The Real Deal Chicago

New Union Station plan ditches apartments, adds retail and park

The 60K sf park would separate the station from a 1.5M sf office tower
By Alex Nitkin | September 12, 2018 08:00AM

Riverside CEO John O’Donnell and renderings of the new Union Station plans (Credit: Riverside Investment & Development)

Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties have nixed all 404 apartments from their proposal to redevelop Union Station and have added a 1.5-acre park, conceding to neighbors who lambasted their June proposal to plunk a seven-story addition on top of the historic building.

The developer will rehab the station to include 400 hotel rooms, as well as build a 1.5 million square-foot office building on the current site of a parking garage to the station’s south.

“We heard you loud and clear at the last meeting,” Riverside CEO John O’Donnell said during a public meeting Tuesday. “We did everything we could to take guidance from the alderman and take substantial steps to improve it.”

About 175,000 square feet of “office, retail and civic space” would also be added to the station to “enhance the pedestrian experience,” O’Donnell said. Shops with three-story windows would replace a solid wall along Clinton Street, which has been blank since it was torched in a 1981 fire.

The developer also added plans for a single story of hotel penthouses on top of the station, but the addition would be set back far enough to be hidden from the street below.

The revised plan also halves the number of parking spots below the office tower from 800 to 400, a move personally supported by Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd). The existing parking garage has 1,700 spaces.

“If you live in the neighborhood and you’re concerned about traffic and pedestrian safety, you want fewer cars traveling to the area,” Reilly said. “And this is a perfect example of a transit-oriented development — I never understood why they stuck a parking garage right next to the train station in the first place.”

BMO Harris is closing in on a lease for 500,000 square feet inside the 715-foot office tower, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Riverside signed New York-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures to design the 65,000-square-foot park, which would be “privately operated but publicly accessible,” O’Donnell said.

The developer will soon submit an updated Planned Development proposal to replace the document codified in 2002 that would have allowed a 400-foot addition atop the station. A 2007 plan to add an 18-story tower fizzled in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Property owner Amtrak signed Riverside and Convexity last year to a 99-year lease at an undisclosed price, two years after announcing it was seeking redevelopment proposals.

Reilly would need to advance a zoning change in the City Council for Riverside’s proposal to take shape. After the meeting, the alderman said he would have to “digest community feedback” and “refine certain components” of the plan, but that the newest version was a “big step in the right direction.”

Amtrak got underway last year on a $22 million interior renovation of the station’s 93-year-old Great Hall concourse, set to refurbish the space’s ceiling skylight and Corinthian-columned walls by the end of this year.

The redevelopment would mark Riverside’s third major Downtown project delivered since the Recession. Last year the firm completed the 54-story office building at 150 North Riverside Plaza, and this year it partnered with Howard Hughes Corp. to break ground on an 800-foot-tall office tower at 110 North Wacker Drive, where Bank of America has been announced as an anchor tenant.

Convexity has a handful of historic building renovations under its belt, including the Three Arts Building and the Viceroy Hotel in the Gold Coast, and Hotel Robey, which towers over the North and Damen intersection in Wicker Park.

Earlier this year, a venture led by Richard Kalb Hotel Architect DPC broke ground on the 615-key Toyoko Inn near Union Station at 320 South Clinton Street.  Reilly tried at the last minute to downzone the property to block construction, but city records show the ordinance never went through.