O’Hare expansion, LaSalle Street makeover set for giant steps forward if City Council OKs financing

The City Council is poised to sign off Wednesday on a pair of development projects pivotal to Chicago’s economic future: the massive expansion of O’Hare Airport and plans to transform aging, half-empty LaSalle Street corridor office buildings into residential use.

Mayor Brandon Johnson is expected to get the go-ahead to issue up to $3 billion in bonds to bankroll the next phase of the O’Hare makeover.

Both projects have been years in the making — especially at O’Hare, where planning for the current makeover began during the Rahm Emanual administration. The plan to transform LaSalle Street, meanwhile, originated under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

At O’Hare, current plans call for building the first of what could be two satellite concourses — complete with 19 new gates — and planning for a phased construction of the global terminal that will replace what is now Terminal 2.

Construction of a second satellite concourse and the connecting tunnel between both new satellite concourses would be completed only if sufficient funds remain.

That represent a major change in the order of construction. It was made to cut costs and appease United and American — the major airlines footing much of the bill.

After receiving regular cost estimates from the city, the city will need further approval from United and American before either cutting the scope of the project or spending more than $6.1 billion.

Skidmore Ownings & Merrill’s intriguing design for O’Hare’s new 19-gate satellite concourse will pay tribute to the origin of O’Hare;s “ORD” airport code — the facility’s original name was Orchard Field Airport.

It features rows of tree-like columns supporting a soaring, skylit roof. The idea is to create the feeling of moving through a tree orchard like those that once filled the land now occupied by O’Hare. The design also includes a walkway for international travelers, suspended from those same, tree-like columns.

After unveiling the design two weeks ago, Johnson refused to even entertain the possibility of running out of money before building the second satellite concourse.

“We’re committed to the entire operation, to the design. And that’s why we’re phasing it the way we’re doing it,” the mayor said.

Chief operating officer John Roberson, who served as aviation commissioner under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, has acknowledged talks are under way to determine the final design of the global terminal designed by renowned Chicago architect Jeanne Gang.

One option could be to economize on the Gang design that some in the industry have derided as an expensive “Taj Mahal.”

Living on LaSalle Street

The plans for LaSalle Street, intended to breathe new life into Chicago’s downtown core, may have originated with Lightfoot., but Johnson has picked up the ball and run with it. The four projects, with a combined, $528 million cost, will need $151.2 million in city subsidies.

Wednesday’s City Council vote would move two of those four projects forward by authorizing nearly $160 million in tax-exempt multi-family housing revenue bonds.

The borrowing includes:

• $70.5 million to help Prime Group convert four floors at 208 S. LaSalle into 226 apartments. Of those, 68 would be affordable, thanks to $26.2 million in assistance from tax increment financing funds. The developer’s request for a $26.2 million TIF subsidy, $6.8 million less than the original submission made last year, is expected to be approved in the coming months.

• $88 million to help Prime Group and Capri Capital Advisers LLC create 345 units, 105 of them affordable, at 111 W. Monroe. The $202.8 million project needs a $40 million TIF subsidy. It will cover 14 floors within a pair of adjacent buildings, including a high-rise built in 1911. There’s also a 228-room hotel planned on the lower levels, which could be supported through a property tax incentive if the complex lands city landmark designation.

Planning and Development Commissioner Ciere Boatright has hailed the four projects as “one of the largest adaptive re-use efforts to move forward within any central business district” in the nation.

She expects the antiquated, half-empty buildings to become “poster children for the Loop’s rebirth as a mixed-use neighborhood” and said there is “more to come as the city continues to study adaptive re-use proposals for historic buildings at 135 South La Salle Street and 105 West Adams Street.”

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