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Chicago’s $1 Billion Historic Union Station Redevelopment Gets a New Look

Bowing to Broad Community Criticism, Riverside Redesigns Initial Plans
September 12, 2018

New plans for Chicago’s Union Station redevelopment call for a 50-story office tower next door in lieu of a maligned boxy structure atop the original building; Photo credit: Goettsch Partners.

Developers removed a proposed boxy modernist structure that architecture buffs complained would mar Riverside Investment and Development's plan to restore the Beaux Arts-era Union Station in Chicago, giving new life to redeveloping the key U.S. Midwest passenger train hub.

The initial plans, presented in June, for a glass-clad, 7-story addition to the station's classical limestone base came in for a barrage of criticism on social media, and in emails and phone calls to the office of Brendan Reilly, the Chicago City Council alderman representing the neighborhood. That forced the development team that includes Convexity Partners back to the drawing board with a new architecture firm, Goettsch Partners.

Amtrak, which is in the process of restoring the building’s Great Hall and architectural features, chose Riverside for a $1 billion redevelopment of the space that spans an entire city block as well as an underused adjacent parking structure. Adding to the significance is Chicago's size as the nation's most-populous city outside New York and Los Angeles as well as its location near the center of the country, which combine to place Union Station at the heart of the passenger rail system in the central U.S.

In an email to his constituents last week announcing that a new design would be unveiled, Reilly said the original plan "was deemed unacceptable by the community and the alderman due to architectural and traffic concerns."

The scrapped plan for renovating Chicago's Union Station; Photo credit: Solomon Cordwell Buenz

What was delivered on Tuesday night at a community meeting proved to be a crowd pleaser, if the rigorous round of applause after the presentation could be considered a measure of approval.

“We heard everything loud and clear last meeting,” John O’Donnell, Riverside’s chief executive, told the group. “We did everything we could, [and we took] some very substantial steps to improve it.”

That included switching architects to Goettsch to rework and downsize the design, which was originally done by Chicago-based firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz. Goettsch has worked with Riverside on other high-profile downtown buildings, including 150 N. Riverside and the under-construction tower at 110 N. Wacker to be anchored by Bank of America.

Among the changes: Wiping out the rooftop addition to the main structure and replacing it with a one-story hotel penthouse and amenity space that is not visible from the street; scrapping plans for 404 residential units; reworking the proposed hotel space into two hotels with 400 rooms cumulatively; modifying the entrance and exits to the building; downsizing the parking accommodations and rerouting traffic patterns, drop-off and valet areas, and truck unloading stations.

The plan also calls for turning the parking garage on the site next to the station into a 50-story office building with 1.5 million square feet of space and a 400-space parking garage. The biggest addition there is a 1.5-acre park below street level at Jackson Boulevard and Clinton Street that the developers stress would have “as much open space as possible” to accommodate everything “from sunbathing to fitness classes.”

Plaza view looking northeast; Photo credit: Goettsch Partners.

BMO Harris is in negotiations to move its Chicago offices to the proposed tower, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The building’s ground-level cross-hatch design - resembling W’s atop V’s that meld into X’s, smacking of similar patterns on Goettsch-designed properties for Riverside - are intended to create a feeling that the 1.5-acre circular lawn and park space flows into the building.

“Roughly one-third of the space under the building is dedicated to the park,” architect Jim Goettsch said.

While the redesign appears to be well-accepted by the community, it still faces obstacles to city approval. First is Reilly’s OK before it can be brought before the city’s planning commission, zoning commission and, ultimately, the City Council.

Jennifer Waters, Chicago Reporter  CoStar Group   
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