WEST LOOP — Developers pitching an office building in the heart of the Fulton-Randolph Historic District are facing pushback from neighbors over the building’s design.
West Loop-based developer Fulton St. Companies revealed its plans to construct a 155-foot-tall commercial building at 917 W. Fulton Market and rehab the existing loft offices at 900 W. Lake St.
Featuring a brick base and a metal-clad upper portion set back from the street, the new building includes 82 underground parking spots and more than 17,800 square feet of ground-floor retail space. An enclosed atrium topped by skylights would bridge the gap between the new and existing structures.
“I try to draw from the neighborhood,” explained New York-based architect Morris Adjmi at a virtual meeting hosted by Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and the West Loop Community Organization. “One of the things that we do on all of our facades is create a sense of depth which help the buildings — although modern — feel more contextual and fit into the neighborhood.”
Not everyone attending the meeting agreed. Instead of voicing the usual concerns over height, traffic, or blocked views, residents directed nearly all their criticism toward the project’s design.
West Loop resident Levar Hoard, who said he was a fan of Adjmi, found the design to be “austere, imposing, and repetitive” compared to the architect’s New York projects. “Is there any way to add more language to the facade, so it doesn’t look so institutional?” Hoard asked.
“ The words of the architect and the intellectual nods to the historic context of the neighborhood do not work at all,” added a meeting attendee identified only as Jeff. “[The] design does not work.”
The developers explained that the plan went through several iterations after months of conversations with officials at the city’s planning department. The site’s location in the Fulton-Randolph Landmark District also limits what can be built, they said.
“We have to follow guidelines, and sometimes those guidelines lead us in a direction that some people don’t like,” said Alex Najem, co-founder of Fulton St. Companies. “A block away, you can do a much different type of building and make it thinner and taller. Here we can not do that.”
Armando Chacon with the West Central Association Chamber of Commerce said that the design had taken a “step in the right direction” since his group saw an earlier version of the plan. “Speaking for myself, I think there is an opportunity to make this building look even better,” Chacon said.
The development team said they would take the feedback under consideration. “We like to listen and hear the comments,” said Adjmi, whose firm designed 917 W. Fulton Market in collaboration with Chicago’s FitzGerald Associates. “It’s sometimes not nice to hear the criticism, but we roll with it and try to come back with something that is hopefully better.”
The architect said he was confident his team could “walk the line” between fitting into the historical context of the landmark district without blatantly “imitating the past.”
Ald. Burnett reminded his constituents that although the meeting provided a chance to weigh-in on the proposed development, they are not the only stakeholders involved in the complicated design process.
“With this design stuff we’re in the middle of a lot of people,” Burnett said. “I want folks to understand that [the developer] may be entertaining comments on the design, but they still have to deal with planning and landmarks and then try to meet somewhere in the middle.”
The project at 917 W. Fulton Market will require a zoning change before it can break ground. Fulton St. Companies hope to land city approvals in the first half of this year and anticipate roughly 18 months of construction.
The new building would replace a parking lot and vacant lot at Fulton Market and Sangamon that was previously home to a two-story industrial building.
The highly-visible site has been in the crosshairs of various developers for the past six years. In 2019, F&F Realty presented plans for a 20-story hotel tower at the site. Four years earlier, architect Patrick FitzGerald had proposed a 10-story residential building but failed to win the support of Ald. Burnett.
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