Chicago Plan Commission Gives Ok to a 2,200 Housing Units Project Near Casino Site

City planners just endorsed, October 20th, a developer’s long-term proposal to start a multi-phase building project, which consists of more than 2,200 residential units and a boutique hotel, adding considerable density to a section of West Town near the future casino site.

Chicago, a good city to live in, housing being only one of the reasons why

Chicago is a good city to be living in, and that is obvious for so many reasons. On Tuesday, October 7th, Chicago was named the Best Big City in the United States for an unprecedented sixth year in a row.

More than 240,000 people from around the country voted for our city in the Conde Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards and we are happy to note no other city has won so many times in a row until now. The quality of living quarters and affordability of housing, considering the size and attractions of the Windy City seems to be one of the main points for someone considering to move to Chicago. 

Among the five main reasons why someone would choose Chicago over New York, for instance, the cost of accommodation is the main point of discussion. In NYC, rent has always been extremely expensive. It is the benchmark against which all other cities are weighed. Over the past few years, it has only gotten worse, with prices becoming prohibitive even for those already living there. That’s if you can even find somewhere to live. There is a severe shortage of rental units, with stats showing it is far easier to rent an Airbnb than find somewhere to stay.Chicago is not the cheapest city in the US, but rent will cost you about half of what it would in NYC. 

Jeffrey Shapack said this a multi-phase project

The architectural profile of the Windy city is continuously changing. New York-based developer Vornado Realty Trust announced in February it was planning a new residential tower at 527 W. Kinzie St in Fulton River District, near Merchandise Mart. News of the project was broken January 21st, in Alderman Brendan Reilly’s  (42nd) most recent newsletter to constituents.The unit mix will consist of 35 studios, 35 convertibles, 108 1-beds, 38 2-beds, and 12 3-bedroom configurations. 

The proposal for these new 2,200 housing units envisions four high-rises, the tallest being 620 feet, or roughly 60 stories. Developer Jeffrey Shapack said he would start the multiphase project by converting a Salvation Army building at 509 N. Union Ave. into a hotel with 141 rooms.

The plan covers several properties south of the Ohio Street feeder ramp and between Desplaines, Hubbard and Halsted streets. Milwaukee Avenue and Metra tracks bisect the area.

Shapack said the architecture has yet to be completed and can be revised based on development of the planned Bally’s casino site just east of his properties. Bally’s would take over the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 777 W. Chicago, a site that extends to Grand.

A hotel in the Salvation Army building and a new high-rise

The development is next to a CTA Blue Line stop at Grand and Milwaukee.

Preserving the Salvation Army building respects the neighborhood’s history with manufacturing, Cox and others said. Jacob Wahler, principal with Eckenhoff Saunders Architects, which is working with Shapack, said the building dates from 1891 and was originally a margarine factory. Shapack said the building’s water tower will be kept as a historical feature.

After converting the building to a hotel, Shapack plans a residential tower just east of it at 500 N. Desplaines. Planning documents show the building would be 620 feet tall, a bit shorter than Chicago’s Lake Point Tower. Later phases on parcels south of Grand would get buildings of 487, 326 and 270 feet. 

Records show Shapack is a partner in the venture with Alec Litowitz, founder of Magnetar Capital, and his wife, Jennifer. Shapack has been among the busiest developers in Fulton Market, reporting 2.5 million square feet of projects planned or completed in Fulton Market, including The Hoxton and Soho House hotels.

City officials met the project with enthusiastic praises

City officials said the development will generate about $12 million for the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which taps revenue from downtown-area growth to support improvements for neighborhood commercial streets.

Members of the Chicago Plan Commission, which advises the City Council on large-scale developments, enthusiastically backed zoning changes to allow the project to proceed, with timing dependent on the housing market. The panel approved overall site plans but not specific architectural designs, which are subject to future city reviews. The commission’s approval of Shapack’s plan sends the matter to the council for final consideration.

Members were happy with the site plans, revised after feedback from residents and city officials, now including public plazas and ample space for pedestrians. Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, praised the development team for using “urban acupuncture” to enliven an area with much development nearby, including Fulton Market.

“It’s great to see the [street] grid being respected, the transit grid being taken advantage of,” Cox said.

The construction sites are within the 27th Ward of Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., who praised Shapack for a “holistic approach” to community development. He said he expected criticism of the plans at a meeting of a River West community group, but everyone supported them.

Shapack has agreed that 20% of the housing units will be affordable under a city ordinance. The affordable units would be built within the project and not at another location, an option many developers use.

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