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West Loop NIMBYs: No Walkable Development, Thanks

Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

There's a parcel of land in Chicago that is within a half mile of two different L lines, sees two bus routes roll by, has a grocery store across the street, and is within a mile and a half of a ton of jobs and cultural opportunities.  It currently features a big ol' surface parking lot.  Actually, there are probably quite a few parcels like this.  They are a blight on any urban landscape, and represent millions of dollars in missed economic opportunity--for the businesses that could potentially spring up there, as well as any tax income the city would yield if people lived, worked, or shopped there instead of just parking there.

Today, it's worth focusing on one that actually has a very real potential for development: the West Loop block bordered by Madison, Halsted, Green, and Monroe.  Two weeks ago Skokie's Taxman Corporation came forward with an idea I hope we'll see more of, especially as the economy (eventually, hopefully) recovers: they want to build on the current parking lot--and build densely.

Gateway Monroe-Halsted.jpg

The Gateway as seen from Monroe and Halsted. Drawing courtesy Antunovich Associates.

The Gateway, as they're calling it, would feature for two floors of retail space, nearly 700 parking spaces, and then a hotel/apartment tower at Madison & Green reaching 312 feet into the sky.  Besides replacing a surface parking lot, the proposed L-shape also gives The Gateway two more points for livable design: it allows for alley deliveries instead of ruining the sidewalks with curb cuts and loading docks, and it does not disturb the building at the corner, the Mid-City Bank Building, which could be potentially be deemed a landmark in the future.

A block away from the pedestrian desert known as the Kennedy, added commercial development here will draw people out of the Loop and into Greektown.  Additional residents in the area who walk toward the Loop will spur demand for more development in a sprial of positive reinforcement.  As I said, there's also a Dominick's at that corner, meaning it already has the start of an extremely walkable district.  If the West Loop wants to live up to its potential and be a dense, vital district in the heart of the city, it is precisely this kind of growth that it should encourage.

Of course, none of this matters in the least to the local NIMBYs ("Not In My Back Yard".)  All they see is that tall tower and worry about a "canyon" effect.  Never mind that the Gateway would still be 100 feet shorter than the Skybridge one block to the east, and less than a third of the height of the Sears Tower (you can't make me say Willis) which is just 5 blocks away.  If the NIMBYs want me on their side, I see two realistic compromises which they could propose that would not just be a means to gut the entire development: setbacks and parking reductions.

First, the tower part of the development does not have to be built to the edge of the property line.  The first six floors (retail and parking) could be completely built out--they perfectly match the current development in the area--but then setback the tower.  The parcel is deep enough in all directions that Taxman wouldn't have to sacrifice square footage, and even a 10-15 foot setback from both Madison and Green would dramatically lessen the canyon effect.  Assuming the hotel will have the lower levels of the tower, this results in a lot of patio space removed from street noise with views of the Loop--an ideal spot for a nice restaurant/bar.

A second change which I would wholeheartedly endorse: reduce the parking! With the Blue, Pink, and Green lines stopping within a half mile and the center of the loop just under a mile away, do 228 rental units plus 205 hotel rooms really need 678 parking spots?  (For reference, 2 cars per rental and 1 per hotel room still only yields 661.)  By either building up a smaller but taller lot on the part of the parcel where the tower isn't, or simply removing an entire level or two of parking, the tower could come down 20-50 feet.  Construction like this isn't exactly blooming right now, and while citizens have a right to make their views heard, the aesthetic whims of a few nearby residents should not be enough to derail it.



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