After breaking cover in October, the massive 62-acre development known as ‘The 78’ was the topic of a formal community meeting on Thursday evening.
Presentations from developer Related Midwest and architectural master planner Skidmore, Owings & Merrill outlined new details of the plan to transform the vacant riverfront parcel between Chicago’s South Loop and Chinatown into a new mixed-use neighborhood.
Expected to take two decades and more than $5 billion to complete, The 78 is one of the largest single developments in the city’s history.
Here are some key takeaways from the meeting:
Three new roads
Considering that the site faces natural and man-made barriers on all sides, it’s little surprise that the developer’s first order of business is to improve access. Related plans a trio of new roadways.
Up first will be the long-discussed Wells-Wentworth Connector which is already under construction just south of the site. As its name suggests, the north-south roadway will connect Wells Street’s South Loop dead-end to Chinatown’s Wentworth Avenue.
To bring connectivity to the site from low-rise Dearborn Park development to the east, 15th Street will be extended from Clark Street to the new stretch of Wells. This east-west route will dip under the realigned Metra tracks (more on that in a moment).
East of the Wells-Wentworth extension, the development team proposes a second north-south road in the form of a new “LaSalle Street” running from the elevated level of Roosevelt Road down to the 15th Street extention.
Improved vehicular circulation is expected pay dividends for The 78 as well as for existing businesses and residents currently isolated from downtown and the river.
Major Metra and CTA improvements
Arguably the biggest challenge facing the site are the Metra tracks running along its eastern edge. Related’s bold solution moves the tracks west, away from Clark Street.
The shift will allow Clark Street—currently walled-off and auto-focused—to be re-imagined as a more walkable, urban street with active use. The relocated Metra tracks would be decked over to improve site cohesiveness. Enclosing the rail line comes with the added benefit of improved air quality and reduced noise.
A new CTA Red Line station is also in the cards for The 78—filling the mile-long gap in service between the Roosevelt and Cermak-Chinatown stops.
It’s all about the river
While just about every recent development along the Chicago River touts the waterway as an attractive amenity, The 78 takes its relationship to the river to another level.
In a nod to the past, a seven-acre crescent shaped park mirrors the path the river originally followed before it was straightened in the 1920s. To draw people towards the current waterfront, The 78 proposes a number of “open space threads” cutting between and even through some of the buildings.
At river’s edge, the development features a 100-foot-wide, half-mile-long riverwalk that takes lessons from Chicago’s downtown riverwalk. Dedicated “lanes” will be set aside for dining, traversing (think jogging and biking), and waterside lingering.
Building heights step down from Clark Street as they approach the river, maximizing views while giving the waterfront promenade a more human scale. A future water taxi stop is also planned.
The 78 is surprisingly low density
For the development’s staggering 13 million square feet of mixed-use space, The 78 is seeking a surprisingly modest zoning designation of DX-5. For comparison, the Riverline/Southbank development under construction to the immediate north is working with denser DX-7 zoning.
The 78 achieves this with its abundance of open space and a plan that keeps the tallest towers—expected to reach as high as 950 feet—thin and narrow. The final design, number, and orientation of the high-rise buildings is still being worked out.
Landing a corporate tenant is key
The South Loop has no shortage of all-residential developments in the works. To set The 78 apart from the crowd and make the site a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood, Related is committed to attracting major companies and organizations before it brings in residences and hotel rooms.
Getting corporate partners into the site is also vital to the success of The 78’s Discovery Partners Institute—an innovation center and technology incubator from the University of Illinois. Slated for the development’s southern edge, the DPI aims to collaborate hand-in-hand with The 78’s future corporate tenants.
Filling office space is key to the project’s timing as well. While the Wells-Wentworth extension and other infrastructure improvements are expected to begin in July, The 78’s developer is “talking to a number of people” in regards to phase two and beyond.
What about Amazon?
With regards to future tenants, it’s no secret that The 78 hopes to land Amazon’s prized HQ2 second headquarters. The undeveloped riverfront parcel was one of ten locations included in Chicago’s official bid for HQ2 and its estimated 50,000 high-paying tech jobs.
“The request for proposal calls for 8 million square feet. Our site has 13 million square feet so you do the math,” said Related Midwest president Curt Bailey when asked about Amazon at Thursday’s meeting. “But it’s an opaque process. I know as much as you know—which is basically what I read in the papers.”
‘The 78’ is not a working title
The project gets its numeric name from the fact that Chicago has 77 recognized neighborhoods and the development is so large that it will increase that number by one. Any thoughts that the term was a temporary placeholder were quickly put to rest when a resident asked the team if they had thought of a name for the project.
“The 78 is what our branding team came up with and it’s already being used by members of the community,” responded Bailey. To drive the point home, attendees of the meeting were offered complimentary baseball caps embroidered with the number 78.
On Tuesday, the Related team will present its long-awaited plan for the former Chicago Spire site at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive. The public meeting will take place at 6:00 p.m. in the ballroom of Streeterville’s Sheraton Grand Hotel.
Related Midwest and architectural master planner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, presented new details of their plans to transform the vacant riverfront parcel between the South Loop and Chinatown, into an historic, mixed-use, 24 hour neighborhood, called The 78. The cutting edge development will bring improved access to the area and a new partnership with Discovery Partners Institute, an innovation & technology center from the University of Illinois.
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