Wolf Point moves forward with new plans
Three towers mostly unchanged, but developers smooth traffic, landscaping at base
10/31/2012 10:00 PM
Wolf Point, one of the last prime undeveloped pieces of land around downtown Chicago, is moving forward with a tweaked set of plans for a trio of towers. But while the plan caters to traffic and landscaping concerns presented at the first meeting five months ago, the buildings themselves are largely unchanged.
At a community meeting held Monday night at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he’d gone back and forth with the project’s developers, the Kennedy family and Hines Interests on details for the project — particularly, their traffic studies, which were the focus of derision at the first meeting in May.
Reilly said he’d asked the project’s traffic engineers, KLOA, to go back to the drawing board four times to survey more intersections and come up with accurate traffic estimates.
After a months-long back-and-forth and prodding from Reilly, the developers agreed that infrastructure changes needed to be made in order to support the project, which plans to eventually have a residential tower and two commercial towers, with a total of 1,285 parking spaces.
Such a large new project would drastically impact neighboring Kinzie Street to the north, residents had argued, and Reilly agreed.
As a result, new plans for the project divert all car traffic from Wolf Point to Orleans Street — with the notable exception of truck traffic serving Wolf Point and the Apparel Center. Since that will divert some existing traffic, too, KLOA principal Luay Aboona said the end result would be a 3 percent decrease in overall traffic on Kinzie.
The developers will also pay for lots of infrastructure upgrades around the project, Reilly said. The protected bike lane will be temporarily relocated from Kinzie to Grand during construction, they’ll install a new traffic signal at Kinzie and Kingsbury Street, and they’ll pay for several left- and right-turn arrows in the area, among other changes.
They also notably tweaked the public space at the base of the towers. There will now be a public restaurant and restrooms on the eastern side of Wolf Point, as well as a water taxi docking station. Plans for the majority of the base, originally planned as a concrete-heavy plaza, now calls for more grass and more trees.
The developers are also planning to widen the riverwalk at the project’s southern point, building it out into the river itself, abutting the project’s property line (which has been eroded by the river over time since the property was purchased by the Kennedy family in the 1940s. They’re also planning a fountain of some kind, commemorating Wolf Point as the city’s point of origin.
The changes, though, didn’t do much to assuage the group of neighbors at Monday’s meeting who argued that, despite the changes, the project was still just too big for the neighborhood.
Friends of Wolf Point, which was formed earlier this year in response to plans for the project, has amassed a considerable amount of cash to fight the project. During the meeting’s public comment section, they brought out an attorney — veteran Reuben Hedlund — to cross-examine the project’s developers on zoning rights, visibly frazzling prominent zoning attorney Jack George in the process. Opponents hired a traffic engineer of their own — frequent city contractor Sam Schwartz Engineering — to tear apart KLOA’s first traffic study, though it was made all but irrelevant by KLOA’s updated study.
After the meeting, Friends of Wolf Point leader Ellen Barry said the group simply thinks the neighborhood has gotten too jam-packed recently, and needs to be scaled down. Wolf Point would only exacerbate that, she said.
“What we’re really concerned about is density,” she said. “It’s about quality of life issues. We’ve watched the neighborhood grow, and in the last five years, it’s become intense.”
Wolf Point’s developers have already submitted plans to the city, and they said they hope to get started on construction on the project’s west tower as soon as it’s approved — they already have financing in place, they said. The next two towers would follow as the market and financing dictates, they said.