South Loop development must not displace students

By Editorial Board

The Museum Campus, Grant Park and Soldier Field have long attracted tourists. However, some developers would like to see the visitors extend their stays as temporary or permanent residents. In recent months, several large hotels and high-rise apartment buildings have been proposed for development in the city’s South Loop. Many of the projects have the potential to alter Chicago’s skyline, with proposals ranging from two nearly 50-story condominium buildings to an 86-story skyscraper that would be the sixth-tallest building in Chicago, according to an Oct. 2 Chicago Tribune article.

The projects are in the planning stages and have yet to obtain city approval, as reported by The Chronicle on Page 34. If greenlighted, the buildings would add a combined 2,500–5,000 units, which could attract thousands of residents to the South Loop.

Meanwhile, annual events at Grant Park and Soldier Field can draw thousands of visitors to the South Loop. Each time there is a festival or concert in the neighborhood, its streets are impossible to navigate while the Roosevelt and Harrison Red Line stops become equally cramped. The city must be able to accommodate the large influx of residents and park visitors to avoid a permanent panic similar to that following a crowded One Direction concert.

More traffic and increased population density would easily affect the ease of navigation around campus for Columbia students, as most of the projects are within a block of many Columbia buildings and dormitories. However, one project in particular could impact students the most.

Oxford Capitol Development, which acquired the Essex Inn at 800 S. Michigan Ave. in late 2014, has unveiled a plan with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture to renovate the hotel. A parking garage would be revamped into a 54-story, 454-unit apartment building that would be built beside the renovated Essex Inn and two doors down from the old Johnson Publishing Building, which was purchased by the college in 2010 and could be used by the college in the future.

The Essex project could also block the lake and city views for Columbia students housed in The Flats, 829 S. Wabash Ave. Towering skyscrapers could also affect sunlight in the neighborhood. These are typical complaints echoed by residents in any neighborhood experiencing development, but it will still affect students and the campus community, as will the sudden influx of new residents and tourists. Development and expansion are inevitable, but the city should be willing to accommodate and work with local councils and organizations to reduce congestion and traffic in the area.