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China’s second-richest man to build third-tallest building

China’s second-richest man wants to build Chicago’s third-tallest building—and the $900 million riverfront project could be the first of many local investments by Wang Jianlin’s Wanda Group.

With 250 hotel rooms, 390 condominium units and 9,000 sq. ft. of retail space, the 88-story addition to Lakeshore East designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang would be the Wanda Group’s “first step” in the U.S. real estate market.

“Wanda hopes there will be further investments in Chicago in the future,” said Sean Muellers, chief U.S. representative of the Dalian Wanda Group, reading a statement  from Wang Jianlin, who was unable to attend Thursday’s signing ceremony.

“I sincerely believe that, when complete, the unique design and high quality of the Wanda Tower will provide the Chicago skyline with a new landmark befitting the city known worldwide as the birthplace of the modern skyscraper.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel couldn’t agree more. The ultra-competitive mayor noted that the Wanda Group looked first at both New York and Los Angeles and ultimately chose Chicago.

“This is, in my view, a great building. The size of the skyscraper is only matched and equaled by the size of the statement it’s making in the city of Chicago,” he said.

The mayor bragged that his plan to turn the riverwalk into Chicago’s next great public space is paying dividends — with “north of $1 billion in private investments” in office, residential and commercial projects.

The Wanda tower could double that. But Emanuel said he’s not concerned, either about too much congestion at Lakeshore East or about an “over-saturation” of hotels and condominiums in an already glutted hotel market.  

He noted that Chicago has the nation’s “fastest-growing central business district” and is also leading the nation in both corporate relocations and families moving back into the city.

Emanuel sloughed off claims that the project was further proof of his “downtown-centric” approach to development.

“That’s a false choice…and an old way of looking at it. The 2,000 people that go to build this and the 500 who [will] work here live throughout the city in our neighborhoods,” the mayor said.

The 88-story hotel, condominium and retail complex — with three connected towers with escalating heights — would take its place behind Willis and Trump towers as Chicago’s third-tallest building.

The Wanda Group’s deep pockets and huge capital outlay means that the massive development is less likely to face the pitfalls that have beset the stalled Spire project.

It also means that condo pre-sales traditionally required of other residential projects before financing can be nailed down may not be required.

“This is farther along and they have made their commitment to the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

Joel Carlins of Chicago-based Magellan Group, a joint-venture partner, added, “The financing is basically in place . . . I don’t think there’s any possibility” of a Spire-like debacle.

Developers hope to break ground in 2016 on a project expected to create over 2,000 construction jobs and more than 500 permanent jobs.

The signing of the agreement coincides with trade talks between the U.S. and China taking place this week in Chicago.

Gang also designed the Aqua tower, which is already part of Lakeshore East. She is also designing the landscape plan and pedestrian bridge to Northerly Island for the interactive museum that movie mogul George Lucas hopes to build on 17 free acres of lakefront park land. 

The Lakeshore East complex is bounded by Wacker, Randolph, Columbus and Lake Shore Drive.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who must sign off on the massive development, offered praise for the development, but his well-heeled high-rise constituents are certain to raise concerns about congestion and blocked views.

“It’s an exciting project designed by one of Chicago’s own world-class architects,” Reilly wrote in an email.

“Wanda’s decision to invest nearly $1 billion in downtown Chicago is equally exciting — making this one of the largest Chinese investments in North America. This announcement marks the beginning of our transparent public review process.  I look forward to working with Magellan, Wanda, Jeanne Gang and local stakeholders to make this project a great fit for the Lakeshore East neighborhood and a beautiful addition to the downtown skyline.”

The $900 million project will be located along the Chicago River. That means it would be subject to strict new sign requirements championed by Emanuel and approved by the City Council to prevent a repeat of the clash of giant egos that followed developer Donald Trump’s decision to put his name in giant letters on Trump Tower.