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06.11.2012
Three's a Charm?
Long-vacant Chicago River site to be transformed by three massive towers.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli

A massive, three-tower development at the confluence of the North, South and Main Branches of the Chicago River could transform the long-vacant Wolf Point into luxury rentals, office towers and a western cap to the Chicago Riverwalk.

 
 

Property owners Kennedy Enterprises teamed up with developers Hines Interests and Magellan Development Group to realize their $1-billion plan for the coveted River North site. Three firms were chosen to design the development: Pelli Clarke Pelli, best known for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Chicago-based bKL Architecture; and Wolff Landscape Architecture. “There’s really nothing else like this site in the world,” said Fred Clarke, a principal of Pelli Clarke Pelli. “It’s waiting for its moment in history.”

Clarke spoke at a May 29 meeting hosted by Alderman Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes Wolf Point. Area residents were well-represented, with many objecting that the project would block views and increase traffic congestion.

Luay Aboona, a principal with the firm KLOA, anticipated those concerns with a traffic analysis that is currently under review by the Chicago Department of Transportation. The property has limited car access, though it is easily accessible by rail and several bus lines. Drivers can only enter the site from Orleans Street, a one-way, northbound thoroughfare.

First to break ground will be a 525 foot-tall luxury rental building oriented north-south along the site’s western riverbank, designed by bKL. Pilotis will lift the building off the ground, as with the site’s other two towers.

Phase Two will be the project’s iconic South Tower, a 900 foot-tall, mixed-use commercial building designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. The taller buildings will “billow in a sail-like fashion,” Clarke said, a reference to the site’s maritime history as a riverfront storage yard.

 
 

The last tower will be 750 feet all, and will also be a mixed-use office building.

Clarke likened Wolf Point to his firm’s Abandoibarra master plan in Bilbao, Spain. That site, though much larger, was also bounded by a disused but very valuable riverfront. More than a third of the site was devoted to public green space, an aspect shared by plans for Wolf Point.

“Park space is a central tenet of the development,” said Hines Senior Managing Director Greg Van Schaack. “We’re trying to create a good balance.”

The three towers will cover only 22 percent of the 4-acre site, owing their reduced footprint in part to their tapered lobbies. Most of the rest will be public areas, including a 1,000-foot extension of the Chicago Riverwalk.

Larry Okrent, a planning and zoning expert, said lofty aspirations for Wolf Point date back to Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. “Every plan has imagined that some sort of consequential development would occur here,” Okrent said. “It could be become a signature location in the city—a water-oriented neighborhood surrounded by outstanding architecture, and that’s what this site calls for.”

Christopher Bentley