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Proposed Post Office Development 'Unrealistic,' Community Members Say

By  Lizzie Schiffman Tufano and Chloe Riley | April 12, 2013 6:43am 

SOUTH LOOP — Few residents were on hand at a community meeting earlier this week where architecture firm Antunovich Associates presented a new plan for a giant development at the Old Main Post Office.

But the scope of the plan should have been enough to draw a crowd: It calls for the construction of three new skyscrapers, including one that would be taller than the nearby Willis Tower, built around the 3-million-square-foot post office. As part of its first phase, the plan calls for the construction of nearly 3,000 rental units, 320 hotel rooms, 525,000 square feet of office space and 800,000 square feet of retail space.

Still, some area residents say they're not worried, because if other area developments are any indication, this one will have many hurdles to clear.

"It's a pretty unrealistic program and so it doesn't seem worth spending a lot of effort to even examine closely. Because there's just no chance that any of it is gonna happen," South Loop resident Dennis McClendon said.

McClendon has a background in city planning, and serves as vice president for planning and development at South Loop Neighbors, a community group that includes residents who live near the proposed development.

He called the 800,000 square feet of "fashion-oriented retail" proposed at Tuesday's meeting "the goofiest part" of the plan, because similar efforts in the South and West Loop area have failed in recent years.

The nearby Roosevelt Collection at 150 W. Roosevelt Road only recently secured leases for its retail space after months of vacancy. Block 37, at 108 N. State St., has also had difficulties keeping its storefronts full.

But if property owner Bill Davies does attempt to follow through with his plan, area residents plan to fight him for a scaled-down version of the development.

Transportation and parking pose issues for the site, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said. The plan presented Tuesday calls for 5,700 parking spaces to accommodate the residents, shoppers and hotel guests.

Even with the close proximity of both Union Station and the "L," Fioretti said he worries the plan would drown the surrounding community with traffic.

"When you have almost 6,000 parking spaces, you're creating a transportation cluster here," he said. "This is not just a neighborhood shopping area, this becomes a destination in and of itself."

Fioretti said Wednesday that possibility of turning the Old Post Office into a Chicago casino also seems like a pipe dream. He said momentum for that plan would die down by the time a proposal actually gets approved.

“So when we talk casino, I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” he said.