By Nathan Worcester
Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) held a community meeting on March 4 at the Harold Washington Library Center (HWLC) about an upcoming request for proposal for the Downtown Loop Site, which consists of 331-355 S. Plymouth Ct. and 12-26 W. Van Buren St. Currently occupied by multiple City-owned parcels and a vacant parking garage, the land is adjacent to Pritzker Park and across Van Buren Street from the library.
“I’m really just excited for this opportunity just to think about the best and highest use of this site while also thinking about our future and sustainability,” said 4th Ward Alderman Sophia King, whose ward includes the site.
Officials will redevelop the land as part of the C40 Reinventing Cities competition, which aims to “stimulate ambitious carbon-neutral developments across the globe” and “implement the best ideas to transform underutilized sites into beacons of sustainability and resilience and act as a showcase for future zero-carbon urban developments.” The C40 Cities Carbon Leadership Group, which started as a group of 40 cities, has grown to more than 90 cities that have affirmed their commitment to meeting goals set by the United Nations’ Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Project leaders planned to finalize site-specific requirements by March 31, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put that deadline in doubt.
“We will be starting the competition with the Expression of Interest,” said DPD assistant commissioner Cynthia Roubik, who described the plan in detail before fielding questions from attendees. “In the second quarter, we would have the Expression of Interest due, and then we’ll select the finalists in the third quarter, and we want the request for proposal. When we select the finalists, that will be three teams—and then their requests for proposals will be due by the end of the year. And so, we’ll have selected a winner—a winning team—by early 2021.”
Roubik highlighted statistics on the area from the Chicago Loop Alliance’s State of the Loop survey in 2018, noting that, among residents, “80.6% have bachelor’s or higher degrees,” she said. “It’s the fastest growing downtown population of any U.S. city. One of the goals is that this redevelopment project will bring more pedestrians to this part of State Street and the South Loop.”
Roubik also noted the Downtown Loop Site is not the first in Chicago entered into the C40 Reinventing Cities competition. In 2018-2019, the competition received an entry for an East Garfield Park site at 5th and Kedzie Avenues. The winning project, Garfield Green, features a net-zero carbon, net-zero energy housing project with an oak arboretum and rooftop garden for urban agriculture as well as start-ups to foster environmental sustainability.
“It was a decision by both the Department of Planning and Development and the alderman of that ward, Alderman Jason Ervin,” said Roubik when asked why officials chose the East Garfield Park site for redevelopment. “There had been a lot of work already done in that area in terms of sustainable features,” she said, adding that the site’s proximity to the Chicago Transit Authority’s Green and Blue Line stops and Marshall Metropolitan High School also helped.
“We are excited to redevelop this underutilized site in the Loop,” said Roubik regarding the Downtown Loop Site. “It’s extremely transit-oriented, and we’re hoping to improve the area.”
Roubik described the history of nearby Pritzker Park, created in 1991 at the same time as HWLC. Named for Cindy Pritzker, a major HWLC benefactor, its City-owned parcels went to the Chicago Park District in 2008 in conjunction with improvements funded by $1.2 million of tax increment financing funds.
“We don’t actually own that,” said Roubik regarding Pritzker Park. “Once a park has been established as a park, they [the Park District] have a commitment to keep it as open space.”
Pritzker Park requirement
“We are looking to sell only the City-owned parcels,” said Roubik. “Respondents will be asked to include future funding to improve Pritzker Park as part of their redevelopment proposals. In addition to carbon neutral design, we want other public benefits also as part of the redevelopment project.
“The respondents will need to include as part of their proposal how much of their offer price they would be willing to put toward improving Pritzker Park and what their thoughts are on that,” said Roubik, noting the “winning team would work with the Park District and the community on the design of those improvements.”
A written question asked how the DPD would ensure that “homeless, low-income, and working-class people have a say in this development.”
“That’s part of the reason why we’re having this community meeting and we distributed flyers all over this area,” Roubik responded. “We welcome feedback from anybody—and it can be anonymous as well.” She emphasized the Chicago Department of Housing would participate on the selection committee. Call (312) 744-4190 to provide feedback.
A questioner asked whether the City would express a preference that the building orient toward Pritzker Park, saying that placing a retailer on the first and second floors would “[put] eyes and activity on Pritzker Park, which it’s kind of lacking now. People walk through Pritzker Park. Nobody really stays.”
“I think it is important to have active use of space in Pritzker Park—eyes on it, as you said,” answered Roubik.
The next questioner recommended putting a dog park in Pritzker Park, saying it would “fairly guarantee activity” in it.
Asked through a written question who would serve on the design competition jury and whether that information would be public, Roubik responded, “We are finalizing that information. We’re looking to have obviously representatives from the Department of Planning and Development, representatives from Housing. We are looking to have some representation from the community as well. We would identify that when we release the competition documents.”
Another written question asked, “Are we going to see documents on what is underground beneath Pritzker Park?”
“We do have some documentation” from Chicago’s Department of Assets, Information, and Services, Roubik said, “and it’s environmental information that we received. So that will be disclosed when we start the competition. We found very little information on that [underground] parking garage. I don’t know why. But, on the other hand, we’re demolishing it, so I don’t think that matters as much.”
For more information about C40’s Downtown Loop Site, visit https://www.c40reinventingcities.org/en/sites/sites-in-competition/downtown-loop-site-1388.html. For information about C40’s East Garfield Park Site and Garfield Green, visit https://www.c40reinventingcities.org/en/sites/winning-projects/east-garfield-park-1281.html. For information about Alderman Sophia King, call (773) 536-8103 or visit https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/about/wards/04.html. For Roubik, call (312) 744-0012.