vice president of Golub & Co., said he would consider adding residential units if the hotel is not viable. He said he hopes the three-year construction project could start late in 2021 or early 2022.

The building would arise at the southwest corner of Illinois and St. Clair streets, where there is currently a parking lot. With a design by Chicago-based Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, the development also calls for retail space and landscaping in Pioneer Court. The building is just 29 feet shorter than Chicago’s Willis Tower.

The proposed $700 million building would include 439 apartments and 125 condos, priced for an extremely exclusive market because of its location just off Michigan Avenue, and the 200-room hotel. There also would be parking for 426 cars.

Going by the name Tribune Tower East, the project would form a tandem with the landmark Tribune Tower at 435 N. Michigan Ave. The Chicago Tribune left the building in 2018 and it’s undergoing a renovation for similarly exclusive homes. Golub and Los Angeles-based CIM Group are partners in both projects.

The commission endorsed the project in a virtual meeting with one dissenting vote. The vote sends the matter to the City Council for final action.

While commissioners praised the new building’s design and its placement that respects common view corridors for the landmark building, several criticized its lack of on-site affordable housing.

The developers will provide 11 rental units on-site marketed as affordable for renters earning 60% of the area’s median income. The current income limit for a family of four is $53,460, according to city data.

Commissioner Linda Searl, an architect, called the 11-unit allotment “pretty sad.”

The developers said they are meeting requirements of the city’s Affordable Housing Ordinance by providing $13 million to support off-site construction of affordable units. Also, the developers are required to pay $15.1 million to the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to support local commercial districts.

Golub said the expensive nature of the project, with the property itself costing more than $200 million, renders more on-site affordable units impractical.

The project got its first community hearing two years ago. After several design changes to improve vehicle and pedestrian flow, it received backing from community organizations and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

Discussing the height that just falls short of Willis Tower, architect Gordon Gill told the commission his firm “never pursued or been directed to pursue” creating the city’s tallest tower. “The tower itself is very singular in its expression. It’s kind of monolithic and quiet,” he said.

The design drew positive comments. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), a member of the commission, said, “It’s a beautiful building, very attractive, and it’s going to make a statement in the city of Chicago.”

A rendering of the improvements planned for Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue.
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture