The city’s Community Development Commission approved the acquisition of the former Old Main Post Office building through eminent domain, as well as a request from the Department of Planning and Development to find a new developer to take over the site, despite significant pushback from attorneys representing the building’s current owner.
The U.S. Post Office sold the historic building in 2009 to International Property Developers North America, Inc. (IPD) for $25 million dollars. In 2013, the same developer bought the neighboring annex property for an additional $14 million.
IPD had planned a $3.5 billion mixed-use development to be completed in phases, including three towers and 16-million-square-feet of residential, retail, entertainment and office spaces. In July 2013, the City Council approved an amendment to the planned development for an additional 2,100 residential units in the old post office building. Plans for a hotel and commercial retail space on adjacent land were also approved.
The first phase of the project was scheduled to get underway in early 2015, but according to DPD, no significant redevelopment work has been completed to date.
“The site is one of the city’s most prominent riverfront redevelopment sites. The lack of development, progress, and need to safely secure the buildings have prompted the department to take action,” Mary Bonome with the Department of Planning and Development explained in her opening testimony to the mayor-appointed panel.
John George, an attorney representing British developer Bill Davies, voiced his annoyance in a Sun-Times article yesterday morning that detailed the city’s decision to take over the project, saying “it didn’t give consideration to why the man who owns the property didn’t go through with the deal.”
He argued that Davies really only had two years to work on the project, since the amended planned development for the site wasn’t approved until three years ago. “And as all of you know, in terms of obtaining the financing to do the work, you cannot get financing through any reputable financial institution until you have proper zoning. So we couldn’t start going to the financial people until July of 2013.”
Between 2010 and 2013, Georges said, they spent “enormous time and enormous sums of money” trying to get this project approved by various delegate agencies.
“I really think it’s unfair what’s being proposed here. I think we should be entitled to continue on with our efforts… maybe we have been remiss in bringing to the attention of the city all of the things we are doing on this property,” he pleaded.
In 2012, the city filed a complaint in the Cook County Circuit Court alleging 18 building violations. The case is still open. From the initial filing date through today, the developer has “struggled to maintain the building in a safe condition,” Bonome explained.
Local Ald. Danny Solis (25) testified in favor of the proposal, noting various building fires and ventilation issues that he’s had to deal with at the site and the trouble he’s had communicating with the developer.
While DPD has no specific proposals for how to develop the site, the RFP authorization gives the department the ability to find new development team and pay the city’s share of acquiring the property. The city will officially issue the RFP next week and hold a pre-bid conference in April. Based on questions and comments that may arise at that April meeting, the June 10th deadline for submissions may be extended.
Mayor Emanuel plans to seek final approval of the acquisition from the City Council in the next two months.