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CTA Roller Coaster? Plans To Spruce Up Wabash Call for More Art, Fun

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | September 12, 2014 12:54pm | Updated on September 14, 2014 6:50pm
 A CTA roller coaster on Wabash was one of the ideas floated Friday by the Loop Alliance at a planning meeting aimed at sprucing up the dark and loud stretch of the street in the heart of Downtown. While officials said that idea was unlikely to happen, other ideas included more artwork, lighting and sculptures.
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THE LOOP — A CTA roller coaster on Wabash?

That was one of the ideas floated Friday by the Loop Alliance at a planning meeting aimed at sprucing up the dark and loud stretch of the street in the heart of Downtown.

While officials admitted the roller coaster was unlikely, other plans to bring more tourists, shoppers and tenants to Wabash included a kinetic lightscape integrated into the Washington-Wabash "L" stop redesign, pop-up shipping container shops in a surface parking lot at Van Buren Street and pedestrian "bump out" intersections similar to the all-way crosswalk at Jackson Boulevard and State Street.

Some even called for cheaper rents on the stretch.

Much of the plan discussed at the third and final "Transforming Wabash" planning meeting hosted by the Loop Alliance revolved around rebranding the stretch from Wacker Drive to Congress Parkway into segments. That includes: a hotel and nightlife district from Wacker Drive to Lake Street; a "market district" of retail and jewelry shops extending to Monroe Street; and an education corridor where Columbia College, Roosevelt University and other institutions are concentrated, between Jackson Boulevard and Congress Parkway.

The plans include using kinetic lighting and different types of art and sculptures, including some hanging from the tracks.

A stretch of Adams Street between Wabash and Michigan Avenue would also be transformed into an "art street" with installations, pop-up performances and high-concept infrastructure, capitalizing on its "terminal view of the Art Institute" and driving foot traffic from the "L" station to the museum, Executive Director Michael Edwards said.

Rents could drop for units on upper levels of buildings along Wabash Avenue if property owners commit to defining a "maker space," one idea at the meeting.

Edwards suggested renting smaller units or lowering prices for "L" track-level spaces to artists, fashion designers and small businesses producing goods locally.

The vibe they'd aim for is "less Amazon, more Etsy," Edwards said. "We need accessible rents ... [for] designers developing new line ... or chefs testing a concept pre-Randolph street."

A lightscape "similar to the one you see at O'Hare" was another idea to connect the new Washington-Wabash station to the street.

While Edwards suggested adding roller-coaster type hills to the CTA tracks going down Wabash to make the ride more exciting, Alliance Chairman Martin Stern dismissed the idea as not feasible. But he said that's "exactly the kind of creative thinking" the meetings were intended to generate.

But some alliance members strongly opposed the idea of removing some of the 85 planters on the affected stretch of Wabash Avenue to replace them with bike racks, performance platforms or seating areas.

"On that dark street we need as much plant life and greenspace as we can get," said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy.

The Loop Alliance has not yet secured the funding for the plan to transform the less-traversed one-way street that is covered by "L" tracks into a destination.

At the meeting, Stern, Edwards and several alliance members made another appeal for Wabash Avenue business owners to reconsider expanding the State Street Special Service Area operated by the Loop Alliance to include Wabash Avenue.

"An SSA makes sense," Stern said, but "we know we have to prove that to you."

That plan was scrapped in June after some business and property owners balked at the $163.95 per linear foot tax they would be required to pay for street cleaning and other services if the Loop Alliance included Wabash Avenue in its service area.

Officials said they will pursue private funding, grants and public and private partnerships to pay for the plan. No funds from a special service area on State Street would be used for the Wabash project.

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