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Ald. Reilly: Wolf Point Development Timeline is 'No Longer Feasible'

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | December 7, 2012 11:58am | Updated on December 7, 2012 4:43pm

FULTON RIVER DISTRICT — Someone forgot to tell the Kennedy clan that big-ticket downtown developments tend to move at a less-than-brisk pace.

Maybe that's the reason the famous family, owners of the property at Wolf Point, and their partners Hines Interests LP, keep slipping last-minute changes into their proposal as Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) works to inch their plan forward.

At the Tuesday River North Residents Association meeting, Reilly cited "issues introduced in the 11th hour that forced me to put the brakes on that project" at Wolf Point, which was deferred from a late November Chicago Plan Commission hearing to one on Dec. 20.

That time, the development team submitted plans less than 24 hours before the hearing that appeared to map out a hulking tower with 1,800 hotel rooms — way more than Reilly and residents had agreed to, and a major divergence from the "mixed-use" space they were expecting.

 Wolf Point in the Fulton River District is at the center of a battle between area residents and developers.
Wolf Point in the Fulton River District is at the center of a battle between area residents and developers.
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Flickr: vxla

On Thursday, Reilly announced that the proposal would be bumped again from the December commission agenda, blaming last-minute releases and revisions to key information from the Kennedys and Hines.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Reilly said he had "informed the development team that their preferred timeline" securing all necessary city approvals by the end of 2012 — "is simply no longer feasible."

Reilly is asking for a thorough vetting of the new plans for the site, and for a "much-needed" sixth revision to the study on traffic impact from consulting firm KLOA.

On Dec. 20, when a greenlit proposal was expected to be presented at City Hall, Reilly will instead co-host a third public meeting on the Wolf Point project with the River North and Fulton River District associations to allow for more community input.

In a statement, the development firm said that the 1,800-room figure that scared community members was misleading.

Hines representatives say Wolf Point's Plan Development guidelines have always called for a combination of office, retail, hotel and apartment space, and the 1,800 hotel rooms and 900 apartments in the model they issued were essentially place-holders "to allow for future changes in market conditions."

The developer "never intended for 1,800 hotel rooms to be built at Wolf Point and has committed to a significantly lower number of rooms," according to the statement.

The Kennedy family, which has owned the prime riverfront real estate since the 1940s, began talks to develop the 4-acre space known as Wolf Point in January. Since then, they've faced a headache-filled back-and-forth with area residents worried that development could double traffic and block the uninterrupted views they paid top dollar for in the pricey Fulton River District.

Community groups including Friends of Wolf Point have been fighting for a scaled down version of the original development proposal, and for more research into its impact on the neighborhood before construction begins.

"There should be a review of infrastructure, roads, sidewalks and bridges, because they are all becoming challenging for the number of pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles that are coming by us every day," Ellen Barry, president of Friends of Wolf Point, said. "It's a quality of life issue. We know that Wolf Point is the last open space along the river of downtown Chicago. It has a significant role to play [here], and we just want to make sure what goes up there is correct, is right."

In addition to concerns about increasing congestion by adding hundreds of hotel rooms and residences, Friends of Wolf Point is particularly concerned with the possibility of building an overhang that would "encroach on the river," Barry said.

Reilly already has made progress in negotiations that are in line with the most outspoken community preferences, which include reducing the number of allowable rooms to 450 and requiring the developer to commit to building a limited-service (rather than full-service) hotel, without conference or ballroom space and with more limited parking availability.

Jack George, Hines' attorney, said in a prepared statement that the firm would "refine our application to clarify all of the details of this ambitious and exciting project” and vowed to "continue to work closely with the city, Alderman Reilly, and our neighbors to provide complete disclosure of the Wolf Point development.”