Daley the Builder leaves unfinished business

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Mayor Richard M. Daley is a relentless doer who has remade Chicago's urban landscape, but he is also leaving behind a load of unfinished business.

The unbuilt Chicago Spire, an incomplete Block 37, an empty swath of land where Chicago wanted to construct the athletes' village for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, unbuilt runways at O'Hare and unrealized mixed-income housing — the list of incomplete initiatives sprawls on, reflecting the vast array of projects Daley took on and the inability of even powerful political leaders to enact their wish lists in the midst of recession.

The agenda of the next mayor and the fortunes of the battered economy will determine whether the unfinished projects get done. Yet even after Daley relinquishes office after 21 years in power, his vision and actions — the land he's cleared, the plans he approved, the priorities he's set — are likely to shape the contours of Chicago's urban landscape for years to come.

Here are updates on the big plans that Daley shaped but won't see through to fruition, at least not as mayor.

MAJOR PROJECTS

The Chicago Spire: Along with Chicago's Olympic bid, architect Santiago Calatrava's design for the twisting, 2,000-foot luxury condo tower symbolized Daley's drive to enhance Chicago's presence on the global stage. But construction on the tower, at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive, ground to a halt as the recession tightened its grip in 2008.

Recently, according to a source close to the project, developer Garrett Kelleher held discussions with Calatrava about a two-building project that would stand a better chance of success in the battered real estate market because it would be built in phases.

The project might include a hotel as well as condos, the source said. For economic reasons alone, the towers almost surely will be well short of 2,000 feet.

A Kelleher spokeswoman did not return calls.

"My understanding is that Kelleher is still out there working on financing," the source said.

The former Michael Reese Hospital: Signaling that he intends to influence development until he leaves office, Daley let it be known Wednesday that the city is considering a technology park for the cleared site around 29th Street and Ellis Avenue.

Leaders of Chicago's Olympic bid had dangled visions of a new residential community at the 37-acre site, whether or not the Olympics came. Now, citing changing market conditions (a euphemism for the weak housing market), city officials say they are open to a number of options, including a technology park.

Block 37: The unfinished Loop shopping mall, which took 20 years to develop and swallowed millions of dollars in public funds, stands as one of the biggest disappointments of Daley's reign.

Much of the mall's retail space remains empty and there is no Chicago Transit Authority "super station" that will whisk passengers to O'Hare and Midway airports. With the project reportedly $100 million over budget, the agency mothballed the station in 2008, saying it would need a private partner to complete the job.

Last month, Daley tried to breathe new life into the station, announcing the formation of a 17-member exploratory committee to study the concept and report back to him at an unspecified time.

THE LAKEFRONT

The former Meigs Field: Aviation blogs and Twitter were buzzing with speculation last week about whether Daley's departure will create an opportunity to rebuild the lakefront airport that the mayor shut down in 2003. The Daley-controlled Chicago Park District has some advice for them: Forget it.

"We're looking at the future, and the future is 90 acres of parkland on the lakefront," said Gia Biagi, the Park District's director of planning and development.

By year's end, the Park District expects to make public a long-range plan to convert the former airport, now called Northerly Island, into a park.

Chicago Children's Museum: Since the museum's controversial plan to move to Grant Park was pushed through the City Council by Daley in 2008 — overriding objections that the project would disrupt Grant Park's legally protected tradition of open space — little has changed.

The museum, still housed at Navy Pier, has not broken ground in Grant Park. Meanwhile, rumors have swirled that it no longer can afford the mostly underground structure.

"We are still very committed to this very complex project, and work continues," responds a museum spokeswoman. While no groundbreaking is expected in the next 12 months, "we fully expect to begin construction in accordance with what is permitted by our zoning approval," the spokeswoman said.

The museum has until June 11, 2014, to begin "substantial construction" of the new facility. Otherwise, the council's approval of zoning changes for the project is set to expire.

McCormick Place East Building: Daley once suggested tearing down this muscular work of modernism, maintaining that it was too costly to maintain and calling it a "Berlin Wall" that rudely interrupted the lakefront's open sweep.

The building's lower-level halls are underutilized because of frequent column spacing, and debate is swirling around its future even though the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs McCormick Place, has no plans to demolish the East Building "at this time," according to a spokeswoman.

On one side are those who want to preserve the building, arguing that it is an outstanding example of mid-20th-century modern design. They are planning a design contest next year to generate ideas for the East Building's future.

On the other side are open-space advocates who maintain it never should have been built on the lakefront after a 1967 fire destroyed the original McCormick Place.

