News
08.28.2013
Feature> Urban Reroute
Streetcar, trolley, and rail projects are stirring development in the Midwest.
Courtesy Ross Barney Architects

Despite the influx of art galleries, restaurants, and luxury lofts that have popped up throughout Chicago’s Fulton Market in the past decade, the area—lined with brick mid-rises and an ever-shrinking stock of parking spaces—still clings to its slaughterhouse roots. Passing by the Wichita Packing Co. building on Elizabeth Avenue, one can clearly make out the pink silhouette of a pig painted above the doorway of a one-time boarding stable.

Located just outside of the city’s downtown Loop, Fulton Market now moves more people than livestock. Last year, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) unveiled a sleek glass-and-steel train station at Morgan and Lake, just south of the neighborhood’s main restaurant drag—closing a gap that has until now limited public travel to the rapidly changing area. Designed by Ross Barney Architects, the stop, built on the site of a former station that closed in 1948, has at last opened up Fulton Market to the kind of foot traffic and residential appeal that emerging neighborhoods long for. In Chicago, as in cities across the Midwest, this is the promise of transportation projects: if you build it, they will come, and they will most likely shop.

 
Courtesy Ross Barney Architects
 

“One of the things we don’t have here is retail, which is usually the last thing to come to any neighborhood,” said Martha Goldstein, president of the West Loop Community Organization, a membership group that represents businesses and residents in and around Fulton Market. Goldstein said she expects the CTA station—which cost the city nearly $40 million—to attract not only retail but commercial tenants to the mixed-used district.

Courtesy Ross Barney Architects
 

Case in point is the news that Google will soon relocate from its 13-year-old residence in nearby River North to a former cold storage building on Fulton. Jim Lecinski, head of Google’s Chicago office, told the Chicago Tribune in June that the “fabulous” station was a factor in the company’s decision to transfer 500 employees to the 200,000-square-foot space, where rehab construction is currently underway. Other projects on the horizon in Fulton Market include a number of boutique hotels, one of which is already under construction. Nobu Hospitality, co-owned by Robert DeNiro, is rumored to be planning a hotel and Japanese restaurant development in the neighborhood.

 
A new station will make McCormick Place more accessible. Hotels, entertainment venues and an arena are planned for the area.
Courtesy McCormick Place Complex and Navy Pier / TVS Design
 

The Morgan stop is a good example of how smart stations can help shore up the character of smaller neighborhoods. Now the city is ready to move onto bigger markets. Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority announced plans for a CTA station to be built just a few blocks west of the massive McCormick Place Convention Center. Recently dubbed the Cermak-McCormick Place stop, the station will serve a short but busy stretch of the South Loop that has historically been without direct train access. Planners are currently working out the kinks in a major overhaul project set to retool the area around McCormick into an entertainment district; designs include restaurant projects, hotels, and a new basketball arena for DePaul University that will also host conventions. Work on the new station—also designed by Ross Barney—is expected to begin by February 2014.

 

   
The new Morgan station has opened Chicago’s Fulton Market district to new development.
Courtesy Ross Barney Architects
 

In Detroit, a similar transit overlay is formulating along the Woodward Corridor, the city’s main artery and channel to its sports venues, theaters, and various cultural institutions. Led by Quicken Loans founder and realty mogul Dan Gilbert, players in the city’s development market have recently rolled out a number of high-profile projects, most of which bank on Detroit’s forthcoming streetcar project, known as the M1 Rail, to provide a level of accessibility currently absent in the Motor City, where competitive budgeting and the scarcity of farebox revenues have long stymied transit growth.

Set to break ground this year and expected to begin operations in 2015, the 3.3-mile circulating streetcar, estimated to cost $137 million, will connect the city’s downtown to New Center, hitting about a dozen neighborhoods along the way and serving around 5,000 to 8,000 riders daily. Some of those riders will jump onto the line from the downtown Detroit People Mover, a shuttle circulating downtown. According to a website dedicated to the project, the streetcar, led by a coalition of local public and private investors, including Gilbert (who is also the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Penske Corp. founder Roger Penske, is expected to bring approximately $500 million to $1 billion worth of economic development along the corridor.

