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Downtown Year in Review: Five Stories That Mattered to Neighbors in 2015

By David Matthews | December 28, 2015 5:49am

DOWNTOWN — Chicagoans living Downtown got a new park, riverwalk and a lot more in 2015. 

This year was a transformative one Downtown, which also hosted Chicago's first NFL draft in more than 50 years, the Grateful Dead's pseudo-final shows, and constant political protests around the holidays. 

Though there are some honorable mentions (a sex club proposed in River North, a petition against the "bucket boys"), here are the five stories that mattered most to those living in the city's core this year:

From left: the proposed 93-story Wanda Vista Tower, an 86-story tower proposed for 1000 S. Michigan Ave., and the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St. [Studio Gang; Jahn; Flickr/Vincent Desjardins]

New Planned Skyscrapers Aim High: Developers unveiled a bevy of new, skyline-altering towers that promise to change how people see Chicago. In one November day, city officials signed off on the 93-story Wanda Vista Tower on East Wacker Drive, a pair of supertall skyscrapers near the southern end of Grant Park, and 3,600 new riverfront homes blocks from Willis Tower. Elsewhere, star architect Helmut Jahn proposes an 86-story tower at 1000 S. Michigan Ave., while Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to sell another Jahn-designed building here, the James R. Thompson Center, to a developer who may tear it down and build something else in the heart of the Loop.

And those are just the highlights. 

The opening of the NFL's "Draft Town" festival this spring in Grant Park. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

Big, New Parties: Chicago hosted its first NFL Draft since 1963. And with an unprecedented free fan festival accompanying in Grant Park, many — including the National Football League — believe this city did it right. Thousands of football fans descended upon this spring's so-called "Draft Town" festival, which, among other things, featured athletic contests that made many men feel ordinary. The NFL announced it will bring the draft back here next year

Chicago also hosted the Grateful Dead's "Fare Thee Well" reunion shows that grossed $30 million, the most of any performance in the world this year. And on Dec. 31 we'll get our own, nationally-televised outdoor New Year's Eve Party. Watch out, smelly New York

A stretch of the city's new Riverwalk this summer. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

Is Downtown Cool Now? Now more than ever, Downtown Chicago is a place where people can actually hang out after work. The state legalized happy hour specials, and new Downtown hotels are bringing cool restaurants like Cerise and Cindy's that are popular with locals as well as tourists. The city also opened the new Riverwalk and brought in vendors like The Hideout, which gave us free live shows with a view. Grant Park even has a skate park now.

Skaters earlier this month in Maggie Daley Park. [DNAinfo/David Matthews]

A New Park: And now it's dog-friendly. Maggie Daley Park, 337 E. Randolph St., opened late last year and has since debuted a popular skating ribbon, children's playground and tennis courts. But pooch-loving neighbors howled all year about the new park's dog ban, which has since been softened to allow a canine-friendly path through. Dogs or no dogs, Maggie Daley Park stands to be a popular Downtown fixture for a long time. 

Activist Lamon Reccord facing off against a Chicago police officer during a Black Friday protest on the Mag Mile [Getty]

Protests Halt Traffic, Holiday Shopping: The city's handling of a video showing a Chicago Police officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times sparked outrage and constant political protests here around the holidays. Targeting Mayor Rahm Emanuel — and the area that supported him most in this year's election — the protesters who have already marched along the Magnificent Mile five times vow to keep hitting the "rich parts" of the city until Emanuel steps down. The protests already shut down Downtown shopping on Black Friday, sending a message activists hope is strong enough to make City Hall listen.  

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