A rendering shows GREC Architects' designs for Fern Hill's proposed apartment tower in Old Town. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

OLD TOWN — Developers pitched their plan to “reinvigorate” Old Town with a 36-story apartment tower and overhaul of neighboring properties on Tuesday.

Central to developer Fern Hill’s plan is a new, 395-foot tower at the northwest corner of North Avenue and LaSalle Drive, which is currently a surface parking lot. It is designed by architects from GREC, a Chicago-based firm that took over when architect David Adjaye stepped away from the project amid sexual misconduct accusations at his firm.

The project includes partnerships with the neighboring Moody Church campus around 1635 N. LaSalle Drive and the Walgreens at 1601 N. Wells St. that would transform other parts of the area.

The proposed changes include:

  • removal of the BP and Shell gas stations at 1647 N. LaSalle Drive and 130 W. North Ave. so Moody can expand its administrative offices.
  • redevelopment of the Walgreens to modernize its storefront while allowing for part of the tower to be built above it.
  • transformation of the vacant Treasure Island store, which developers are working to fill with a new grocery.

Nick Anderson, founder and president of Fern Hill, said he tasked the architects with coming up with designs that “make this project special, given the special nature of the community.”

The color palette of Fern Hill’s tower was inspired by a photo of a sunrise on Lake Michigan. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

The Tower At North And LaSalle

The tower would have 500 apartments, including 100 that would be rented out at an “affordable” rate of 60 percent of the median income, Anderson said.

The building would have two ground-floor retail shops, including Walgreens, and 150 parking spaces for tenants, Anderson said.

At 395 feet, the proposed tower was designed to be in scale with three nearby towers: the James Kilmer Condominiums at 1560 N. Sandburg Terrace, the condo building at 1660 N. LaSalle Drive and Eugenie Terrace, a rental building at 1730 N. Clark St., Anderson said. Those towers range from 390 to 420 feet tall.

Fern Hill developers chose the corner of North and LaSalle as a site because it offered consistent spacing between the nearby towers, Anderson said.

A rending shows Fern Hill’s proposed tower in context with other nearby buildings. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

The facade would be made of glass and metal elements with color applied to the metal to create a mosaic affect.

Don Copper, principal of GREC Architects, said his team approached the design of the tower as if it were a blank canvas.

The architects used a photo of the sun rising on Lake Michigan, converted it into an abstract image highlighting its color palette and applied those colors to the facade, Copper said.

This approach was inspired by Old Town’s history as an artistic hub and home to the long-standing Old Town Art Fair, Copper said.

GREC’s design “summarizes the commitment of the residential portion of the building to relate to the lakefront as well as Lincoln Park,” Copper said.

“We’re also committed to relating to the color, texture and artistic heritage of Old Town,” Copper said.

The Walgreens at the northeast corner of North Avenue and Wells Street would also get a redesign. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

Other Proposed Changes To Old Town

Other proposed changes include the expansion of Moody Church’s campus into the lots that currently house the BP and Shell gas stations, as well as an overhauls of the Walgreens and former Treasure Island.

Moody’s expansion would include a new chapel and new buildings for its administrative offices and educational spaces, Anderson said.

GREC’s designs for that expansion place the new buildings around 50 feet tall, which is in line with Moody’s existing sanctuary and classroom buildings, Anderson said.

The Walgreens at the northeast corner of North Avenue and Wells Street would remain in that spot but be redeveloped with a modern design and smaller footprint, Copper said.

Rather than the opaque brick facade that currently exists along North Avenue, the store would have glass windows aimed at activating and brightening the pedestrian experience, Copper said.

The height of the Walgreens building will also be scaled down to be more in line with the existing buildings to the north and south of the store, Copper said.

Fern Hill plans to overhaul the vacant Treasure Island space and fill it with a new grocery store. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

The vacant building that once housed Treasure Island will also get an upgrade, Anderson said. Fern Hill is working to fill that space with another grocery store, which has been a frequent request from neighbors throughout the community engagement process.

“We’re trying to chart a new course for the Treasure Island retail,” Anderson said. “Today, we’ve been unable to secure a grocery store tenant for that property, but we feel being part of a reinvigorated neighborhood makes this attractive to grocery store operators.”

Tuesday’s virtual meeting had a brief Q&A where neighbors could ask questions, but they were encouraged to submit feedback online through Fern Hill’s designated project website.

A word cluster offered a glimpse into neighbors’ top concerns surrounding Fern Hill’s project. Credit: Provided/Fern Hill/GREC Architects

The meeting also had an interactive component where neighbors could submit keywords related to their questions or feedback, which were illustrated in a word cluster. Among the largest phrases were “grocery,” “no high rise,” “traffic” and “safety.”

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) withheld judgment on the proposal, emphasizing the role community support will play in its approval.

“We need to hear from the community, and there needs to be some semblance of community support to move forward with this project,” Hopkins said.

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