NEWS: Chicago Spire Tries to Rise Again

NEWS: Chicago Spire Tries to Rise Again

By C. J. Hughes -Architectural Record

October 1, 2014

Chicago Spire

Image courtesy Santiago Calatrava
The recession halted the construction of Santiago Calatrava’s 2,000-foot tower in 2008.

The Chicago Spire, a hyper-tall condo from Santiago Calatrava that tried to soar into the record books as the world’s second-tallest building, only to get mired in the recession, may be inching back to life.

 The developer of the twisting, 2,000-foot tower, Shelbourne North Water Street, is close to paying off $135 million owed to creditors of the bankrupt project, sources close to the project say. Those payments, which could be approved in October, include $109 million to a local division of mega-developer Related Companies, which purchased part of the Spire’s soured loan in 2013. The development team—made up of Shelbourne Development Group plus Atlas Apartment Holdings, a multi-family landlord brought in to provide financing—would then restart construction, the sources add.

Rising on the Chicago River near Lake Michigan, the 150-story Spire is to contain 1,194 condos, from studios to four-bedrooms. Under the terms of the deal with the city that allowed the skyscraper to get so tall, developers would also landscape now-barren next-door DuSable Park. The total development cost is estimated at $1.6 billion.

Recalling Calatrava’s Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden, the tapered Spire broke ground in spring 2007, and workers got as far as pouring a foundation for the tower and a seven-level below-grade parking garage before the recession forced construction to a halt in fall 2008. Despite selling 369 apartments, developers returned every down payment. And with the economy tattered, Shelbourne struggled to pay contractors and designers, including Calatrava, who filed a lien against Shelbourne for $11.3 million, though he did receive $15 million in a separate payment, sources say.

While completing the Spire, which would still take more than three years, might help bring closure to a long-running saga, Shelbourne and Atlas are not out of the woods just yet. If they can’t settle their debts, Related would seize the property. And questions remain whether there’s enough local demand for apartments priced at $1,100 a square foot, and up. “If there’s a market there for international buyers, the project probably makes more sense,” says Carol Willis, the founding director of New York’s Skyscraper Museum. “But the site is spectacular.”

The Spire’s height would be superlative, too. The only building to top it would be Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is 2,723 feet, including its antenna. (Nearby Willis Tower in Chicago is 1,729 feet, with an antenna.) Then again, other super-talls are planned: An office building, Burj 2020, also in Dubai, would stretch 2,165 feet. Its architect is to be announced this year, according to the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, the government agency developing the project.


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