Developers plan city’s second-tallest skyscraper next to new Tribune Tower condos

Chicago Tribune by Blair Kamin and Ryan Ori

Developers on Monday unveiled plans for Chicago’s second-tallest skyscraper, a tapering shaft of metal and glass that would soar above historic Tribune Tower, resemble the top of Batman’s black mask and be only 29 feet shorter than Willis Tower.

If completed, the $1 billion-plus project to repurpose Tribune Tower and build a skinny, 1,422-foot high-rise just northeast of it would bring more than 700 residences and 200 hotel rooms to an area north of the Chicago River.

The developers, Chicago-based Golub & Co. and CIM Group of Los Angeles, will seek a rezoning to build the skyscraper, which would supplant Trump International Hotel & Tower as the city’s second-tallest. The designs were revealed at a community meeting Monday night.

In June, the Chicago Tribune will move from its neo-Gothic Michigan Avenue complex, its home for nearly a century, to One Prudential Plaza. CIM Group and Golub bought the Tribune property from Tribune Media, a separate broadcasting concern, for $240 million in 2016.

In the first phase, their plans call for 163 condominiums at Tribune Tower, which would retain its familiar name. The first units would be occupied in early 2020.

Plans for the new tower, which could start construction in late 2019, call for a 200-room hotel, 439 rental apartments and 125 condominiums in its upper reaches. The skyscraper would rise from what is now a surface parking lot behind Tribune Tower.

In contrast to the historic skyscraper’s filigreed crown of flying buttresses and pinnacles, the top of the new one would consist of curving glass walls extending beyond the building’s occupied floors. It would resemble the top of Batman’s mask — an unintended likeness that Golub Executive Vice President Lee Golub acknowledged in an interview before Monday’s meeting.

Asked why he didn’t push for another 30 feet in height, which would have made the proposed skyscraper Chicago’s tallest, Golub replied that height was a secondary priority to the ideal mix of units and floor heights.

“It just turned into what it is,” Golub said.

“Why didn’t we do it?” he added, addressing the prospect of being the tallest in town. “We don’t have that big of an ego.”

As the saga of the unbuilt Chicago Spire shows, it is easier to announce plans for a supertall skyscraper than to finance and build one. Complicating matters for Golub and CIM Group, other developers already have mega-towers underway or approved, most notably the 1,191-foot Vista Tower, a hotel and condominium high-rise under construction across the Chicago River from the Tribune site.

The bigger question, nearly a decade into the city’s post-recession real estate boom, is whether the expansion will still have steam more than a year from now, when the new tower is scheduled to start construction.

Undeterred by the risks, Golub cited the project’s unique location, expressing hope it would lure international buyers.

“We are on Michigan Avenue. We are on the river. We are in the center of everything here,” he said.

Condos in both buildings would sell at prices at or near the top of the Chicago market — more than $1,000 a square foot, Golub predicted. With condos in the new building and Tribune Tower expected to average 3,000 square feet and 2,700 square feet, respectively, that means many condominiums would fetch prices in excess of $3 million.

In January, when the Tribune reported that plans for a supertall skyscraper next to Tribune Tower were in the works, Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, indicated a general openness to the project’s height but reserved the right to press for design changes and lower the number of parking spaces. At the time, the plans called for the new skyscraper to rise 1,388 feet, a foot shorter than Trump Tower. Since then, the plans grew, though not, the developers insisted, because of a desire to top the tower built by the current president.

About 400 people attended Monday night’s community meeting at the Sheraton Grand Chicago hotel. In opening remarks, Reilly stressed that the developers’ proposal is “aspirational” and could change.

“This marks the very beginning of our public process,” he said.

The conversion of Tribune Tower is expected to cost more than $500 million, with the development of the new tower easily eclipsing that figure.

The new tower plans were shaped by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, whose portfolio includes a tower under construction in Saudi Arabia that will, if completed, eclipse Dubai’s Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building.

