Wolf Point goes public, again

Residents give wary reception for revised riverfront project

12/26/2012 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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After being sent back to the drafting table, developers for the lofty Wolf Tower have returned with a project that addresses issues but still irks some residents.

On Dec. 20, representatives from Hines Interests met with about 70 residents to discuss revised plans for their Wolf Point development, a multi-year project that envisions three towers built on a plot of historic riverfront property in downtown Chicago.

Houston-based Hines is seeking city approval for the first phase of the development, which would establish 510 residential units in the project’s western tower.

Details concerning the rest of the project are yet to be set in stone, though the developers have dropped some hints. At the meeting, held at the UBS Tower at 1 N. Wacker Drive, the Hines team laid out parameters for a 450-room hotel component, which could accompany a mix of some 900 planned residential units and up to 1.7 million square feet of office space in a later phase of the project.

John George, the attorney for the project, assured the audience that these figures were still relative.

“What now we have are maximums,” said George. “I want everyone to have the comfort of knowing that it is just phase one that is going [before the city’s] plan commission. Phases two and three … will occur in the future.”

But neighbors may have been hesitant to let down their guard so soon, as plans for the hotel had come as a revelation for everyone.

After publicly vetting designs for the $1 billon project earlier this year, the team — which includes local businessman and political heir Chris Kennedy — was hours away from a hearing with the plan commission when Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) pulled the proposal on account of a last-minute change, which sought permission for 1,800 hotel rooms at the site.

After deferring the hearing a second time, Reilly ordered Hines to conduct a new traffic study that would take into account the project’s new “maximum” dimensions.

“The hotel and residential volumes … surprised us,” resident leader Mike Riordan stated to the Hines team.

Riordan, who is president of the River North Residents Association, said that the community wanted the firm be forthright in their intentions for the project from here on out.

“If you can’t articulate what you are building, or when you are building it, then please don’t expect to get a blank check from us at the start of the process,” he said.

George apologized for the “confusion” caused by the revised bulk table.

“It was never our intent to surprise anybody,” he said.

In addition to the keyed-down hotel density, Hines also announced a string of commitments regarding traffic improvements related to the project, including the installation of traffic signals, signs and crosswalks at various intersections surrounding the site.

The plan also called for 1,285 underground parking spaces to be installed as more of the project’s units are completed. The original planned development for the parcel, drafted in 1973, allowed for 1,800 stalls.

When it came time to give feedback on the proposal, some neighbors feared the project was still too large for the site.

“What we need is an extreme makeover,” said resident Scott McGarvey.

Architecture buff Butler Adams, who spoke in partial support of the plan, offered that perhaps it was time for to accept density in urban projects like Wolf Point.

“This is not just a neighborhood, this is downtown Chicago,” he said. “There’s going to be development.”

One resident criticized the traffic plan for drivers coming in and out of the site, while another called to question the firm’s funding structure for the project. A representative from the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce offered the group’s endorsement for the project.

For his part, Reilly told residents that, moving forward, he would stayed focused on the “functionality” of the site’s planning — and transparency in the developer’s process leading up to an approval from the city.

“This is not something I am seeking to sell you,” he said. “That’s their job.”

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