Wolf Point project’s call for up to 1,800 hotel rooms delays hearing
BY DAVID ROEDER firstname.lastname@example.org November 27, 2012 6:36PM
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 built first. | Courtesy of Wolf Point Owners LLC
Updated: December 29, 2012 6:29AM
Acity agency’s vote on a three-tower development plan for Wolf Point was deferred Tuesday after a downtown alderman complained that the project’s investors introduced last-minute details. The exercise carries a lesson for anybody who wants to build something in Chicago and needs aldermanic favor: Watch those legal filings and don’t embarrass a guy who sticks his neck out for you.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the developers submitted documents to the city in which they asked for plans to put up to 1,800 hotel rooms on the site. The request did not reflect terms negotiated with Reilly and neighborhood groups that called for the buildings to contain a mix of residential, office and hotel uses.
The Wolf Point project was due for a hearing Tuesday before the Chicago Plan Commission, which reviews major developments. The commission deferred action at Reilly’s request, and the matter could be heard Dec. 20.
Reilly, frustrated over the turn of events, said the developers’ “lack of clarity and introduction of all those hotel keys” require him to bring the proposal back to neighbors for review. He backed the project after lengthy negotiations over traffic control, landscaping and other issues.
The alderman said he suspects the developers inserted 1,800 rooms as a theoretical maximum for hotel rooms and do not intend to build that many. “But in the interest of transparency, this has to go back to the neighbors,” said Reilly, who has presided at two community hearings on the project. During those hearings, the developers’ representatives said part of the three towers might get a hotel, but nothing on the order of 1,800 rooms.
The developers include Chicago’s Kennedy family, Hines Interests LP and Magellan Development Group. A spokesman, Bill Griffin, said the reference to the hotel rooms was unintentionally misleading and was a response to a city request for the maximum amount of potential uses. “That’s not part of the plan,” he said.
The Wolf Point site is just west of the Merchandise Mart and where the Chicago River divides into two branches.
Reilly brooked some vocal foes to support the plan. The developers’ errant filing will make some think they were just trying to pull a fast one.
Attorney Reuben Hedlund, representing an ad-hoc group called Friends of Wolf Point, said, “I really don’t know what their strategy has been other than not wanting to disclose the details of what they want approved.” Hedlund said the three buildings would be equal in space to Chicago’s Willis Tower, yet the project was being rushed through. He also said Reilly’s promises about traffic improvements funded by the property owners are not reflected in the proposal to the city.
Reilly said he’ll work on a more specific agreement that will “allow some flexibility to the developers because of changing market conditions.” The proposal calls for a 510-unit apartment building on the site’s western edge as the first to be built. The later buildings, envisioned for offices and maybe a hotel, could take many years and include a 950-foot signature tower by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects that would be the eighth tallest building in Chicago.
The developers employed the powerful law firm Daley & George Ltd. to win friends and influence people. Now they will have to try a little humility and mend fences.
LAND BANK BUILDUP: A committee impaneled by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has endorsed the establishment of a government-run land bank to acquire decayed properties and bring them back to productive use. The panel said the land bank should be a county agency and run by 13 board members from a variety of backgrounds.
The report said initial funding of about $1 million could provide staff and get the idea off the ground, but the goal is to have it become self-sustaining through grants, rental income and money from property sales.
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-10th) has advocated the land bank as a way to cut the backlog of vacant and foreclosed homes. But the committee also said the proposal could help with decayed industrial areas. It cited a study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology that said 1,200 vacant and underused acres are within five miles of the Canadian National terminal in Harvey. The center also found depressed industrial areas in Bedford Park, Cicero, Franklin Park and McCook.
ACCOLADE LADLE: Eugene Golub, chairman of Chicago-based Golub & Co., will pick up a richly deserved honor, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed
by the Urban Land Institute’s Chicago District Council. The award recognizes contributions to real estate and civic life and will be given at a Dec. 6 dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel. For information, see Chicago.uli.org.
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.