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Neighbors Hope Big Proposed South Loop Development Keeps its Open Space

SOUTH LOOP — Neighbors hope the developer who wants to build nearly 2,700 housing units on a long-vacant site four blocks south of Willis Tower comes with a plan that keeps its open space. 

The developer, a joint venture of Chicago-based CMK Cos. and Australian builder Lend Lease, filed a zoning application with city officials last week for the seven-acre field stretching along the Chicago River from Harrison to Polk streets. Plans for the property, known as Franklin Point, call for the massive project to be built in five phases including a 47-story, 626-unit tower and public riverwalk. 

It's the latest proposal for a property, once occupied by the Grand Central Station rail terminal, that has churned through prospective developers for decades without anything ever getting built. Now, neighbors and passersby are so accustomed to the open space that many of them worry the CMK proposal will be too dense.

One of those people is Matt Taylor of West Town, who calls the site the "best," albeit de facto, dog park in the city. 

"We're at a shortage of green space here," he said. 

Matt Taylor's 14-year-old border collie chow mix, Suki, taking in a Friday afternoon at the development site. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

Others, including the head of a nearby community group, share Taylor's sentiment. The rail terminal was demolished in 1971. 

"There was no development out there for so long, the people who are the most green would like to see it go back to its natural prairie," said Susan Ohde, president of the South Loop Neighbors. "Others of us realize it's unrealistic that would be the case. We want to make sure we can participate in whatever [the developers] do so there's no surprises." 

"It's huge and something we're very much concerned about," Ohde added. 

If approved, the project would include five residential towers encompassing 2,699 units. A 47-story tower at the north end of the site would be the project's tallest, and plans also call for a riverwalk open to the public. CMK President Scott Hoskins declined to comment.

The developer already owns a portion of the development site, and is under contract to buy the rest from a venture including two former business partners of rapper Jay-Z. The owner paid $32.5 million for the property in 2008, buying it from a railroad company during the depths of the recession after prior development proposals fell through. 

The City Council must approve the plan before construction can begin. A spokesman for Ald. Danny Solis (25th), whose ward includes the development site, did not have an immediate comment. If built, the project would contribute more than $8.7 million to the city's affordable housing fund in lieu of including affordable housing units. 

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