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Wolf Point 3-tower plan backed by Kennedy family wins city planners’ approval

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 built first. | Courtesy of Wolf Point Owners LLC

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Updated: February 26, 2013 6:37AM

City planners Thursday approved a three-tower development backed by the Kennedy family for riverfront land at Orleans.

The site known as Wolf Point would first get an apartment tower of about 50 stories. The two later buildings could take many years to complete.

Under terms approved by the Chicago Plan Commission, the potentially billion-dollar project could get a maximum of 1,410 residential units, 450 hotel rooms and 1,285 parking stalls.

The developers are getting no public subsidy. The commission’s vote sends the matter to the City Council for approval.

Despite the unanimous vote and the support from Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the project has had a rocky route. Reilly delayed city action on it late last year, complaining that the developers made last-minute changes in seeking zoning approval.

Some nearby residents also have criticized the project during numerous local meetings. They have complained about traffic, density and public safety issues while criticizing the architecture, but the most intense opposition has come from people who might have easterly views up the Chicago River obscured.

Supporters note that the developers are funding traffic signal improvements and have agreed to have open space dominate the three-acre site.

Reilly said that in forcing developers back to the drawing board numerous times, he has tried to balance the desire for development with quality of life issues. “This project has been a test,” he told the commission, but the added, “We’ve gotten this right.”

Some 78 percent of the site would be open space, an allotment Reilly said is larger than many neighborhood parks.

The alderman praised the developers for making “major and in some cases very expensive changes” in their plans and for funding “dramatic infrastructure improvements,” including better traffic signals.

The politically renowned Kennedy family owns the site, a vestige of its former ownership of the Merchandise Mart and adjoining former Apparel Center, home of the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Kennedys have partnered with Hines Interests LP and Magellan Development Group LLC. Family leader Christopher Kennedy did not attend the hearing.

The firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, which includes the much-honored Cesar Pelli, has been signed for the buildings in the later phases. The first one, which would go on the site’s western portion, has been designed by Thomas Kerwin of BKL Architecture.

Wolf Point, sitting at where the river divides into north and south branches, is one of the oldest settled parts of Chicago. Historical accounts say it was a commercial hub on the frontier in the 1820s.

On the opposite bank of the river is another open site, 444 W. Lake, where Hines and other partners plan to build a 45-story office building by early 2016.

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