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Kennedys envision 3-tower development along Chicago River

8-23-07 The Sun-Times building 350 n Orleans. Brian jackson/Sun-Times

8-23-07 The Sun-Times building 350 n Orleans. Brian jackson/Sun-Times

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Wolf Point pointers

♦ The name refers to the patch of land on the north bank of the Chicago River, just east of where the river splits into north and south branches.

♦ The banks along the river’s forks are the oldest settled parts of Chicago. Early historical accounts say it was a commercial hub for frontier Chicago in the 1820s and 1830s. Wolf Point itself had a tavern then. Other banks included more taverns and the city’s first hotel and first factory. The location also had the city’s first ferry and first bridge across the river.

♦ The origin of the name is in dispute. One source attributes it to a translation of the name of a Native American chief. Another says it dates from people noticing that wolves gathered there.

♦ The Kennedy family has owned the property since the 1940s. The family also owned the adjacent Merchandise Mart and 350 N. Orleans building until 1998.

♦ The site has been targeted for large-scale construction for years, but nothing ever took hold. The 350 N. Orleans building, home to the Chicago Sun-Times and a Holiday Inn, was never supposed to have the prolonged riverfront exposure it has enjoyed.

Sources: A.T. Andreas’ History of Chicago (1884), 1856 memoir of Juliette Kinzie, city landmark information, Sun-Times reports

Updated: February 27, 2012 9:58AM

The Kennedy family, partnering with a major development firm and an internationally renowned architect, is crafting plans to build on its Wolf Point property along the Chicago River.

People familiar with the proposal said the Kennedys envision a three-tower complex for residential and office use on the four-acre site. Their chosen architect is Cesar Pelli, who designed the Petronas Towers in Malaysia that were once the world’s tallest.

No supertall structure is planned at Wolf Point, said Greg Van Schaack, senior vice president for Hines Interests LP, the development firm working with the Kennedys. He said the tallest building probably would be in the 60-story range.

Sources said the development team already has briefed the city’s planning agency about the pending project. Van Schaack said a formal proposal should be delivered to City Hall in about March or April.

If the plan requires a zoning change for the property, the city would begin a hearing process that could last several months.

Wolf Point is just west of the Merchandise Mart and where the Chicago River divides into branches. The property has been used just for parking for years, but is within one of the oldest settled parts of the city.

Historical records show that Wolf Point and nearby riverbanks were the commercial beginnings of the pioneer town, with everything an emerging civilization needed: taverns, trading posts, a hotel, factory and a government office.

Wolf Point has been under Kennedy ownership since the 1940s, and while the family has eyed it for large-scale construction, its timing never worked out.

By readying a project now, it’s trying to get ahead of the next downtown construction boom and realize a substantial profit. Christopher Kennedy, who oversees the Chicago property, did not return a phone call Wednesday.

“Just look at the real estate that borders the Chicago River. Enough said,” Van Schaack said.

Houston-based Hines is among the most prolific builder of office buildings in downtown Chicago.

Uppermost in Van Schaack’s mind was the 60-story 300 N. La Salle building, a riverfront trophy Hines built in 2009 and later sold for a record price per square foot for a Chicago office tower. It sold for $655 million, about $503 per square foot.

But the firm stumbled with another site across the river from Wolf Point, the northeast corner of Lake and Canal. In 2009, it scuttled a proposed 50-story office building there because the credit markets collapsed, even though two large tenants had committed to move in.

Hines has worked with Pelli, whose mostly modernist buildings appear around the world. But Pelli’s only contribution to the Chicago skyline is an office building at 181 W. Madison, which opened in 1990.

Jack George, the zoning lawyer hired to represent the project, said Pelli’s involvement shows the Kennedys’ commitment to quality design. “Whatever is proposed there will be something extremely special for our city,” George said.

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