The designers of the Tribune Tower conversion are the Chicago firm of SCB, or Solomon Cordwell Buenz, which specializes in new condominium high-rises. Vinci Hamp Architects of Chicago are the historic preservation consultants.

As part of the conversion, most of the Indiana limestone facades of the landmark tower and three adjoining low-rise structures — the WGN Radio and WGN Television buildings, plus the original Tribune printing plant — would be preserved. But the central portion of the old printing plant, whose vast floors now house the Tribune newsroom and other offices, would be demolished, making way for an elevated courtyard that would allow natural light to filter into the project’s lower-floor condominiums.

The courtyard, outfitted with an indoor pool, would be built behind the iconic Chicago Tribune sign. The sign has become the subject of a legal battle between the developers — who argue that they have a contractual agreement to buy the sign for $1 — and Tronc, the newspaper’s owner, which contends the sign is protected intellectual property.

The still-unnamed new tower would rise from the northeast corner of the Tribune site, ensuring that it would not compromise the Ogden Slip view corridor, which guarantees that Tribune Tower remain visible from Lake Shore Drive. The topmost of its 96 occupied floors would house Chicago’s highest residential units, topping those in the nearby Trump skyscraper.

The new tower’s tapering profile is designed to reduce wind pressure that would cause it to sway, unsettling residents.

Its strong vertical lines seek to echo those in Tribune Tower, which was the winning entry in an international competition to design “the world’s most beautiful and distinctive office building.” The building opened in 1925 under the leadership of Tribune publisher Col. Robert R. McCormick.

Other highlights of the new plans include the following:

  • The bottom floors of the existing Tribune Tower complex would be converted into 47,500 square feet of retail space lining Michigan Avenue, Upper Illinois Street and the Pioneer Court pedestrian plaza, just north of the new Apple flagship store. The plaza’s northern portion would be repaved and would include a timeline charting the history of the site.
  • A four-story condominium addition would be built on top of the WGN Television Building, its metal and glass facade designed to complement the existing structure. McCormick’s 24th floor office, a baronial lair with its own fireplace, wood-paneled walls and personalized ceiling decoration, would be turned into condo space. Developers are speaking with nonprofits about possibly taking parts of the office that would be dismantled.
  • The Nathan Hale Courtyard, an outdoor space along Michigan Avenue that contains a statue of the Revolutionary War patriot, would be retained but reconfigured, with a new ramp to make it accessible. The courtyard would lead into new retail space, replacing a lobby that lacks landmark protection.
  • It has yet to be determined how much access tourists and architecture buffs would have to the ornate, high-ceilinged Tribune Tower lobby, which has official landmark protection. Golub said a compromise will have to be reached regarding which hours, if any, the lobby would be open to visitors.
  • The 25th-floor outdoor space beneath Tribune Tower’s flying buttresses, once an observatory open to the public and now a private event space called The Crown, will become an outdoor amenity area for residents.
  • The location of some of the roughly 150 fragments of famous buildings and historic sites from around the world that are embedded in Tribune Tower’s base could be shifted to accommodate the new ground-floor retail space.
  • The new tower would house a five-star hotel and 10,700 square feet of retail space. Its base, which would be wider than the thin tower, would include 430 parking spaces topped by an outdoor deck.

Under existing zoning, the Tribune site allows for 1.6 million square feet of space. The two towers, old and new, would encompass 2 million square feet. To increase the density, the developers would pay about $14 million into a city fund that seeks to encourage commercial development in struggling areas of the South and West sides, as well as $12 million into the city’s affordable housing fund.

Gill said the architects rejected the idea of replicating the setbacks and neo-Gothic architecture of Tribune Tower. “We tried it. We didn’t like it. It was becoming a big version of Tribune Tower. It didn’t seem appropriate,” he said.

At the meeting, some residents said they approved of the design while others complained the new tower would block views from their apartments and predicted that much of the retail space would remain unfilled. Citing the empty storefronts at the Trump Tower and other locations off Michigan Avenue, a resident said, “I would hate to see a lot of available and for-lease signs.”


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