Chicago Approves Spire Replacement

John Hill
22. May 2020
Image © Related Midwest

The Chicago Plan Commission voted unanimously in favor of Related Midwest's two-tower residential development for 400 North Lake Shore Drive, the site of Santiago Calatrava's proposed Spire.

First proposed in 2005, Calatrava's Spire would have spiraled up to a 2,000-foot-tall tip, making it the tallest building in the United States. Its location next to both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, not far from Navy Pier, would have given it further prominence. Although the City of Chicago approved the project the following year and construction started not long after, by 2014 the project was dead, having gone through multiple design iterations and developers. Since the Great Recession in 2008 the site has sat empty, save the round hole from which the residential tower would have risen.

Screenshot from Google Maps with Spire foundation clearly visible at center

Related Midwest took over control of the site in 2014, and four years later the developer released plans for two towers designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). On Thursday, the latest, downsized scheme by SOM for Related Midwest — 1,100 apartments in towers 765 and 875 feet tall — were approved by the city's planning commission. Approval for the towers also includes two major landscape components: completing the riverwalk on the north side of the river (note it turning 90 degrees in the aerial, stopping at the former Spire site) and funding the majority of the construction of DuSable Park, which has sat empty and inaccessible on the other side of Lake Shore Drive since the late 1980s, when it was dedicated as the future park.

Yet just as the Great Recession complicated the realization of the Spire, eventually killing it, the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic is making its replacement's bureaucratic milestone this week hardly a cause for celebration. Related Midwest's hopes of starting construction on the $1 billion towers next year will no doubt depend on how well the economy rebounds this summer as Chicago and other cities reopen after months of staying at home.

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