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Kennedy ‘cap’ would spruce up West Loop

Artist rendering developer Steven Fifield's plan 'Cap Kennedy' or build park over parts Kennedy Expressway just west downtown. | Courtesy~Fifield

Artist rendering of developer Steven Fifield's plan to "Cap the Kennedy," or build a park over parts of the Kennedy Expressway, just west of downtown. | Courtesy~Fifield Companies

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:27AM

The plan to “cap the Kennedy” is one of those visionary city initiatives that sits tucked away in planning documents, awaiting money and patrons. I don’t know if the money is there, but the plan to build a park over the Kennedy Expy. has found a patron.

It’s Steven Fifield, founder of Fifield Cos., the development firm that has remade the West Loop with apartment and office towers. Working with architect Scott Sarver, principal of SMDP Studio, Fifield has sketched out how he believes decks can be built over the below-grade expressway as it skirts downtown. A park atop the decks would become the sort of open-space centerpiece the area needs to be a well-rounded draw for employers and residents, Fifield said.

“We’re very immersed in what’s going on in the West Loop and one of the things we’ve been dealing with is a lack of amenities,” he said. Fifield has started cultivating grass-roots support for his idea and hopes that will inspire City Hall to pick up the project.

Don’t dismiss it as a crazy idea. The Kennedy cap was part of the Chicago Central Area Plan in 2003. Fifield said a deck can be built for about $15 million per block. A mathematician, Fifield doesn’t toss around numbers carelessly. His mind is like a calculator with a “dream” button.

One version of his plan calls for decking the portion from Washington to Adams. He’s also talked about extending the deck a fourth block to Jackson. Here’s his calculation: Debt service on a $60 million bond should run about $3 million a year, yet if the new park attracts two new office high-rises, those buildings will pay at least $8.6 million in annual property taxes.

Larry Gage, president of the Fulton River District Association, said Fifield’s plans would “totally transform the West Loop and Greektown area” and be “a huge positive.”

One source of money would be tax-increment financing. The expressway is just outside the Canal Congress TIF district, which city officials said in May has a balance of $23.9 million not committed to projects.

State tax credits, federal money and private donations also could come into play.

Fifield said his next step is to get a meeting with Steve Koch, Chicago’s deputy mayor.

HAIL TO THE NEIGHBOR: The vacant lot next to President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home is for sale. The 50-foot-by-150-foot lot is at 5050 S. Greenwood and used to be owned by Rita Rezko, wife of convicted political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko. Obama paid Rita Rezko for a swath of the property to use as a buffer for his own, a transaction he called “boneheaded” during his first presidential campaign.

John and Marjorie Poulos have owned the lot since 2008, when they paid the Rezkos’ lawyer $675,000 for the title. They have hired Anthony Rouches of Chicago’s @properties as the agent and are asking $899,000.

Rouches said the sellers never pursued plans for an 8,000-square-foot custom home.

It sits on a block that’s been called the safest in the free world, as there’s a Chicago police and Secret Service detail always there. But living next to Obama, even if he’s largely an absentee neighbor the next four years, has its challenges.

Rouches said prospective buyers must submit their financial information to get a showing and that names of people seeing the property must be turned in 24 hours beforehand.

COMEBACK TRAIL: Tenants occupy about 111 million square feet in the downtown business district, marking a return to the high point registered in late 2007 when the crash took down commercial real estate, said Andrew Davidson, executive vice president at MB Real Estate.

Davidson said the main driver is growth in professional and business services, the largest portion of the downtown economy. But it’s doing it practically on its own. The other main economic sectors — financial activities, information and government — all are up only marginally from their low points of recent years, he said.

The Chicago office market is “surprisingly resilient in the aftermath of the recession,” Davidson said.

INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH: Speculative construction, which is construction without a tenant in place, is back in a big way in the market southwest of Chicago along I-55, reports Jim Cummings, director at the Newmark Grubb Knight Frank brokerage. Cummings said that after a year with no new construction deliveries in that market, about 2.3 million square feet of speculative space is under way or will be soon.

Contestants in this field include DCT’s 604,000-square-foot distribution center planned for I-55 and Weber Road, ML Partners at I-355 and 143rd Street in Lockport, HSA Commercial’s 180,000-square-foot addition at Internationale Parkway and I-355 and a Clarius Partners million-square-foot creation in Joliet. Most of these buildings appeal to users of either 500,000 square feet or more, or 50,000 square feet or less, markets Cummings believes are underserved.

I draw two conclusions: The industrial market is a leading economic indicator, and it is pointing to better times, and those traffic jams southwest of the city are only going to get worse.

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

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