New plan would preserve historic Chicago Union Station profile

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An artist's conception of the new redevelopment plan for Chicago Union Station, which will top the building with a one-story addition to house hotels.
Riverside Investment & Development
A cross-section of the new Chicago Union Station plan.
Riverside Investment & Development
A diagram shows how the new addition to Chicago Union Station will not be available from street level.
Riverside Investment & Development

CHICAGO — The neoclassic Chicago Union Station will not be topped off with a modern glass and steel addition — at least not one that will be visible from the street.

At a community meeting at the station Tuesday evening, developers unveiled revised plans for the headhouse in response to a torrent of opposition from advocates for the historic building, architecture critics, and preservationists. [See "Criticisms abound on Chicago Union Station proposal," Trains News Wire, July 3, 2018, and "Chicago Union Station 'abomination' scrapped," Trains News Wire, Aug. 31, 2018.]

Gone is the modern seven-story vertical addition which would have housed 404 apartments. Instead, developers are proposing a single-story penthouse level for two hotels with 400 rooms. These hotels would be built within the existing fifth and sixth floors of the building.

The penthouse will not be visible from the street, officials with Chicago-based Riverside Investment & Development and Convexity Properties insisted. They backed up this promise with a sight-line diagram showing how the penthouse would be set back and screened from view.

Riverside CEO John O’Donnell called the plan the “revitalization of a Chicago landmark.”

The penthouse would encircle but not block the station’s iconic 219-foot barrel-vaulted skylight that soars above the Great Hall. The skylight is currently undergoing renovation. 

In addition to the hotels, a pool and fitness center would also be built, but on the station’s lower level. Developers assured those at the meeting, many of whom were concerned about the fate of the station, that the Great Hall would remain essentially as it was intended — for rail passengers.

Two hotel entrances would be added to the building, however. One would be on the building’s north side, Adams Street, and the other on the south side, on Jackson Boulevard. Windows would be installed on the station’s west side, facing Clinton Street. 

On the block to the south of the station, the developers are also proposing to build a 715-foot, 1.5 million-square-foot office building with an attached parking structure and a 1.5-acre park.

The development plans were unveiled at a meeting called by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly. The proposal must be approved by planning and zoning officials, and the Chicago City Council.

Ward Miller, head of the group Preservation Chicago, drew applause from the audience when he thanked developers for upholding the station landmark status on “one of the great stations of the U.S.” 

Critics described that would-be addition as incongruous with the original building. Many labeled it “an abomination.”

That addition, proposed in June, was “deemed unacceptable by the community and the Alderman due to architectural and traffic concerns," according to Reilly’s office. "As a result, the development team decided to completely revise their vision for the project,” the announcement stated.

Amtrak, which owns Union Station, selected Riverside and Convexity in May 2017 to redevelop the station and surrounding properties at a cost of $1 billion. 

Union Station, with its multi-columned exterior, was completed in 1925. It was designed by Daniel Burnham and successor firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. 

Amtrak has already allocated at least $14 million to restore the interior of the headhouse to its classic beauty. The sweeping marble stairways leading from the Great Hall’s main waiting room up to Canal Street were replaced. The Metropolitan Lounge was relocated. Murals were being repaired.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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