a potential new tallest for evanston, IL:
523-foot tower in Evanston?
Proposed 49-story condo building would nearly double the height of the town's current tallest
By Blair Kamin and Deborah Horan
Tribune staff reporters
Published April 26, 2007, 3:30 PM CDT
Forget the twisting, 2,000-foot-tall Chicago Spire that could rise along the city's lakefront.
Developers went public Thursday with their plan for another race to the sky, this one in downtown Evanston: A proposed condominium tower that would crack the 500-foot barrier and become the tallest building in Chicago's suburbs.
Sure to incite heated debate in a suburb already in the throes of a high-rise building boom, the plan calls for tearing down a two-story retail building
on a triangular block bounded by Church Street, Orrington and Sherman Avenues, and replacing it with a sliver-thin, 49-story
condominium tower sheathed in glass and metal.
At 523 feet
, the height pegged in a filing to Evanston officials from developers James Klutznick and Tim Anderson, the skyscraper would soar nearly twice as high as two neighboring towers that now form the peaks of the Evanston skyline.
"It's the suburban Spire," quipped the project's architect, Laurence Booth of the Chicago firm Booth Hansen
, referring to the plan by Dublin-based developer Garrett Kelleher to erect a 150-story tower designed by Zurich-based architect Santiago Calatrava on Chicago's lakefront.
Filed more than a week ago and shopped in closed sessions to city officials, the Evanston proposal underscores how developers around the country are shattering the once-distinct line between cities and suburbs. The trend is especially strong in landlocked suburbs that have nowhere to grow but up if they want to increase their tax base and hold down residential property tax bills.
Yet the shift has sparked passionate debates over traffic congestion, the displacement of local retailers by national chains and the loss of what opponents call their shady-street lifestyle. As city leaders reacted to the skyscraper plan, that tension was palpable.
"I don't know where we can go in Evanston but up because we don't have any land," said Ald. Delores Holmes (5th). "But it is pretty tall."
If built, the Evanston skyscraper would easily top the 418-foot-tall Oakbrook Terrace Tower, currently the title-holder in Chicago's suburbs, and could also lay claim to being the tallest building between Chicago and Milwaukee. That esoteric distinction is now held by Evanston's tallest building, the 277-foot-tall Chase Building, a modernist high-rise finished in 1969.
Klutznick, a partner at Klutznick Fisher Development Co., and Anderson, president of Focus Development Inc., are now completing the nearby Sherman Plaza condo tower, which is just a foot shorter at 276 feet.
But the block in question has a height limit of 125 feet, so the developers, who say they have a contract to purchase the two-story retail building, will need a zoning change.
As in other large-scale residential real estate developments, they also will need to generate enough pre-sales of condominiums to get bank financing. Most daunting of all, they will have to persuade Evanstonians to reshape their skyline--and, with it, the town's identity.
Evanston officials previously forced developer and architect David Hovey to downsize a proposed 36-story tower at the north end of downtown and instead build a block-long, 16-story building that some have likened to an enormous wall.
Anticipating just such a debate, Klutznick said in an interview: "This is absolutely the center of town. People recognize that if there's going to be height, this is where to do it."
He added: "This is an icon that says this is the downtown of the north lakefront," said, referring to how downtown Evanston already draws people from nearby suburbs such as Wilmette and from the far north side of Chicago.
Michael Lembeck, the owner of a shoestore in the targeted two-story building along Church Streets, sees the proposal in far less positive light.
Saying that his business, "Williams Shoes--the Walking Spirit" had been at 708 Church St. for 54 years, he lamented that he had bought the space next door last year and turned it into a woman's boutique at a cost of $120,000.
"Now 10 months later, they're talking about tearing the whole building down," he said Thursday. "That would be kind of a waste to be shut down before we recoup our investment."
He also expressed concern that downtown Evanston already has too many vacant storefronts and that it won't be able to absorb the commercial space envisioned in the project.
The proposed skyscraper would have a roughly triangular, or flatiron, shape
formed by the surrounding streets.
It would rise on a five-story podium that would contain two levels of shops and, above them, a three-level parking garage with 230 spaces.
The glassy condominium tower, set back from the street, would contain anywhere from seven to two units on each of its floors. Prices would be $350 to $400 per square foot, the developers said.
The plan also envisions tearing down a 1940s mid-rise office building at the block's south end and replacing it with a low-rise restaurant building whose footprint would be half as large. The developers still have to purchase that property.
A classically decorated landmark building in the middle of the block, the three-story Hahn Building, would be left untouched
The developers say that the added real estate taxes created by the project would allow the city to renovate the decrepit Fountain Square Plaza at the block's south end. The plaza's war memorial, which now consists of three brick pylons recognizing Evanston soldiers, would be shifted to another plaza just south of Davis Street.
The developers want to begin construction next year and complete their project by late 2010.
City zoning officials are now reviewing the plan, which is expected to take at least two weeks. The next steps would be a hearing by the Evanston Plan Commission and a vote by its City Council. The developers said they anticipate public meetings on the tower in June.
Asked if she thought Evanston residents would fight the tower, Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st), in whose ward the project would be built said: "Nothing in Evanston is non-controversial. I expect it to be thoroughly debated."
Wollin declined to say whether the tower is too tall, saying: "I can't make that judgment now. If there's any place for height in the city, that's the block where it would be most compatible. Is it too tall? That will have to be determined by lots of discussion."
If built in downtown Chicago, the tower would fade into the woodwork. It would be the same height as a classic 1920s skyscraper along Wacker Drive--the eclectic, dome-topped 35 E. Wacker Drive (the former Jewelers Building).
Asked if Evanston planners would follow a national trend in urban planning which gives preference to tall and thin towers on the grounds that they create the density that makes cities hum while letting natural light reach streets below, Klutznick replied: "I would never say that Evanston is influenced by anybody other than Evanston."
While the Evanston tower would be the tallest in Chicago's suburbs, it would not be the tallest suburban building in the United States. That distinction is accorded to an office building in Sandy Springs, Ga., an Atlanta suburb. Completed in 1988 and part of the Concourse towers complex, it rises 570 feet, according to Emporis, the Darmstadt, Germany-based Web site that compiles data on buildings throughout the world.
And there are other tall buildings outside traditional downtowns. Outside Manhattan, for example, Jersey City, N.J., sports the 781-foot-tall Goldman Sachs Tower. In addition, Houston's Galleria district, several miles west of that city's downtown, boasts the 901-foot Williams Tower, which is often called the tallest building in America outside a central business district.