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Five Chicago developments to watch in 2021

The Terminal. Image: IBT Group, LLC/REjournals.
The Terminal. Image: IBT Group, LLC/REjournals.

Residents are currently moving in to one of the most significant additions to the Chicago skyline in years, the St. Regis Chicago (formerly known as the Vista Tower). The Jeanne Gang-designed, 101-story tower is now Chicago’s third-tallest building and the world’s tallest building designed by a woman. The completion of the St. Regis stands as a rare highlight of 2020. But many more exciting new developments of all types remain in the pipeline heading into 2021. Here are some of the most noteworthy projects taking major steps forward in 2021 that you might want to keep an eye on.


Obama Center

Image: Obama Foundation

The Obama Presidential Center’s years of legal challenges and difficulties have led to an “I’ll believe it when I see it” perspective from many Chicagoans. But 2021 could finally be the year the center breaks ground, with key federal approvals expected very soon. At odds have been potential environmental impacts, gentrification concerns, a community benefits agreement, and the use of public parkland–especially given that, in contrast with many other presidential libraries, the Obama Center will not receive funding nor oversight from the federal government.

The Center will, however, benefit from public dollars including nearly $200 million in infrastructure upgrades, including major street reconfiguration through the park and renovation of the adjacent 59th St/University of Chicago station on the Metra Electric line. The extent to which the Center will impact the neighboring communities has been a point of consternation–while few presidential libraries have had significant impact on their neighbors, the Obama Foundation projects the Center will attract more visitors, and community groups have fought tirelessly to ensure their interests are protected.


The Terminal

This West Humboldt Park office development has made some headlines lately, but is probably deserving of many more. The joint public-private project will see a century-old abandoned warehouse repurposed into a spacious, 250,000 square foot boutique workspace. Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto, who also owns the Chicago Fire, is providing the private funds. The first tenants will be able to move in this spring, although full buildout will continue over the next two years. Upon completion, the space will be home to over 200 jobs. 

The lower price point offered should be especially attractive to startup companies that may be attracted to the uniqueness and community aspects of the project, while having the ability to be more flexible on location. There will also be a significant amount of landscaped outdoor space, including a large deck seen in renderings. The facility is located behind an Aldi and Menards near the intersection of North Avenue and Kostner Avenue, just over two miles from the Eisenhower Expressway.



Image: McCaffery Interests

A full decade has passed since the Harold Ickes Homes were demolished along State Street just south of Cermak Road, as part of the Chicago Housing Authority’s plan to demolish outdated and inadequate public housing. In a shiny new development symbolic of the shift to modern mixed-income communities more in line with current strategy to meet city housing needs, the 877-unit Southbridge complex will also have over 60,000 square feet of retail space. More than half of its 11-acre footprint will be open space, including parks and sports fields. 

Southbridge stands as one of the most ambitious mixed-income developments in recent memory, and its sheer size could create a significant link between the Bronzeville, Chinatown, and South Loop neighborhoods (hence the “Southbridge” name). The first phase of around 200 units will open later this year, with just over half of those being priced at market rate. Residents will have immediate access to the Green and Red lines and Stevenson and Dan Ryan expressways. Just across the Stevenson from Southbridge will also be a new e-sports arena, one of the first of its kind.


Lincoln Yards

Image: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago

The Sterling Bay megadevelopment along the North Branch of the Chicago River has managed to gain a level of notoriety matched by only the Obama Center in recent years. The $6 billion megaproject between Lincoln Yards and Bucktown has been in development headlines constantly since its 2019 city approval, including a fortune in TIF funds, but the project will finally break ground this spring. The first building will be an eight-story, 320,000 square foot commercial building near the south end of the area, just north of the Home Depot on North Avenue. It will house biotech and pharmaceutical lab space, which has been one of few clear weaknesses in the Chicago office space market for years.

Also breaking ground in 2021 will be three major infrastructure improvements that will shape the foundation for the entire Lincoln Yards plan. These three are the highly-anticipated extension of the 606 trail under the Kennedy Expressway and over the Chicago River, a mile-long extension of north-south Dominick Street through the project area, and a hallmark bridge carrying Dominick Street over the Chicago River. The 606 river bridge will partially utilize an abandoned railroad swing bridge, while the new-build Dominick Street bridge will feature fully protected bike lanes. While these improvements won’t be complete until 2023, the semblance of a new master-planned neighborhood will begin to take shape this summer.


The Reed at Southbank

Image: Lendlease

This new 41-story residential high-rise is just the latest addition to a rapidly growing, dense district of new apartments just south of the Loop along the Chicago River. While there’s plenty to like about the building itself, which will off 216 luxury condos and 224 rental apartments, Chicago hasn’t been lacking for similar such projects in recent years. Rather, The Reed is getting a shoutout for further development of a growing southern riverwalk, which remains unbeknownst to most Chicagoans while its heavily-trafficked sibling to the north draws all the crowds. 

As part of the development plan for The Reed, as well as its neighbor The Cooper, the area now features a short riverwalk stub and surprisingly spacious park, which are ungated and publicly accessible. Its well-manicured, nature-oriented character is vastly different from the commercialized version up north, which makes for a relaxing experience. The first short stretch, which has already been open for a couple of years, can be accessed at the intersection of Harrison Street (which has a protected bike lane for easy cycling access) and Franklin Street. The addition of The Reed should extend the riverwalk to a southern access point at Polk Street, and future phases of this project plan to extend this riverwalk all the way to Roosevelt Road. With spacious outdoor locales still at a premium for recreation in 2021, this could be a prime spot to visit as the weather improves.