STREETERVILLE — If attempts to resurrect the 150-story Chicago Spire project on Lake Shore Drive are successful, DuSable Park is all but guaranteed a $9 million facelift.
A big-budget overhaul of the currently undeveloped park separated from the Spire site at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive was in the initial plans before the project was abandoned in 2007. At that time, a new park had already been designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the Spire.
Thomas Murphy, general counsel for Shelbourne Development Group, which is currently fighting to revive the project to build the spiral tower in a new partnership with Atlas Apartment Holdings, LLC, said that if the tower is built, the high-concept park will be too.
"The rubric we intend to pursue is the same plan and planning approval that we had back in 2007, 2008," Murphy said. "Under that outline of the plan for the building, we would be using DuSable park as a staging area for constructing the building ... [then] contributing to the development of the park so when the building is complete, the park will be complete."
Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, who works in partnership with Friends of DuSable, welcomed the addition of park designed by the world-famous Calatrava, best-known in the Midwest for the Milwaukee Art Museum. He said early designs featured "natural water edges [in] a unique riverfront and lakefront park."
He noted the 3-acre spot — which sits between the Ogden Slip and the Chicago River and just north of DuSable Harbor Boathouse — is difficult to develop.
"This is a very tricky site with the dingy underbelly of the LSD Bridge dividing the Chicago Spire and DuSable Park and the Lake," he said.
The construction timeline for the whole project, including the park, is four years, Murphy said. The $9 million cost will be paid by the developers, he said.
"The fact that they are still committing the money for DuSable Park is fantastic because DuSable Park is a park that millions of people would see every day," said Gail Spreen, President of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, or SOAR.
"The community is very excited that the Spire is still planning to move forward. We've supported the project in the past, and we continue to support it. We want something very iconic to go in that location, [the Spire] is exactly what we hoped for that great parcel of property on the lakefront."
When the development plan was first advancing in the late 2000s, construction crews went so far as to raze the overgrown park, where construction equipment would be stored per an agreement with the Park District, O'Neill said.
Restoring the park after the building was finished was part of that deal, but the park was left barren when the plan was abandoned.
The park "had been neglected for so long that there were weeds and trees and overgrowth, so they had to go in and clear that to use it as a construction area, moving soil and all those things," O'Neill said. "And then boom, when the market crashed, everything was just left."
Currently, "DuSable Park looks worse than ever because all the trees were cut down and everything was leveled."
Murphy agreed about the current state of the park. He said that's part of why developers are eager to reinvest in the area surrounding the tower.
"Everybody I've talked to in that community remains supportive and excited," Murphy said. "The public benefit that comes from building such a distinguished, urban design is that it works into the grid of the city of Chicago ... and therefore it doesn't impede, but enhances the city's plan."
Murphy said the small footprint of the building relative to its height will leave plenty of room for a park.
"When you have a very slender silhouette of the building that is 10 times as high as it is wide, it's very narrow, and it allows you to have a lot of open space, a lot of park space, and we're thrilled about that. We're thrilled to contribute to the community," he said.
The resurrection of the park redesign is great news for Friends of DuSable, according to founder and president Haroon Rashid.
"We're all on board with the plan of the developer using the space to complete the project, and with the ultimate commitment towards finishing DuSable Park," Rashid said.
"We are 100 percent committed to the completion of that park, whatever it takes." If the Spire plan doesn't move forward, "we'll absolutely pick up where they left off," Rashid said.
The development group, headed by Garrett Kelleher, has until the end of October to pay more than $109 million it owes to Related Midwest for a buyout of the company's bankruptcy-inducing debt last fall, according to the terms ofan agreement struck in a federal court Wednesday.
If Shelbourne can make that payment by Halloween — or takes an available deadline extension and pays a larger sum by March 2015 — Murphy says the DuSable renovation project will go on as planned, joining the underutilized waterfront Park District-owned lan via a bridge to the publicly-accessible plaza surrounding the Spire.