When it opened in 1977, Atrium Village became a model for community-developed, mixed-income housing nationwide. It has remained such a success that many of its original residents still call it home. Straddling Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green housing projects, Old Town and the tony Gold Coast beyond, Atrium Village served as a transitional zone between two very different worlds. With Cabrini Green demolished, the development’s owners, which include four area churches, are looking to vastly expand Atrium Village by adding retail and open space, all while staying true to its social mission.
Working with Chicago-based FitzGerald Associates Architects and Seattle-based Bumgardner, the owners are planning an enlarged Atrium Village, with four high rise towers, a series of townhouses, and two acres set aside for open space. In its current state, Atrium village consists of an eight-story building surrounded by low-rise apartments. In accordance with the thinking of the time, the project was built “defensively,” according to Michael DeRouin, president of FitzGerald, with surface parking lots placed at the corners and a perimeter fence encircling the property. More than a quarter of the seven-acre site is given over to parking lots.
Pending approval from community groups, Alderman Walter Burnett, and the Chicago Plan Commission, the new Atrium Village will have all underground parking, as well as approximately 40,000 square feet of retail space, including one large retail space to be leased to a local grocery store. The four towers, stepping up from 28, 36, and 41 to finally 44 stories, will anchor the corners of the site. A two-acre park, designed by Hitchcock Design Group, will be open to the public and accessible mid-block through an entrance on Wells Street. The tower podiums will feature green roofs and roof gardens, including one devoted to rooftop farming. The entire project will include over 1,600 units, 320 of which will be affordable housing, a slight increase in the current ratio at Atrium Village.
The project has met with enthusiastic reviews from residents. “We got a standing ovation when we said that every unit would have a washer/dryer,” DeRouin said. The careful phasing, which is designed to displace as few residents as possible, as well as the long-term tenant-landlord relationship, also played a major role in winning over residents. “There’s a lot of trust there,” he said. The plan calls for the demolition of approximately 48 units at the corner of Division and Wells streets, with relocated residents having the option to return. A 300-unit tower would rise in its place to house residents while the next portion is cleared for the following phase, a process that would be repeated over four phases. The entire build-out is expected to take ten to 15 years.
The development team and the architects recently held an initial meeting with the Old Town Chamber of Commerce. They aim to meet with the broader community soon, DeRouin said. The development team hopes the community will see the enlarged project as a better use of the near-downtown parcel. And, he added, “No one really believes there should be large surface parking lots so close to downtown Chicago.”