A Giant Plan For Chicago’s West Loop: Burnhamesque

Daniel Burnham's Plan of Downtown Chicago (1909)“Make no little plans, for they do not have the magic to stir men’s souls,” is the famous utterance attributed to legendary Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham.   While he may not have said such a thing, anyone reviewing the enormous scale of Burnham’s 1909 Chicago Plan could be forgiven for assuming the quote was his.  Burnham’s vision of a “Paris on the Prairie” was sweeping and comprehensive, a dance between form and function on the grandest of scales that set the standard for 20th century holistic urban design.  The parts of it that survived the Great Depression to be ultimately implemented serve to earn Chicago its motto “City in A Garden”, as the Burnham Plan integrates parks, lakefront and river in a pedestrian-centric orchestration envied the world over.

In the town most associated with Burnham and Burnhamism, enthusiasm for the large and sweeping construction plan is no less than a family trait. Which is why few here blinked when architect Scott Sarver rolled out his distinctly Burnhamesque vision for Chicago’s near west loop earlier this month.  

That the plan includes covering a three block length of the ten-lane Kennedy Expressway then building eight to twelve acres of public park on top of it — well, we covered the risks of “little plans” already.  Let the soul-stirring commence:

The vision: to create a hub of office developments that attract the businesses of tomorrow.

“Data, fiber, technology, finance — those are the tenancies that are growing now; those are the new spaces,” Mr. Sarver said. “The opportunity for Chicago is to . . . physically embody and personify this transformation that’s happening rather than just to let it happen naturally — to actually be proactive about it.”

Preliminary plans call for eight to 12 acres of public park that would be built over the expressway, bridging the gap between the West Loop and the central business district, said Steven Fifield, president of Chicago-based Fifield. The recreational space would then serve as a catalyst for bringing new office towers, and tenants to fill them, to the neighborhood, he said.

The capping project would cost around $45 million if it were to span the three blocks between Washington Boulevard and Adams Street, and its first phase could be funded with tax-increment financing from the city, Mr. Fifield said. As more tenants move to the area, boosting tax revenue, the project would likely end up paying for itself, he said.

Mr. Sarver also is involved in the design of two 20-story office towers that Mr. Fifield plans to build at 601-625 W. Monroe St. With an infrastructure capable of handling the demands of tech-centric tenants, the towers will have a “new, young and hip” interior with a lobby that resembles a hotel or Starbucks instead of a traditional East Loop office tower, Mr. Sarver said

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