Since 1996, the 2.7 million-square-foot, federally landmarked Old Main Post Office has remained vacant, looming over downtown Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway as a hulking rebuke to development activity nearby. Over the years, several proposals have been put forth for the renewal of the venerable structure, only to fall.
On July 24, however, the Chicago City Council approved the site for redevelopment. British developer Bill Davies, owner of International Properties Developments (IPD), bought the distressed property in 2009 for $24 million. IPD hired Chicago-based architecture firm Antunovich Associates to transform the old postal facility into a mixed-use complex that will include a renovation of the historic structure as well as the addition of two new high rises to be completed in two phases. “The whole idea is that this can be phased,” said Joe Antunovich. “We’ve shown a way of biting this off bit by bit.”
Phase I, estimated to cost about $1.5 billion, includes the renovation of the historic structure as well as the construction of a new 1,000-foot-tall tower and podium building along the river. This phase comprises 800,000 square feet of retail space, 525,000 square feet of offices, 2,900 residential units, 320 hotel rooms, and a 4,550-space parking garage, 1,300 of which will be automated. Phase 2 will see the construction of a 2,000-foot-tall tower to the west of the post office building and will add 3,500 residential units, 920 hotel rooms, and 1.5 million square feet of office space.
Work could start this fall, with the historic building ready for occupancy 18 months later, though it could take as much as eight to 10 years to complete the entirety of Phase I. Completing Phase 2 could take 20 years.
The renovation of the historic structure maintains the old post office’s grand lobby, which will tie into the glass-clad podium of the 1,000-foot-tall tower. The podium’s undulating glass facade opens onto a two-block-long river walk replete with trees and public plazas designed by Chicago-based Wolff Landscape Architecture.
If the redevelopment does become reality, its success as a mixed-use hub may hinge on its connectivity. Antunovich has talked with CTA about expanding the Clinton Blue Line station to connect directly to the project. His firm also drew up plans for a covered public area within the building to convey Canal Street pedestrians over the Eisenhower Expressway. “It’s this major modal transfer point, with the highways through it and around it, the trains run through it and under it, and a river that runs through it,” said Antunovich. “It’s a real gateway structure. What a great entrance to our city.”