Related to tackle nation’s largest undeveloped downtown parcel

Awaiting Activity: Related Midwest and co-developer General Mediterranean are proceeding at a measured pace to fill in a 62-acre “hole in the center of Chicago” – and with good reason. Upon completion, the planned multi-billion-dollar city within a city will rank among the most ambitious developments ever undertaken in the city. (Credit: Related Midwest)

It’s fair to characterize a half-mile stretch of wilderness in Chicago’s South Loop as downtown’s final frontier, and local real estate enterprise Related Midwest as particularly well suited to transform it into a thriving city within a city.

Note: We heard from Related Midwest vice president of development Michael Ellch when he spoke at our Summit earlier this month.

As lead developer on the project, Related, the Chicago office of New York City-based The Related Cos., intends to transform the 62-acre parcel — fallow for so long it reverted to prairie — into a full-fledged 24/7 neighborhood extending southward to the city’s Chinatown district. To date, the enterprise, one of the city’s preeminent developers of large-scale multi-family housing, mixed-use facilities and affordable housing, has brought more than $2 billion in projects to market in Chicago.

In this instance, Related is tackling the single largest undeveloped downtown parcel of any U.S. city, company officials say. Projected budget and timeline befit a development of this magnitude. Project costs will amount to at least $5 billion, and potentially a good deal more. All told, the multi-phase, multi-faceted undertaking is expected to require 15 years or longer to execute. Some company officials have estimated a 20-year to 25-year timeline. Once completed, the development will rank among the most ambitious ever undertaken in Chicago.

Small surprise that Related and co-developer General Mediterranean Holding are taking their time laying groundwork for the parcel, with the drawing board still sketchy a year after the two first unveiled plans. “You can get overwhelmed looking at a project like this, how big it is, the financing hurdles we’re going to have to get over,” Related Midwest President Curt Bailey recently told reporters during an on-site discussion. “But when you look at this incredibly empty canvass, it’s really what anyone this business, who dreams about what could be a possibility, could ever want.”

Under construction: Manhattan’s Hudson Yards is expected to be completed in 2024. (Credit: Walker Thisted, BuiltWorlds)

Related’s New York City office is negotiating a challenge of even greater scope with the $20-billion Hudson Yards, a 28-acre, 18 million-sq.-ft. project currently under construction over Manhattan’s West Side Rail Yard slated to include 12.7 million square feet of office, residential and retail space. All told, plans call for 16 high rises, the first of which was completed in May 2016. The multi-phase, multi-year Hudson Yards is expected to draw 65,000 visitors per day upon completion in 2024. (For more on Hudson Yards, stay tuned for an article on BuiltWorlds on June 7.)

Several alternative schemes prepared by architect-engineer Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) suggest a similar mix for the South Loop project, with potential uses including more than 10 million square feet residential, offices and retail space. Hotels and event venues also figure into the mix, as do art and cultural uses, perhaps in the form of a museum. Additionally, about one-third of the site would be reserved for green space.

Related Midwest President Curt Bailey

Related recognizes once components fall into place, they must amount to an integrated and synergistic whole that creates both a community and destination. “We don’t just want to build a bunch of residential buildings because then you’re not compelled to go there,” Bailey indicated to reporters. “We really want to create a place where there’s tremendous activity 24 hours per day. To have energy, you need to have employment. We want to create a place with office campuses, places where you can work and live and be entertained.”

Although the scheme calls for high-rises ascending to heights of 50 stories, the structures likely would preside over or near perimeter locations such Roosevelt Road, an east-west thoroughfare bordering the site to the north. Other high rises would line a north-south suburban-bound regional commuter rail line near the site’s the eastern perimeter. With the parcel’s the west edge abutting the south branch of the Chicago River, planners have considered construction of a 100-ft.-wide, half-mile long riverwalk populated with smaller-scale commercial uses, including shops and dining.

Related also is investigating adding infrastructure to the site, including stations for the commuter rail line, operated by the Regional Transit Authority (RTA), and for an existing subway line operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Both would enhance the project’s prospects of drawing businesses farther south of traditional downtown boundaries.

In addition to engaging in negotiations with RTA and CTA, Related anticipates subjecting plans to scrutiny by zoning authorities, community groups and the like, according to Bailey. Should all proceed smoothly, the project could break ground by 2019.

Site Constraints: Among other conditions, project developers and other team members will be negotiating rail lineslocated on site. A subway runs beneath it. (Credit: Chicago Tribune)

In September, Related hired Michael Pfeffer, formerly with SOM, to oversee the project in his role as vice president of architecture. Among other distinctions, Related is one of a handful of developers staffed with a team of architects charged with ensuring that designs undertaken by architectural firms meet the enterprise’s expectations.

Among other conditions, Pfeffer and his associates will negotiate three active rail lines on site, in addition to the subway.

“When you look at this incredibly empty canvas, it’s really what anyone in this business, who dreams about what could be a possibility, could ever want.

— Curt Bailey, president, Related Midwest

At present, the site is void of access points. However, extension of a major north-south thoroughfare will bisect the parcel after breaking ground next year, opening it to preliminary uses intended to ignite public interest, including potential venues such as pop-up food and retail. One proposal seeks to emulate London’s Pop Brixton Shipping Container Village As the Village’s name suggests, shipping containers form the foundation for a plethora of uses, including 10 street food stalls; four restaurants, four bars and seven retailers, in addition to an art gallery and green house, among other enterprises.

“We want to do [the development] right, so we’re taking out time on it, Bailey told reporters. “We’re working on creating fun things to do on the site in the interim. Getting people to the site, getting people to understand the site and creating action is part of our overall plan.”