Headlining that development bill is a proposal for a new Detroit Red Wings hockey arena, imagined by Detroit Tiger’s owner and M1 stakeholder Mike Ilitch. The $650 million stadium, recently granted planning approvals by the city, is slated for construction near the junction of Interstate 75 and Woodward Avenue, close to the Tigers’ Comerica Park and the Lions’ Ford Field. The arena will no doubt see a nearby station on the M1 route.

 
As construction begins on the M-1 Rail in Detroit, developers eye nearby property for mixed-use development. Construction on the new rail line could wrap up in fall 2015.
Courtesy Anderson Illustration Associates
 

It’s no coincidence that the streetcar’s backers are the same ones rebuilding the city’s downtown. “In the case of the Woodward corridor and M-1 light rail, we have the rare combination that the developers of the system are also creating the development that will generate the riders,” said Richard Carlisle, president of Ann Arbor-based development planning consultant firm Carlisle/Wortman Associates and a supporter of the project.

George Stewart has spent the last decade rehabbing the Woodward Garden Theater, a century-old music venue that sits along the proposed M1 route in the city’s Midtown area. For Stewart, the streetcar will not only bring people to the neighborhood, but the prospect of security as well. “For what we’re trying to do on Woodward, especially in terms of art and entertainment, the movement of people is very important,” he said. “As long as we have a safe environment with a lot of activity going, I think it’s going to be great.”

Other cities across the Midwest have followed suit with transportation projects that aim to connect neighborhoods within urban environments, as opposed to the commuter systems that shuttle people directly to the suburbs. In Cincinnati, where streetcars were once a main mode of transportation, planners expect to start running new downtown cars by 2016. Cleveland’s “HealthLine” Bus Rapid Transit system—leading from the city’s Public Square to the university- and hospital-heavy East Cleveland neighborhood—has been hailed as a public transit success story and an economic motivator, earning credit for more than $4.3 billion in development along the city’s Euclid Avenue Corridor since opening in 2008.

Washington University’s $80 million retail and student apartment complex is currently under construction.
Courtesy Washington University
 

When St. Louis installed the Red Line extension of its MetroLink light rail system in the early 1990s, the new route had a profound effect on a number of station areas along the way. One in particular was the Delmar Loop, a restaurant and entertainment corridor in the outlying University City neighborhood that was still recovering from a post-World War II decline.

“This area was a great shopping area in the 1930s, and little by little it started to go downhill,” said Joe Edwards, an entrepreneur who has been working to develop the Loop since opening his Blueberry Hill restaurant in the area in the mid-1970s. Named for a trolley service that once picked up passengers on a circular route, the Delmar Loop saw a resurgence of customer traffic through the MetroLink rail, eventually re-establishing itself as one of St. Louis’ most popular cultural destinations.

 
Developments in St. Louis’ Delmar Loop capitalize on plans to revive the neighborhood’s namesake trolley line (left). The Delmar Loop’s Moonrise Hotel boasts the largest man-made spinning moon (right).
Courtesy St. Louis Design Alliance; Debbie Franke
 

Today, Edwards and a coalition of local stakeholders are looking to once again revive travel in and around the neighborhood with the introduction of the Delmar Loop Trolley. The 2.2-mile line would run down Delmar Boulevard and provide residents and visitors with transportation access to the Missouri History Museum, two MetroLink stations, and University City’s City Hall. Projects popping up around the proposed trolley route include a new student housing development by nearby Washington University and a $11.4 million hotel and apartment rehab project dubbed the Gotham Development that sits right on the proposed route.

The $43 million project, now 16 years in the making, received its final funding piece last year—a $25 million federal contribution. It was a somewhat rare subsidy for St. Louis, where, as in many cities, transit money is split with the state, leaving little for new transit projects after operating costs for existing lines are covered. Edwards, who has since added a hotel and a music venue to his roster of area properties, said he believes that transit projects like the Delmar Loop Trolley are the key to breathing life, and construction, back into urban areas.

“Developers really trust the fixed-track nature of this kind of public transit,” said Edwards. “It’s happening in cities around the country—it’s not unique to St. Louis, but it’s time that we bring it back.”

Ian Fullerton