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Lake Shore Drive Island? $177M Plan Aims to Embrace Burnham's Vision

 A new plan for the lakeshore in Streeterville was presented to community members Monday.
New Plan for Lakeshore in Streeterville
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STREETERVILLE — An ambitious $177 million proposal to overhaul the lakefront from Olive Park to North Avenue Beach includes creating a new offshore island, straightening the S-curve and burying part of Lake Shore Drive underground.

The plan, presented at a community meeting in Streeterville earlier this week by architecture firm VOA Associates, also calls for expanding beaches at Ohio and Oak streets and adding 60 acres of parkland to the lakefront. 

Unlike most proposals for a project of this magnitude, the lakeshore renovation plan wasn't commissioned by a development team, but by a collective of Streeterville residents seeking to improve their neighborhood, according to Brian Hopkins, who hosted the presentation and plans to run against Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) for the newly drawn 2nd Ward.

Hopkins said the lakeshore redesign "goes back almost 20 years," and said its genesis was "back-of-the-napkin sketches and things like that."

Lizzie Schiffman chats with DNAinfo Radio about an architecture firm's big plans for Lake Shore Drive:

Renovations already planned for the lakefront's adjacent roadway inspired the unofficial residents' group to kick their advocacy into hyperdrive.

"In the next few years, they're gonna be fully redoing Lake Shore Drive, and this is really the opportunity to take the focus ... a little bit off the Drive and reframe it on everything that the area could be," said Michael Loganbill, a landscape architect with VOA at an On the Table presentation and workshop hosted by the Chicago Community Trust. "If we don't do that, it's truly a missed opportunity."

A nearly 745,000-square-foot coastal island would provide additional protection to the lakeshore, Loganbill said, according to the plan VOA drew up pro-bono, due to the firm's connection with the neighborhood.

The project would create 1.2 miles of additional shoreline.

In part, the proposal adds parkland by building out into Lake Michigan and is meant to address Streeterville's green space shortage.

For every 1,000 residents in a neighborhood, the Chicago Park District promises 2 acres of land. By that measure, Streeterville, with a population of 30,000, should have 60 acres of park space — but now there are fewer than 9 acres of city-run parks in the area.

Including improvements to Lake Shore Drive in the overall plan that would straighten the existing S-curve and bring a stretch of the Drive underground at Oak Street Beach, opens the door to federal funding, Loganbill said

Hopkins said that there already is "substantial and sincere interest in funding this from the private sector."  No public funds or approvals have been secured for the project.

Streeterville-based attorney Howard Melton, a facilitator at the event, estimated the overall cost for the project would be about $177 million, but qualified that that's an early, ballpark estimate.

He said if approved, the three-phase plan would renovate Lake Shore Park in the next two to three years, complete the lakeshore buildout around 2016 or 2017, and complete the entire project in four or five years.

This specific proposal, in the works since 2006, according to Melton, is far north enough that it would not be affected by the recently announced Navy Pier Flyover project currently underway.

This week's meeting "was the largest public presentation the plan has had," Hopkins said. "We're really just kind of ramping up the effort right now to get it out in front of people."

Hopkins said the Park District is aware of the plan, jointly sponsored by the Lakefront Improvement Committee, Streeterville Organization of Active Residents and Friends of the Parks, which "has been advocating it for a number of years."

The neighborhood activists also "met with the mayor about a year ago" and discussed their ideas for the lakefront.

"It would be premature to say the mayor endorsed it," Hopkins said, "but he was very interested, and he certainly encouraged us to pursue the idea further."

City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loganbill said the plan to redesign Streeterville's shore will put the neighborhood back in sync with planner Daniel Burnham's initial vision for the Downtown landscape.

"Nobody in Chicago should do any planning without at least looking at the Burnham Plan," he said. "We're not only looking at it — we're trying to embrace it."