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Kennedys unveil three-tower plan for Wolf Point site

Artist rendering proposed development for Wolf Point along Chicago river downtown.  The Kennedy family Hines Interests LP have proposed

Artist rendering of a proposed development for Wolf Point along the Chicago river downtown. The Kennedy family and Hines Interests LP have proposed a three-tower phased development, with the shortest tower, an apartment building,to be build first.

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Updated: July 3, 2012 12:52PM

Chicago’s Kennedy family and its development partners, Hines Interests LP and Magellan Development Group, have at last released renderings of their planned three-tower project on downtown’s Wolf Point site. They definitively answer the question people ask about the four-acre parcel: “Can they really fit three buildings there?”

Yes, and if they make them skinny, they can even claim they are covering only 22 percent of the site with buildings, with the rest consisting mostly of a riverwalk and landscaping.

The design was exhibited for the first time Tuesday night at a community meeting organized by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd). It shows shimmering, gently curved towers that stand independently from tapered bases, not rising from a single podium as is seen commonly in Chicago. The Kennedys, who own the site, and the developers hired prominent architect Cesar Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, for overall design work, but the towers are by Thomas Kerwin, principal of BKL Architecture and a former partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP.

Chris Kennedy, who runs the politically famous family’s business interests here, said the development would realize a dream it has nursed since patriarch Joseph Kennedy bought the property with the Merchandise Mart in the 1940s.

“I think this strengthens our ties to Chicago,” Kennedy said. “This will be a billion dollars coming into the city when all is said and done.” He also said the project needs no public subsidies.

Some residents have organized to oppose the project or cut its size, citing concerns about traffic and congestion near a site that can be hard to access. Others jealously want to preserve their own views. The property is immediately south of the 350 N. Orleans building, which includes offices of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Kennedy, focusing on the project’s first phase, argued the impact would be minimal.

The first tower, which Kennedy would like to start in the fall, is on the western part of the site and would be an apartment building of 45 to 50 stories. He said the 500 units would be small, less than 750 square feet on average, and would appeal mostly to young people without cars.

The second phase, market driven but perhaps starting in 2014, would be the project’s “signature,” an 80-story building close to the bank at which the river divides into two branches. Kennedy said an office use is likely, but it could include residential. At its listed 900 feet, it would be the eighth tallest building in Chicago.

The final building would be the easternmost, around 65 stories and also would include offices. Each building would have its own parking that would be hidden by landscaping. But the long-term nature of the project means the design will go through numerous revisions and city approvals.

About 300 people attended the meeting Tuesday night, and many applauded when Ellen Barry, president of a newly organized group called Friends of Wolf Point, spoke out against the project. She said the area has developed radically in recent years and no longer can tolerate dense developments. Barry criticized the developers’ reference to a zoning plan of 1973 that envisioned a cluster of high-rises at Wolf Point.

“We know the density. We know the traffic issues. ... We need green space. We need visibility for the residents of the area,” she said. Barry lives at 333 N. Canal, a condo building that would have its views limited by the development. However, she insisted views were not a factor for opponents. “Just in the last five years, the density of the area has grown signficantly” without investment in better streets and traffic controls, she said.

Reilly, whose support is important if the project is to get City Council approval, said he has “an open mind” about it and will continue to listen to input at other public forums. Kennedy did not attend the meeting, saying earlier that he was skipping it because “those kinds of things at times get personal.”

KNOWLEDGE GAP: Several weeks ago in this space, Adam Flatto, president of Georgetown Co., shot down rumors that Old Navy would be closing its megastore at 35 N. State. Georgetown owns the building, and Flatto said Gap Inc., owner of Old Navy, was staying until 2017.

Gap has now confirmed, however, that the Old Navy store is moving to the smaller space that was formerly Borders at the northwest corner of State and Randolph. A company spokeswoman said it’s part of a chainwide redesign that delivers to customers a better organized store.

Where does that leave the current location? Flatto said Gap will remain there and use the space for “other concepts.” I received no comment on that point from Gap.

CUE THE LIGHTS: While Northwest Side residents work to preserve the Portage Theater at 4050 N. Milwaukee, its Six Corners neighborhood is getting a cultural infusion with the decision by Filament Theatre Ensemble to lease ground-floor space across the street at 4041 N. Milwaukee. The ensemble has been staging productions in rented theaters around the city since 2007.

“It’s the first time we felt like we had come home,” said artistic director Julie Ritchie, citing the local support the troupe has received.

DINNER AND A SHOW: And in the same place, too. Studio Movie Grill, a chain that lets you dine from a full-scale dinner menu while viewing a movie, is scheduled to open June 8 at 301 Rice Lake Square in Wheaton.

The 40,000-square-foot theater in the Rice Lake Shopping Center will consist of eight screens. It will be the ninth such operation in the United States and the first in the Midwest. A spokeswoman said the theater hired 205 people for Wheaton. Patrons are promised high-end lounge chairs and dining tables in auditoriums that are more like hotel lobbies, and servers who know how to get the job done without disrupting the movie.

DOING THE DEALS: McShane Construction Co. has been contracted to build the Oakwood Shores Terrace Apartments, a building at 3753 S. Cottage Grove that will include 48 apartments and medical offices. Completion is due in May 2013. Paine Wetzel TCN Worldwide said Visual Pak Cos. leased 111,000 square feet at 1817 Waukegan Road, Waukegan. The Admiral at the Lake, the 31-story building for retirees at 929 W. Foster, is expected to be open for residents by mid-July.

David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on Newsradio 780 and 105.9 FM WBBM. The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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