Despite its architectural pedigree, elaborate stone facades, and early 20th century splendor, Chicago’s Motor Row historic district has struggled to attract enough investment to spur the rebirth so many residents and local politicians have long proclaimed imminent. Now with a new El stop on the way—and the controversially financed Pelli Clarke Pelli–designed arena—development in the area around McCormick Place appears to have gained some momentum. The latest project in the near South Side neighborhood is a hotel and data center, built and paid for by McHugh Development & Construction (although they are seeking historic tax credits to rehabilitate two existing buildings on the site). An L-shaped development on the northeast segment of the block bordered by 23rd Street, Indiana Avenue, Cermak Road, and Michigan Avenue, the project’s first phase includes the construction of a 350,000-square-foot data center and office building.
“It kind of dovetails with the mayor’s idea that Chicago is a high-tech city,” said Joe Antunovich, principal of Antunovich Associates, the architecture firm responsible for the design. Along with the new six-story structure, which Antunovich said would respect the neighborhood’s historic architecture in scale and materials, the first phase also includes the reuse of the historic Motor Row Rambler showroom for retail and parking.
Pending city council approval on October 8, that part of the project should be completed in January 2016. The second phase, a 28-story, 500-room hotel, will follow. Antunovich said three hotel brands will share the building, serving families and extended stay guests. “We’re building the new gateway to Motor Row on the southeast corner of Cermak and Michigan,” said Antunovich.
The new buildings feature metal cornices and metal appliqués intended to help them blend in with the existing architecture. Horizontal and vertical offsets in the hotel tower’s massing should take some visual weight off the glassy high-rise, “so you don’t just get a broad face of a curtain wall building,” said Antunovich.
By adding approximately 300 feet of new street-level retail frontage, including coffee shops and other amenities—like a rotating art exhibit and possibly a two-story restaurant adjoining the hotel on the northeast corner of the block—the project seeks to encourage street activity along the site, home now to a surface parking lot and the vacant Rambler showroom. A third-floor bridge connects the development, which is aiming for a mid-2017 completion, to the McCormick Place convention center.
While the noisy generators of nearby data centers have at times irked South Loop neighbors, Antunovich said acoustical measures were taken to minimize the sound. The data center, which will harvest waste heat to offset energy usage and is targeting LEED silver, will coordinate bi-monthly generator tests with the neighbors.
“It’s exciting to be working on a project that finally celebrates the gateway to a very special landmark district that’s had difficulty getting off its feet,” said Antunovich. “Between what we’re doing, the new transit station and everything going on on the north side of Cermak, when you put it all together, talk about rebuilding a neighborhood.”