Developers propose West Loop park spanning over Kennedy Expressway
September 6, 2013

By Alexandra Brown

Two local firms have teamed up on a unique plan to create more park space in the West Loop. Architect Scott Sarver, principal of SMDP Studio, an international architecture firm based in Chicago, and Steven Fifield, founder of Fifield Companies, a development firm that has built or acquired several West Loop residential and office properties, have created a proposal to build an eight- to 12-acre public park passing over the Kennedy Expressway between Washington Boulevard and Adams Street in the West Loop.

The Chicago Park District likely would operate this park. According to Larry Gage, president of the Fulton River District Association, the area needs the park not only to help connect the West Loop to the downtown but because it “will unquestionably benefit local residents and businesses in the West Loop.”

The park plan forms part of a larger project that would add ten million square feet of office space in the West Loop over the next ten years. Proponents believe the park would lure potential development, which in turn could attract more retail businesses to the area. “Real estate is worth more when you’re looking over a park rather than a highway,” Gage said.

“There are a number of vacant areas on both sides of the highway, which is why neighbors of the West Loop are pushing it” [the park]. Building an expressway-spanning park is “totally feasible, using tried and tested construction technology that has been used on bridges for years,” said Alan Schachtman, executive vice president for Fifield Companies.

SMDP and Fifield have created a logistics plan to help maintain traffic flow on the Kennedy during construction. The plan restricts specific lanes for limited periods of time, usually at night, said Schachtman, adding, “The intent would be to erect the structure at off periods when traffic is lighter.”

The two firms have “met with the City, and with many surrounding neighborhood groups multiple times — all of which support the idea,” said Schachtman, who noted they “are anticipating a follow-up meeting within the next few weeks with the Chicago Department of Transportation to discuss details on the project.”

A meeting with local residents and businesses will be held in October, when Fifield plans to offer more details and hopes to gain more support.

“Although the idea has been on paper in plans for decades, this will be the first time residents of the area will get to hear full details straight from Fifield on what this project is all about,” said Gage.

The park would be a public project, and the two firms have created several strategies for funding that mainly include revenues from tax increment financing and the City’s Infrastructure Trust, in which private funds can be leveraged for City projects, Schachtman said, adding that the City likely would apply for Federal funding also.

Planners expect the project will cost between $45 and $60 million. The Canal Congress TIF district currently has a balance of nearly $24 million in uncommitted dollars.

Tom Tresser of CivicLab, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing civic engagement and government accountability and a TIF watchdog group, called the project “a monumental waste of time and money. Using TIF money is especially ridiculous and would benefit very few people.”

Martha Goldstein, executive director of West Loop Community Organization, said, “It would be an excellent addition to the neighborhood” but is concerned about the park being a “very expensive project, possibly bringing in a lot of traffic.

I like what the project can do for the city, but I’m concerned about cost; other things could use funding—like schools.”

Fifield and SMDP studios are still discussing costs as they keep in mind all of the elements to be considered in the project. Gage added, “Of course there will be some opposition, as there always is, but most people are already behind it. It is just a question of more support and financing.”