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Lettuce Entertain You empire moving to downtown riverfront

A $50 million building upgrade at 321 N. Clark.
on the north side of the Chicago River will be designed by the architectural firm Goettsch Partners. The four-level entertainment space will be occupied by three separate venues owned and operated by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and include a two-level seafood restaurant called “RPM on the Water.” | Goettsch Partner

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday referred to Chicago’s bustling downtown riverwalk as “Rush Street on the river” as he unveiled a new entertainment venue proposed by one of his most reliable campaign contributors.

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the restaurant empire owned by the Melman family, is branching out onto the riverfront, as part of a $50 million building upgrade at 321 N. Clark.

The new development on the north side of the Chicago River will be designed by the architectural firm Goettsch Partners for a property ownership team that includes Hines, Levy Family Partners, Diversified and American Realty Advisors.

The four-level entertainment space will be occupied by three separate venues owned and operated by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. A two-level seafood restaurant called “RPM on the Water” will occupy the building lobby and mezzanine. It’s expected to open next year.

The other RPM partners are chef Doug Psaltis, Jerrod and Molly Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, and celebrity businessman Bill Rancic of “The Apprentice” fame and his wife, Giuliana Rancic.

A 300-seat private events space dedicated to parties, banquets, weddings and corporate events will occupy its own level. Yet another level will include a yet-to-be-named casual concept restaurant.

A $50 million upgrade to a riverfront building (center) at 321 N. Clark, will include a four-level entertainment space occupied by three separate venues owned and operated by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. | Google Streetview

The new entertainment mecca will also include boat slips for those arriving by water.

At a news conference Monday in the building that will house the new venue, Emanuel proclaimed Chicago a “two waterfront city” that will be made even moreso by Lettuce Entertain You.

“Jokingly, but half-serious, the north bank of the river has now become Rush Street on the river,” Emanuel said.

“With all of the new restaurants and patio spaces and availability for the residents and tourists that are coming to Chicago, we have the opportunity to entertain in a way that no other city can.”

The mayor thanked the “two old friends for coming together to re-imagine, re-invest and re-invent what the Chicago River can be.”

“I want to compliment both the Levy Restaurants and the Melman family for … putting something together here on the riverfront … in a way that I think will totally transform the way all of us see entertainment and nightlife here in Chicago,” Emanuel said.

Members of the Melman family have been among Emanuel’s most reliable campaign contributors. Together, Melman family members have contributed $374,600 to the mayor’s campaign since 2010, records show.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Dan Mihalopoulos has reported that nearly $86,000 of that money was contributed less than a week after the City Council approved a new Midway Airport concessions deal that included three brands from Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You empire.

On Monday, R.J. Melman, president of Lettuce Entertain You, said a “project of this magnitude” along the downtown riverfront can only emerge from “a true team effort.”

“Lettuce Entertain You started back in 1971 with the opening of R.J. Grunts a few miles north in Lincoln Park. Since then, we’ve grown to own and operate over 60 restaurants right here in our great city of Chicago and more than 120 around the country,” Melman said.

“Now, we’re adding this exciting new spaces to our roster. And that could only have been possible here in Chicago which is truly the food capital of America.”

Emanuel’s “half-serious” reference to “Rush Street on the river” won’t sit well with residents of downtown high-rises who already are being kept awake at night by loud music and other noise emanating from the riverfront.

Last month, Chicago aldermen on got an earful from noise-weary residents of riverfront high-rises, but still approved long-term concessions that will allow eight entertainment-oriented businesses to set up shop along the downtown riverwalk.

On that day, John Fitzpatrick, a board member of the RiverView Condominium Association, demanded a noise monitoring system similar to the use of noise monitoring system that measure noise at O’Hare and Midway airports and, more recently, on Lake Shore Drive.

Fleet and Facilities Management Commissioner David Reynolds refused to go that far.

But he did promise more vigilant monitoring of noise complaints, with security officers armed with handheld monitors dispatched to the balconies of high-rise residents who call a city hotline.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) assured Fitzpatrick that he has an ace he is prepared to pull out of his pocket.

“If the noise issues are not addressed — appropriately and quickly — we do have an ordinance sitting in the committee … that we could pass to prohibit music, period. Done,” Reilly said then.

“Most people enjoy that experience on the riverwalk when it’s delivered responsibly and at the right decibel level. [But] these liquor licenses are also not forever,” he said. “And if we see any abuse of those liquor licenses, these folks are gonna forfeit major investment on the Riverwalk. And I will be the first in line to lead that charge.”