Inside Wolf Point
Loop North News

WOLF POINT

Photo by Petras Barcas

(Above) The Wolf Point construction site, photographed from the east on July 18. The Residences at Riverbend, which sued to try to stop the project, is the white building directly across the river. Photo by Petras Barcas. Click on images to view larger versions.

Inside Wolf Point

On the first of three towers at Wolf Point, ground was broken quietly, possibly to avoid protests from angry neighbors.

23-Jul-14 – With the federal lawsuit against it dismissed, the developers of Wolf Point stealthily assembled on Friday to break ground for their controversial three-tower project on Chicago’s most historic spot.

Photo by Petras Barcas The event was not well publicized. Only select news outlets were invited and even then, they were kept far back from speakers that included Mayor Rahm Emanual and Christopher Kennedy, former president of Merchandise Mart Properties and representative of the family that now owns the 3.85 acres of land where the Chicago River splits into its north and south branches.

Images distributed by Hines Interests L.P. showed the usual handshakes between politicians, ceremonial shovels digging symbolic dirt, and the mayor thanking union construction workers. They offer the only close-ups of the event.

(Left) Breaking ground symbolically include, left to right, Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Michael Stotz, president of AFL-CIO Investment Trust Corporation; Tom Villanova, president of The Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council; Christopher Kennedy; 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly.

Hosting the ceremony was the AFL-CIO, whose trade union members include workers for James McHugh Construction Company, which will start the project on the west side of Wolf Point. Wolf Point West Tower will be a 525-foot, 48-story, 509-unit, $175 million luxury residential tower designed by Chicago’s bKL Architecture LLC.

The AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust has a $34 million stake in the $160 million project, according to a news release that was available after the groundbreaking ceremony.

Advance notice was also an issue when developers sought a zoning reclassification for the project. After being approved by the Chicago Plan Commission on January 24, 2013, it passed the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on February 11 but that meeting had to be repeated because the project had not been posted on any official city agenda.

With proper advance notice, the committee again approved the zoning reclassification on February 26, 2013.

Photo by Petras Barcas Construction actually started last November with site preparation. The west tower should be completed in the fall of 2015.

(Left) Wolf Point construction site from the north.

Developers failed, say neighbors, in being ‘frank and forthcoming’

Eventually, the project will include a 950-foot south tower and a 750-foot east tower that will both contain a mix of office, retail, and residential space. But developers will have to take the project one tower at a time, with new traffic studies and additional trips to the Chicago Plan Commission.

That is because of what many believe was an attempt by Hines to sneak 1,800 hotel rooms into the proposal at the last minute.

At a community meeting on December 21, 2012, co-hosted by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly, representatives of nearby neighborhood associations were not shy about showing their disapproval with Hines.

“Your actions unequivocally undermine our confidence and trust in your communications and your intent,” scolded Mike Riordan, president of River North Residents Association. “Shame on us, we thought we knew what you were building. Shame on you, you failed in being a frank and forthcoming partner with us.”

Reilly said he, too, was surprised by the number of hotel rooms, which is why on December 6, 2012, he had asked the Chicago Plan Commission to remove Wolf Point from its December 20 agenda.

(Right) 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly speaks to a handpicked crowd and handpicked news media assembled for a groundbreaking ceremony at Wolf Point on Friday.

Photo by Petras Barcas

Hines attorney Jack George explained the confusion on a “conversion table” that turns, for example, office space estimates into hotel space.

“There was never any intent to deceive anybody,” George told Loop North News. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years. I’ve got my reputation on the line. Everyone in here knows me, they know that’s not the way I operate.”

And then there was the federal lawsuit

The most vocal critics of the project were unit owners at The Residences at Riverbend Condominium Association, whose dramatic views east down the main branch of the Chicago River will be interrupted by the towers.

They were also concerned that increased traffic as a result of the development would overwhelm their neighborhood.

On May 30, 2013, a group led by four residents sued the City of Chicago to stop development of Wolf Point, claiming they were denied adequate opportunity to present their opposition to the plan.

Photo by Petras Barcas The rapid growth of their neighborhood, they claimed, had already stressed its infrastructure. Traffic backed up during rush hour and first responders could not quickly reach emergencies.

Attorneys for Riverbend said the city “effectively suspended its zoning standards and regulations in order to benefit a politically connected family.”

(Left) Christopher Kennedy points out the area near Wolf Point to Mayor Emanuel.

Richard Kessler and Joseph Jacobi of McDonald Hopkins LLC said the city, in approving the zoning amendment that allows the project, ignored the requirements of its own zoning ordinance, the 2009 master plan for the Downtown Central Area, design standards and guidelines for building structures adjacent to the Chicago River, and a 2012 nature conservation plan.

But on November 19, 2013, saying the amended planned development does not deprive anyone of constitutionally protected property interest, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit. In her analysis, Judge Amy J. St. Eve pointed out that the Riverbend condo owners do not own property on Wolf Point, just adjacent to it.

For some Riverbend residents, the project is already blocking their view. A tower crane stands directly in front of their building and on top of the crane, per Federal Aviation Administration regulations, a large red light blinks all night long.

(Right) Wolf Point construction site from the southeast. The Franklin Street Bridge is at lower frame. 350 West Mart Center is at right. Photo by Steven Dahlman.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

 Previous story: Wolf Point lawsuit dismissed

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

Published 23-Jul-14 5:07 AM

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