Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
What happens to a magisterial tower project deferred?
For a brief moment in 2014, there was hope.
The Santiago Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire was supposed to be the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, set to loom above the Windy City’s skyline at 2,000 feet. The project’s 1,193 condominiums would go for between $750,000 and $40,000,000. But the Spire announcement came in 2007; the recession followed in 2008. By then, construction workers had already carved a hole 110 feet wide and 76 feet deep. With the developer, Shelbourne, deep in a foreclosure suit, everyone left the Chicago Spire site to its weeds and its dirt.
The year 2014 saw some brief optimism, as Shelbourne announced it had reached a deal with creditors, including the company Related Midwest. But by October, the developer had been forced to turn over the deed for the property. Related Midwest said the Chicago Spire was dead.
So what to do with a large hole in the ground, right along Chicago’s Navy Pier? This month, there’s some movement—though don’t get your hopes up. Reports the Chicago Tribune:
Workers last week started moving dirt to form a landscaped berm that will block the view of the 110-foot diameter hole from a row of 10 Streeterville row homes on the 400 block of East North Water Street.
Eager to dampen excitement that the arrival of work crews might signal a more permanent use of the prime location between the Chicago River and the Ogden Slip harbor, Related Midwest Vice President Nick Anderson recently wrote to neighbors, explaining that workers are simply building a berm and planting trees as "a natural visual screen at their front doors opening to our parcel."
Good news: some neighbors won’t have a direct view of the hole. Bad news: the berm “won't be tall enough to block the view of the hole from nearby high-rise buildings.”
The Chicago Spire is not the only mega-project done in by the recession. Dubai’s Nakheel Tower was supposed to be 2,460 feet, and died in December 2009. Moscow’s 2,126-foot Russia Tower got nixed that June. Buck up, Chicago: you’re not the only one with an enduring and ugly monument to the financial collapse of 2008.