After a curious eleventh-hour deferral, Wolf Point heads back to the forum

12/12/2012 10:00 PM

Ian Fullerton
Contributing Reporter

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The slightly refined plans for Wolf Point now feature a restaurant and a broader riverwalk, but overall plans for the project’s height and scope remain mostly unchanged on the outside. Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

The developers of Wolf Point won’t have a green-lit project by the year’s end, and neighbors around the site are still a bit unsure of what they will be getting.

Wolf Point, located at 350 N. Orleans Street on a four-acre parcel at the northern confluence of the Chicago River, is the proposed site of a trio of skyscrapers imagined by Houston-based Hines Interests and the former president of Merchandise Mart Properties, Chris Kennedy.

After publicly vetting designs for the billon-dollar project — which included over 3.7 million square feet of residential, office and commercial space — earlier this year, the team was hours away from a hearing with the city’s Plan Commission when Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) pulled the proposal on account of some last minute changes made to the application by Hines.

Those amendments included the addition of 1,800 hotel units in two of the buildings and the absence of a “long list of previously negotiated changes and improvements to the proposal,” Reilly said following the Nov. 27 meeting.

In a letter sent to constituents last week, Reilly, who had a week earlier endorsed the plan, announced that he was again pushing back Hines’ day in city hall, this time cancelling their Dec. 20 appointment and thus putting the kibosh on the firm’s hopes of wrapping up the approval process for the project’s first phase by the end of 2012.

“In light of the recent events, I have informed the development team that their preferred timeline is simply no longer feasible,” Reilly wrote.

The alderman said that a newly tweaked design, featuring a quarter of the original hotel units and improvements to the project’s ongoing traffic analysis, would be presented by Hines at a public meeting later in the month.

Hines’ PR rep Bill Griffin said that while changes to the firm’s application had admittedly “caused some confusion,” plans were never as monumental as the numbers suggested.

“They came up with the number of 1,800 — that was never part of the developer’s plan. That would be an enormous hotel for that site,” he said. Griffin said that a build out of that size, while “conceivable,” was not “markedly feasible.”

“It was never part of their plan,” he repeated.

In a later email, Griffin added that the initial phase of the project will only address a 500-unit apartment building and commitments for individual future site plan approvals.

Both the original and newly-pressed site plan for the project envision an additional 900 residential units distributed between two other towers, the tallest of which stand at 950 feet, and 1,285 underground parking spaces.

Neighbors of the site, many of whom had shown up in favor of the pre-hotel plan, would benefit from another look at what’s in store for Wolf Point, said Ellen Barry, president of the Friends of Wolf Point.

“We certainly think [the deferral] is a very good idea,” said Barry, whose group formed earlier this year to organize around the project.

Friends of Wolf Point’s mains talking points regarding the development have thus far focused on auto congestion and a desire to see the site’s historic context — the riverfront land was home to some of the first established traders in Chicago — recognized in the designs.

But the deferrals raised a host of new concerns, she said.

“The question is, what else were they trying to do if this was their intent?” said Barry.

In his emailed statement, Reilly offered that Hines’ should continue presenting the Wolf Point plan and the traffic study that accompanies it in terms of “the most intense combination of uses that could be built.”

“With the understanding,” he added, “that economically, such a scenario is somewhat unrealistic.”

The next community presentation for Wolf Point is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Conference Center at UBS Tower, 1 North Wacker Drive.

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