Old Chicago Post Office back on the market: what to do, what to do?

Any readers checking the latest news from Curbed Chicago will know by now that the Old Chicago Post Office is back on the market. Previous owner, British developer Bill Davies, put the massive building back on sale after not trying very hard struggling to develop the site. Regardless of what happens now, whoever buys the property will have to spend an additional hundred of millions if not billions of dollars on redevelopment. And, the real question stands, what will go there?

Old Chicago Post Office

There is laundry list of desired projects for this site. Some Chicagoans have looked forward to Walgreens moving its headquarters from suburban Deerfield here. Other proposals include artists spaces and a tech hub, while others stick to the classic list of condos, hotel, retail; and, of course, the Chicago casino has been included amongst these ideas.

The ultimate result is going to be big. We can only hope that the developers have the foresight to put something on this site that not only enhances life in the neighborhood, but also the city as a whole. This is a private property and the city can’t impose too much on what happens once somebody buys. That said, it is one hell of a private property and it would be delusional of both the city and developers to think both parties shouldn’t have a stake in this.

This is what the first phase of initial plans for the Old Post Office in Chicago proposed by British developer Bill Davies initially looked like in the summer of 2013.

This is what the first phase of initial plans for the Old Post Office in Chicago proposed by British developer Bill Davies initially looked like in the summer of 2013.

The city and public need to take a stance on this project and make it clear to the developers that this has to have elements that improve public well-being and access in the surrounding area. This project has the potentially to radically change the way the area of the West Loop around Union Station functions and should be part of that change.

If Chicago ever needed a proper department of urban planning it is moments like these.

Transportation and green space cannot be left out of any project that goes here and much like the agreement made by the developers of the Chicago Spire to build DuSable Park and the Lincoln Park Apple Store to rebuild the head house of the North/Clybourn Red Line stop, the development of green space and better transit infrastructure in the area should be pegged to this project.

The site includes prime river front property, which by no means should be cut off from public use and would be ideal for providing a small green oasis along the water in an area that is increasingly dense with little new green space. It’s fair to assume at least one if not two high-rise buildings may at some point be included in new plans for this site, including along the river, but as plans released last summer and report on by DNAInfo Chicago reveal, the smaller plot of land along the river north of the Eisenhower Expressway would accommodate the smallest of the potential skyscrapers (a mere 40 story tall building). Any project should keep riverfront construction to the smaller plot to preserve the larger plot south of the Eisenhower Expressway along Harrison Street for parkland.

Additionally, any new construction must take advantage of the city’s Transit Oriented Development ordinance. Considering the site is adjacent to Union Station, the proposed CTA bus terminal, intercity bus termini, the Forest Park Branch of the Blue Line, and a mere four blocks from the LaSalle stop on the Loop and Ogelvie Transit Center each there is no excuse for the amount of parking that was included in the original proposal (depending on the date it ranged from 4,000-5,500 plus spots). Part of the initial proposals included building parking into the Old Post Office building and a new garage on the west side of the building on the plot at the intersection of Harrison and Canal streets. That can be scratched and built into whatever new office, hotel, or residential tower desired. This would work into increasing the amount of available office space to do something that is long overdue: demolish the tower above Union Station on the 200 block of South Canal Street.

Olf Post Office Site

 

Removing this 26 story tower from the scene would allow Amtrak, Metra, and the City of Chicago to finally move forward and vastly improve the aesthetic and logistical function of the station, because it would remove the cluster of support columns and other impediments from directly above the busiest part of the station while allowing in natural light. It is a rare opportunity, but so much new commercial office space will be developed in the same four-square blocks that offices in this building could easily be moved to new offices at the Old Post Office making for an easy demolition of the Union Station tower.

The development of the Old Post Office really should be pegged to the redevelopment of Union Station and somehow include things like better direct access to the new bus terminal (something I believe should be made bigger and include intercity buses), new auxiliary entrances to the south platforms along Van Buren Street, and perhaps most import and redevelopment of the Clinton Blue Line stop to make the station entrance bigger, more visible, better lit, and build out auxiliary entrances at Canal Street and/or in the Old Post Office site.

This site is a big one, physically and emotionally. One way or another it will change the city and collectively Chicagoans can only hope the developers are smart, socially and environmentally conscientious, and willing to work with the city to invest in the area around the site that benefits their private interests and the public interests of the city as a whole. This is going to be a great urban planning project and challenge. This new update should be fun to follow.

And on one final note, I really hope Antunovich Associates are not included in any new projects; if they are we’re guaranteed nothing more than suburbia in the sky.