DOWNTOWN — A key city panel signed off Thursday on a new 51-story tower coming to Wacker Drive, one that will include a new stretch of riverwalk.
The Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday approved the 800-foot-tall tower proposed for 110 N. Wacker Drive, next to the Civic Opera House.
The tower would include more than 1 million square feet of office space and a 40-foot-tall lobby, but also a new stretch of riverwalk that would be open to the public.
A rendering of the new tower and riverwalk. [Goettsch Partners]
Developing the Chicago River into a destination akin to Lake Michigan has long been a priority of city officials, who have negotiated new riverwalks into new developments coming to Wacker and the Old Main Post Office, among other places.
Last year, businessmen Laurence Geller and Lou Raizin proposed live opera screenings on the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive. The owner of the Merchandise Mart also plans to project art on the side of the riverfront landmark next year.
"Mayor Emanuel and I share a common vision for the enhancement, revitalization of one of Chicago's most underfunded assets, and that’s the Chicago River," Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said.
The tower is a venture between Dallas-based Howard Hughes Corp. and Chicago-based Riverside Investment & Development Co., the latter of which just opened the new cantilevered tower at 150 N. Riverside Plaza.
The tower will contribute $19.5 million into the city's neighborhood opportunity fund, the city's department of planning and development said. That is the biggest contribution to date for the fledgling fund, which diverts proceeds from Downtown developments to less economically vibrant areas.
"This project will add to Chicago’s skyline while continuing to build on our thriving riverfront,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a prepared statement. “It will also benefit every corner of Chicago by making the largest-to-date commitment to the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which is designed to drive economic activity and create amenities in our neighborhoods that need it most.”
If built, the tower would replace the vintage and relatively squat General Growth Building.
Cook County records show a venture led by Howard Hughes in 2014 took control of the General Growth headquarters, a five-story building overshadowed by its taller neighbors on the river. That building was designed by the same firm that designed the Merchandise Mart and Wrigley Building.
But some Chicagoans won't miss it if it's razed.
“As someone who passes this site every day, it’s one spot on the tour that there’s no purpose in talking about, because it’s absolutely ugly," Butler Adams, a local architectural tour guide, said. "If it got torn down, I don’t think it would be missed ... this would give great public access to that side of the riverwalk, and give me something nice to talk about."
The tower still requires approval from the city council, but real estate observers believe the plan commission is a tougher hurdle to jump.