Monday, May 23, 2016

Kamin: New Plan for Old Post Office Provides Optimism

Last week news came down on the sale of the massive and dilapidated post-office.  While this was welcomed information for people who want to see this building used, it was also met with skepticism given that this property has been one of the city's biggest real estate quagmires for decades.

Luckily, Blair Kamin, our authority for any opinions regarding development/architecture, thinks this new sale and plan has the best shot of actually happening (via Chicago Tribune):
After years of cockamamie plans for reviving the moribund hulk of the old Chicago post office, a sound proposal finally has emerged to revive the building. Yet nothing is ever easy at this star-crossed site, which forms a western gateway to downtown.  
As the Tribune's Kim Janssen has reported, the former owner of the old post office, the eccentric British multimillionaire Bill Davies, died five days before the riverfront building was sold to New York-based 601W Cos. Hmm.  
Could Davies' heirs slow or block 601W's planned $500 million redevelopment by contesting the sale in court? Probably not. Davies bought the parcel for $24 million and it sold for $130 million. There appears to be no financial incentive for the heirs to get in the way.  
Absent such a spat, the new post office plan, which calls for transforming the building into office space, could deliver something other than eyesores and pipe dreams. Davies specialized in the latter.
He goes on to provide some additional thoughts on why this new plan is a promising one:
There's good reason to think that 601W is up to the task of converting the old post office to a home for start-ups as well as suburban firms in search of urban digs.  
The firm is already a serious player in Chicago. It owns the Aon Center, the city's third-tallest building. But its chief calling card for the post office is its rehab and reinvention of Manhattan's Starrett-Lehigh Building, a streamlined 1931 industrial structure that is a landmark of modern architecture. The massive, once-derelict building is now home to such A-list tenants as Martha Stewart's media company.  
Further inspiring confidence is 601W's hiring of the Chicago office of Gensler architects, the firm that designed 1871 and the Ward catalog building conversion.  
Grant Uhlir, Gensler's Chicago managing director, lists mileposts on the road to renewal: repairing the post office's limestone and brick exterior; removing asbestos from the interior; and clearing out internal infrastructure, including chutes and ladders, that once moved the mail. He also envisions a restoration of the building's Van Buren lobby, a grandly scaled space whose walls are covered in marble. The bells and whistles include a 3-acre rooftop park.
While the plan might not seem that interesting to the lay observer (consider us in this camp), it does seem practical - which frankly seems necesarry to make this a success.

Better yet, couple this with the other massive development proposals being considered for this stretch of the Sloop (see CMK's Riverline and Related's plans for the 62 acres south of Roosevelt) and it's easy to get excited about what this area might look like in the next 10 to 20 years.

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