Related Midwest’s plans for sprawling South Loop project taking shape

“The 78” would add 13M sf of office, hotel and resi space on 62 riverside acres

Rendering of The 78 (Credit: Related Midwest)
Rendering of The 78 (Credit: Related Midwest)

Related Midwest painted the broad strokes Thursday night of a decades-long undertaking that would create 13 million square feet of new residential, office and hotel space on an undeveloped 62-acre plot hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River.

Related is calling the development “The 78” for its ambition to add an entire new neighborhood to the city’s 77 officially-recognized community areas.

The project would be bounded by Roosevelt Road to the north, Clark Street to the east and 18th Street to the south. It would sit just south of two other massive planned riverside developments: Lendlease’s Southbank and CMK Companies’ Riverline.

Related’s public presentation of the project Thursday evening coincided with the submission of a planned development application to the city, asking for a baseline zoning change that would accommodate buildings up to 950 feet tall.

Architects with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill have yet to design any individual buildings for the project, and Related Midwest president Curt Bailey said it’s too early to tell how many people would live or work in the development.

Instead, Bailey and lead architect Phil Enquist described how they would knit the impassible, overgrown patch into the surrounding fabric of city streets and rail lines. To start, they envision a new CTA Red Line stop at Clark and 15th streets.

“A Red Line station there would be tremendous in terms of accessing that open space, accessing the educational amenities and accessing the river,” Enquist said.

Cars would enter the property through the Wells Street connector, which is set to link Chinatown with Downtown when it’s completed in 2019. Plans also call to extend 15th Street to link up with Wells.

Renderings show wide sidewalks and concrete-protected bike lanes lining Wells, which Bailey described as the trunk from which developments will branch off over time.

“That nice road is phase one, and we’re in a talks with a couple people about what phase two would look like,” Bailey said. “We’re trying to start with some business and employment on the site, then build up around it with some residential.”

Another street would trace the outer edge of Crescent Park, a seven-acre public green space that would cut through the center of the development and touch the river at both ends.

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Rendering of The 78 (Credit: Related Midwest and SOM Architects)

Planners are looking to public waterfronts in Oslo and Sydney as inspiration for a five-acre riverwalk promenade stretching from Roosevelt to Chinatown’s Ping Tom Park, Bailey said. About 100 feet wide, the promenade would include outdoor dining, pedestrian and bike paths, and “gathering spaces” at separate grade levels, Bailey said.

The developer is also in talks with Metra to move the tracks of its Rock Island District Line a few hundred feet to the west, opening space to build sidewalk shops on both sides of Clark.

“Moving the tracks further into the site and away from Clark Street … enables us to re-envision Clark Street as an address for residential and office buildings,” Enquist said. “We can create some open space and look at Clark Street as an important Chicago boulevard, not as a throughway.”

Builders would construct towers over the Metra tracks to reduce noise and air pollution, Bailey said.

Related bought the grassy property in 2016, following a long line of previous owners including Democratic party fundraiser and convicted felon Tony Rezko. The 78 would join a growing roster of Chicago towers erected by the firm, including One Bennett Park in Streeterville, which is set to be completed next year.

Late last year, leaders of the University of Illinois system announced they would build a research facility, to be called the Discovery Partners Institute, on the site.

Bailey said funding sources for the likely multibillion-dollar effort “have not been decided as of yet,” but said it would “involve a lot of private funding as well as some public-private partnerships.”

The entire site lies inside one of the city’s most lucrative tax increment financing districts, the River South district, which raised more than $27 million in 2016 alone. The Wells Street connector is being funded in part through TIF money, but Related Midwest has not said whether it would ask for additional funding from the district. The River South district is set to expire in 2020, according to city records.

The 78 was one of the five Chicago sites toured by Amazon this year in the tech giant’s search for a second headquarters. Bailey said he has no insight on the development’s chances of being chosen.

“We have 13 million square feet, and [Amazon’s] request for proposals requires 8 million, so you do the math,” Bailey said. “But we’ll have to see.”

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