WBEZ: City's urban design and planning director says slump can be good for planning

Chicago Public Radio ran a feature story this morning on the state of Chicago’s downtown condo market titled, “The Big Chill: Chicago’s Condo Market Is Now on Ice.” The story meanders from the successes of Magellan Development‘s Lakeshore East mega-development to Roszak / ADC‘s recent auction of 45 condos from Vetro in the South Loop, and on to Wacker Drive, where WBEZ’s Ashley Gross interviews the city’s urban design and planning director Benet Haller about the stalled Waterview Tower at 121 W Wacker Dr.

Haller says that major construction slowdowns can provide city planners with an opportunity to press the pause button and reevaluate the direction that downtown development is taking.

GROSS: I’m standing here with Benet Haller, who’s the director of urban design and planning for the city of Chicago and we’re standing in front of what was going to be a supertall condo and hotel building, the Waterview Tower and Shangri-La hotel, which is now just kind of a hulk of unfinished concrete. There is some activity going on here but they say they’re just cleaning up to mothball the place. So Benet, what does the city do with something like this?

HALLER: Well certainly this is one of the last outcomes we want is when a building stops halfway through construction. But it is kind of the nature of private development that occasionally you’ll get a project or two that does stop midway through, but we certainly expect this is just a transitional state to something else, absolutely.

Even as workers pack up this site, it’s still plastered with ads for million-dollar condos. Haller says that’s not far-fetched – long-term. He’s working on a 10-year plan to make downtown more livable. It calls for everything from more sidewalks along the river to better transportation. Haller says this kind of downturn can be good – especially for city planners.

HALLER: It’s good for planning in so far as you do have a break and you do have people asking fundamental questions about the nature of cities, and that’s actually the best time to talk to people about what our vision looks like, and I will mention the Burnham Plan of 100 years ago – that was also a plan in an economic downturn.

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