If the lake is Chicago’s front yard, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last year, then the river is “our backyard, the spine of the city.” He’s made that a focus of his tenure, starting with the Chicago Riverwalk, the recreational walkway along the stretch of river separating the Loop from River North, which was completed last October. He also launched Building on Burnham, a plan to spur, in part, riverfront improvements such as bike paths, pedestrian bridges, and a boathouse.
Throw in the influx of large companies moving downtown (welcome, McDonald’s), with potential residential buyers and renters in tow, and developers are starting to see the river as a selling point, à la the waterfronts of London and Oslo, rather than a yearly green-dyed gimmick. Some have begun carving out swaths along the banks for major mixed-use projects. “The river has really become ground zero in Chicago,” says Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest, noting the epic new Apple Store going up along the river at 401 North Michigan Avenue.
On the North Side, two massive riverfront plots—one at the former Finkl Steel site and another at the public housing complex Lathrop Homes—are being primed for redevelopment; farther south where the river branches meet, two major towers (the 52-story River Point in the West Loop and a 54-story skyscraper at 150 North Riverside) have recently opened.
Meanwhile, a trio of other big projects downtown are in the works. Here’s the low-down.
1. Wolf Point, River North
What it is:Three towers—the first two of which will have 1,200 residential rental units—on four acres at the confluence of the river’s branches.
Status:The first tower (Hines, Magellan Development Group, and the Kennedy family) opened in January; the second (Hines, Kennedy family) is scheduled to begin leasing in late 2019. The third is still in the planning stage.
What’s in it for us:A 1,000-foot public riverwalk may bring a handy new water taxi stop.
Most recently used as a parking lot, the land has been in the Kennedy family since the 1940s.
2. Riverline, South Loop
What it is:Ten buildings on 13 acres—a mix of high-rise condos and townhouses—with 3,600 residential units and 16,000 square feet of retail space, by CMK Companies and Lendlease.
Status:Phase 1, including two high-rises, broke ground in September and is expected to wrap up next spring.
What’s in it for us:Six acres of green space, including a half-mile public boardwalk along the river.
The site has been empty since Grand Central Station was demolished in 1971.
3. Clark and Roosevelt Site, South Loop
What it is:Sixty-two acres that will ultimately include office, residential, retail, and public park space on a scale large enough to make it its own village.
Status:Related Midwest purchased the site in 2016, but with no concrete development plans yet, realization is still years off.
What’s in it for us:A new road through the site will connect Wells Street and Wentworth Avenue, linking the South Loop and Chinatown.
The former rail yard was once owned by ex-governor Rod Blagojevich’s crony Tony Rezko.