Buildings on the rise

By Gregory Cappis

Parking lots in Chicago’s 2nd Ward could be transformed into 20-plus-story buildings in the next few years.

Plans for two new buildings were presented on Nov. 9 to South Loop residents during a community meeting at Frances Xavier Warde School, 120 S. DesPlaines St. One of the proposed buildings is a 22-story office structure at 625 W. Adams St., and a hotel will be built at 320 S. Clinton St., if plans are upheld. Both sites are currently surface-level parking lots.

Residents raised many concerns regarding the logistics of the proposals, especially the effect the office building will have

on traffic.

“My biggest concerns are noise pollution, light pollution and traffic,” said Susan Fauer, who lives across the street from the proposed site of the office building.

Local residents were worried that the exit and entrance from the parking garage inside the proposed office space onto Desplaines Street, a one-way street, could cause many accidents and add to the already congested rush-hour traffic in the surrounding area. The lawyers and other representatives of the buildings had direct answers for all of the attendees’ objections.

Luay Aboona, transportation and parking engineer and consultant with KLOA Inc., addressed the traffic concern. He said the developers would work with the Chicago Department of Transportation to find solutions to the locals’ worries.

Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd Ward) also joined in on the criticism of the office building. He said he wasn’t convinced on the merits of a new office building, but mentioned that certain things—such as a view and noise pollution—are out of their hands. Fioretti and his constituents may be forced to learn to deal with the new arrangements.

“You don’t have a constitutional right to a view,” Fioretti said. “All the other concerns are legitimate.”

The developers for the office building made adjustments to the property’s blueprints to appease some of the residents’ worries. They changed the entire west-facing façade to make it fit in better with the neighborhoods’ landscape, according to Martin Wolf of the architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz.

The hotel proposal was much better received. It would be a branch of the Toyoko Inn, a Japanese hotel chain with 242 hotels worldwide. The company has proposals to build in Chicago, Atlanta and Long Island, N.Y., which is part of a plan to eventually have 150 locations in America, according to Joseph Gattuso, an attorney representing Toyoko. Fioretti had nothing but good things to say about the Japanese chain.

“I want to commend the leadership for listening [to] all the concerns we’ve had,” Fioretti said.

The 23-story, 615-room hotel would be similar to a Holiday Inn Express. It aims to “provide all the amenities of home without a bar,” according to architect Michael Siegel of VOA Associates, the firm designing the hotel. The rooms, which would cost approximately $100 per night, would be small, clean and tailored to people traveling on business, he said. There would be no tavern, restaurant or banquet hall inside the building, forcing people staying at the hotel to get out and support the local economy, according to Gattuso. The hotel will have a pool and fitness center.

Peter Gray, who lives in the 2nd Ward, said he stays in Toyoko Inns 10 to 12 times per year while traveling to Japan and Korea. He raved about the “absolutely fantastic” hotel chain.

“This is a really first-rate neighbor, and I welcome them,” Gray said.

Residents favored the hotel more because of its plan to eliminate traffic congestion. Parking would be located inside the building for hotel guests only—as opposed to the office building, which would allow public parking.

Building the hotel would create 200 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs, according to Gattuso. The city would gain approximately $1.57 million in taxes per year if the lot were to transform from a parking lot to a hotel, he added.

The jury is still out on when, if ever, these buildings will begin construction. Both will take approximately two years to complete after breaking ground.