"Our position has always been, when the opportunity arises, to demolish it and open up that land to parkland," said Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks.

TRANSPORTATION

O'Hare expansion: Back in June 2001, jets were mired in gridlock at O'Hare International Airport, and officials representing the major airlines said they would be thrilled if the city of Chicago built two new runways to boost flight capacity. Days later, upon returning from a trip to Europe, Daley far exceeded their expectations by announcing a bold airfield redesign with six parallel runways as the centerpiece.

Today, nine years later, only one new runway and an extension of an existing runway have been completed, along with an additional air-traffic control tower.

Despite a tireless effort that included garnering a record amount of federal funding awarded to an airport overhaul, Daley and his aviation team have failed to persuade the management at United and American airlines to make a financial commitment to the entire project, parts of which the carriers consider excessive and unaffordable.

With or without Daley, the airport expansion is in trouble.

The City Council last week approved what amounts to emergency funding — a $1 billion bond sale — to keep the O'Hare expansion from running out of money and stopping. United and American are talking with their lawyers about taking the city to court to prevent Chicago from using airline-generated revenue to back the bonds.

Daley has set a 2014 deadline for completion of the project, but his aviation commissioner, Rosemarie Andolino, is saying she may need more time.

Privatizing Midway Airport: It is conceivable but not probable that a deal still could be reached to privatize Midway Airport before Daley's term ends.

The mayor, eager to create an instant revenue jackpot similar to the outsourcing of city parking meters, won a spot for Midway in a federal pilot project to test how well privatizing airports would work. The city, which has received four extensions from the Federal Aviation Administration to line up Midway investors, is expected to continue pursuing a private operator for the Southwest Side airport.

Red Line extension: Daley's legacy will include what remains as one of the CTA's most-wanted projects — the planned extension of the Red Line to the Far South Side.

The estimated $1.2 billion project to continue the Red Line from its current end of the line at 95th Street on the Dan Ryan Expressway to 130th Street is expected to be completed no earlier than 2016, according to the CTA, which is hoping to receive major federal funding for the project in the next transportation spending bill.

The term "mass-transit desert'' fittingly describes predominantly black South Side neighborhoods underserved for decades by CTA bus and rail service. Daley responded to the widespread perception that CTA service is tilted in favor of North Side neighborhoods, and he pushed the Red Line extension ahead of other transit capital needs.

The 5.3-mile Red Line extension has a strong chance of advancing after Daley's departure from City Hall, with the federal government covering perhaps up to 80 percent of the cost, because the four added stations would serve thousands of new riders and help combat traffic congestion, both of which are key factors that prompt lawmakers to vote for projects.

HOUSING AND URBAN REDEVELOPMENT

Former U.S. Steel site: While the City Council on Wednesday approved the Daley-backed plan to kick in up to $98 million in infrastructure costs for the long-dormant expanse of lakefront property that once housed the U.S. Steel South Works plant, the plan's future is far from certain because of the struggling economy.

Ultimately, the South Works redevelopment could transform an area bigger than the Loop — nearly 580 acres of lakefront land on the Southeast Side — into a $4 billion mini city home to 150,000 people. The project's $397 million first phase is expected to begin in 2013 after a reroute of South Shore Drive is completed.

Whatever gets built at South Works is likely to carry the imprint of Daley's passion for parks and energy-saving design. The project calls for 136 acres of new parkland and will funnel more than 90 percent of its stormwater into Lake Michigan rather than Chicago sewers.

"We'd have been idiots not to consider (Daley's preference for green design)," said the project's developer, Dan McCaffrey.

Remaking public housing: A decade ago, Daley embarked on an ambitious plan to overhaul the Chicago Housing Authority by demolishing crime-ridden high-rise buildings and replacing them with mixed-use developments that include privately owned, market-rate residences and public housing.

The recession and sagging real estate market have stalled key aspects of the Plan for Transformation, including the construction and sale of market-rate homes. The completion date already has been pushed back five years to 2015, but analysts said it could take an additional five years to finish.

Without Daley around to champion the effort, Alexander Polikoff, director of the public housing project at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a Chicago think tank, questioned whether the new mayor would pour in resources such as infrastructure and planning.

Lewis Jordan, the CHA's CEO, said he is confident the project, which is about 70 percent complete, will move forward once the economy improves because both the private sector and nonprofit funders have bought into the idea. The housing unit construction, he said, is primarily federally funded.

bkamin@tribune.com

jhilkevitch@tribune.com

dglanton@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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