Another point

Developers will work with Metra to make riverside office project a reality

06/13/2012 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Ivanhoe Cambridge/Hines
A rendering of the new park at the base of River Point

With financing and designs finally in place, developers of the office high-rise project on Lake Street at the west bank of the Chicago River are getting ready to break ground on what’s being touted as the largest real estate project of its kind in the past five years.

Designed by Pickard Chilton and lead by the Houston-based real estate firm Hines, the 45-story office tower at 444 W. Lake St., known as River Point, will contain 900,000 square feet of leasable space, including ground floor retail units that could potentially rent out to restaurants, shops and cafés.

“We will activate Canal Street,” said Greg Van Schaack, senior managing director for Hines’ Chicago office, referring to the throughway that borders the western side of the West Loop property.

The city is kicking in $29.5 million in public tax money to see the project through, rounding out a financing piece that includes a $300 million stake from Canadian real estate giant Ivanhoe Cambridge. Hines has yet to nail down a tenant list for the development — a factor that had stunted progress on the development before Ivanhoe came into the picture. The project is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs and 3,400 permanent positions.

Plans for a sister hotel building and 30 condo units, included in a proposal approved by the city in 2008, have since been scrapped. The developers have also scaled back from an original 52-story design, and the development’s parking configuration has been reworked from 250 underground spaces to 175 above-grade parking spots.

The office tower will be for occupancy in 2016. But construction staging for the project will be no walk in the park.

The first phase of the project, expected to start sometime early next year, will include the build out of a 1.5-acre public green space that will connect 450 feet of newly-landscaped walkway to the ever-expanding Chicago Riverwalk.

The park will be built over an existing stretch of Metra tracks that sit between the parcel and the river, meaning that work will unavoidably need to contend with daytime train activity.

At a public meeting on Monday held to discuss construction staging for the project, Shaack told residents that this firm would do everything it could to limit night construction hours for the project.

“Obviously we will be very concerned with that,” he said.

Shaack said that some work could potentially take place from between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., at which times construction crews would dismantle “back up” beepers on construction vehicles and use silent “flagmen” to direct traffic in the interest of not disturbing neighbors. Day and night shifts would not be scheduled back to back, he said.

Neighbors at the meeting — which was organized by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and held at 300 N. La Salle St. — were generally receptive to the construction plans for the project, though some remained wary of welcoming a multi-year project at their doorstep.

“It seems like this is a foregone thing,” said one neighbor who lives at the Left Bank at Kinzie Station apartment complex located just north of the site. “If we don’t get what we need … is it correct that this is just going to happen anyways?”

“You are correct,” answered Ald. Brendan Reilly, reminding that the development had been approved years ago, and only after a public discourse.

“It was a pretty lengthy process,” he said.

Reilly assured the audience that he would be working with Hines and Metra to ensure that the project’s impact on the area would be minimal.

“It’s going to be a three-way discussion, and I’ll be advocating for the folks who want to get some sleep in this neighborhood,” he said.

Shaack said that his firm would be opening the bid for a general contractor for the project this week.

The development of the park is expected to take about 13 months, followed by a nearly two-year construction period for the office tower.

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