Block 37: #2 On Our List of Disappointing Developments

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Credit: Mark Mumford

Block 37 was over budget, behind schedule, and now seemingly stalled.

Many high-profile tenants have backed out leaving the many areas of the mall deserted.  The developer, Joseph Freed & Associates, is desperately fighting the clock and the legal system to salvage their stake in the property. Crains Chicago reported yesterday that Bank of America announced that they are looking to sell the $178 million loan on the property.

How did we get here? Is there hope?
First, a Brief History Lesson:
Located prominently at 108 N State St., Block 37 is one of the original 58 blocks in the layout of the city- hence the name.  

In 1989, Mayor Richard M. Daley cleared the way for this land to be
redeveloped by having landmark status revoked for an existing
structure.  (Yes, in Chicago, anything is possible… Did you know that
airports disappear overnight?!) 

The original plan included a dramatic Helmet Jahn designed skyscraper.  Those were never realized and, instead, the site become the home of ‘Skate on State’

Macys, Lord and Taylor, and the Marriott each had their eyes on the site but were never able to pull the trigger.  The city bought the site for $32.5 million and then in 2004, sold it to the Mills Corporation for $12.3 million.

Mills  had a mixed use plan with residential, retail, office, and hotel components and broke ground in 2005.  Unfortunately, Mills had some financial problems of their own and sold off the retail and transit portion to Freed & Associates and the office and residential portion to Golub & Company.

Reinforcing the belief that the site was cursed, in Spring 2007, a fire broke out.  Fortunately, there was more smoke than flame and construction was able to continue. Freed & Associates was able to lock in a few major tenants, after which, the transit plans were scrapped by the city.

In Spring, Freed failed to continue paying off their loan with Bank of America resulting in a very public squable.  Shortly thereafter, tenants began dropping like flies.  In  September 2009, Loews hotel backed out of the deal despite reports that the site was $1. 

CB Richard Ellis was named the receiver and that same day, the site was opened to the public by a weathered Freed & Associates.

The Best Laid Plans

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Credit: Geoff Dougherty

Freed & Associates had plans for an urban mecca that was going to breathe life into the Loop.  Block 37 was planned to be one part corporate offices, one part hotel, and the shops would feature a gym,  a <much-needed> movie theater, additional shopping, a bustling pedway, and an express train to the airport.

A victim of missed construction deadlines, a sluggish economy, and quite possibly ‘the mummy’s curse’, they never quite had the traction they needed.  Initial tenant agreements roused general public interest but what started with a bang has delivered with a groan whisper
The Super Station That Wasn’t
Comfortable seating with express service to O’Hare airport sounded like a lovely idea.  How were we going to do it?  Throw some money at it and the Olympics were going to take care of the rest.  

The original plan was for a dedicated CTA station with express service to and from the airport.  The train cars themselves were designed to accommodate luggage and provide a bit more comfort than CTA users were accustomed to.  Ticket prices would be adjusted t cover the cost of the added creature comforts but numbers were crunched and the plan moved forward.

The CTA contributed tens of millions to constructing the so-called super station and now has nothing to show for it.  Not surprisingly, Daley isn’t ready to let this one go just yet…

Who Is In?
CBS, Morningstar Global Headquarters,
Anthropologie, Disney, Godiva, L ‘Occitane,  Michelle Tan, Puma, Sephora, Steve Madden, Zara,

Who Is Out?
Apple, Ben Sherman, Club Monaco, David Barton Gym, Loews Hotels, Lululemon, Muvico Theater

The Jury’s Still Out:
Not Yet Opened:  Akira, Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant (TBD)

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You:
Bebe, Coach, JCrew

Now What?
The Tribune is reporting that:
Last month, Daley tried to breathe new life into the station, announcing the formation of a 17-member exploratory committee to study the concept and report back to him at an unspecified time.

The hotel plan is still on hold and the fate of Freed & Associates is TBD.   Residents can agree that features like a movie theater would be an excellent asset to a Loop neighborhood that is typically pretty quiet at night but for now, we can keep our fingers crossed that tenants continue to sign leases and the existing stores stay in business.  While the ground floor shows some promise, let’s not hold our breath…

For a complete list of the block 37 Shops click here

For a comprehensive history of the saga click here

To find out more about the super station, click here

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