SOUTH LOOP — A plan to develop a three-tower mixed-use complex around the landmark former Chicago Main Post Office sailed through City Council Wednesday after a recommendation from the zoning committee, clearing a path for construction that could take more than two decades to complete.
Architect Joseph Antunovich, of Antunovich Associates, told DNAinfo.com Chicago that phase one of the construction, expected to take seven to 10 years, will build out 5 million square feet at a cost of $1.5 billion. The second half of phase one, building another 5 million square feet, likely would cost more.
Wednesday's vote gave Antunovich and property owner Bill Davies "entitlement to build what could be the tallest building in the United States," the architect said. "Whether or not they're able to do it, we'll see, but we're making no small plans."
The long-term proposal is ambitious: It calls for construction of three new skyscrapers, including one that would be taller than the nearby Willis Tower, built around the 2.7-million-square-foot post office, which would be refurbished. 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.
Dennis McClendon, vice president for planning and development at South Loop Neighbors, said that despite the City Council green light, he's no more optimistic about the project than he was in April, predicting that there's "virtually no chance that the whole project will be built" as proposed.
"To suggest that Chicagoans are going to lease apartments whose only window faces a light shaft that has been cut into the old Post Office building, I think that's highly unrealistic," McClendon said.
As for building the country's tallest tower, McClendon said that "so much of the floor plate ... has to be occupied with elevators and stairways [that] the cost at which you can sell or lease the unit has to go up higher than Chicago's market probably supports right now."
Property owner Davies is shopping for investors in the project, Antunovich said, and there is "a lot of interest in the financial lending market ... a lot of excitement for [Davies] and his investors.
"People will be able to take them seriously now that they have their entitlements."
The 12.6-acre block of property that includes the former Chicago Main Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St. has been eyed as the possible site for Chicago's first casino. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said last spring that "when we talk casino, I don’t think that’s gonna happen" at this site.
But Antunovich said that he and development firm International Property Developers aren't ruling out any possible tenants in the space dedicated to "entertainment venues," which includes the protected landmark post office building's atrium.
"That lobby is imitated by hotels, office buildings, and entertainment venues all over the world: They wish they could have a lobby like that," he said. "Because we have such high ceiling heights and because we have such large floor plates, our building would be well-suited for [casino] use."
Fioretti also weighed in with concerns about the plan's impact on congestion in the southwest Loop, zeroing in on the provision that calls for 4,500 parking spaces to accommodate the residents, shoppers and hotel guests. That figure's been downsized since April, when Antunovich first mapped out a need for 5,700 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."
That's exactly what developers say they're hoping for. Antunovich emphasized that the residential units will be "affordable" for their size,
When the development plan was initially laid out at a community meeting in April, McClendon called the plan for 800,000 square feet of "fashion-oriented retail" "the goofiest part" of the proposal, since nearby retail spaces like the Roosevelt Collection at 150 W. Roosevelt Road and Block 37, at 108 N. State St., have had difficulty filling their storefronts.