McCormick area concerns: traffic, parking, security
June 6, 2014
An artist’s rendering of the McCormick Place entertainment district, looking northeast.

By Dolly Duplantier

More than one year ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Metropolitan Pier Exposition Authority (MPEA) announced plans for a McCormick Place entertainment district as part of Emanuel’s Elevate Chicago program.

Since that time, the City has worked to acquire property to build a 10,000 seat sports arena and event center, a headquarters hotel, and a boutique hotel in the 3rd Ward’s Prairie District neighborhood.

Third Ward Alderman Pat Dowell has worked with City officials and neighborhood groups to keep area residents involved. The Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance (PDNA) recently held a community meeting to provide details regarding the McCormick expansion and DePaul arena development.

Tina Feldstein, PDNA president, said residents are reconciled to the development and feel there now is more transparency over details of the City’s plans.

“More of an attempt was made to soften the transition of the expansion for the neighborhood,” Feldstein said. “The development and ordinances have been approved, but there are still a lot of unresolved issues involving parking, traffic, and security.”

Feldstein said an advisory committee is working on behalf of the neighborhood with the MPEA, the City, and Dowell. “They need to look at [plans] very seriously,” said Feldstein. “Smart and sensible decisions need to be made. They can’t skip over the issues of parking, traffic, and security. Decisions made will affect the reputation of the area and the city. It will have an impact on the South Loop and the city as a whole. They want people to come. If it’s just gridlock, then no one will come.”

“I continue to work with the residents of the South Loop community and MPEA to address concerns regarding parking, traffic, and security near the event center and headquarters hotel,” said Dowell. “My goal has been to make this a win-win for all parties involved.”

According to Dowell, the City Council and the MPEA board officially approved a community benefits agreement. Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, said the agreement’s framework will receive further fine tuning but provides basic parameters for hiring goals and other issues, including traffic, parking, and security.

He said the agreement calls for a traffic and parking study as well as a security plan. The security plan would involve heightened coordination between Chicago police and MPEA security during McCormick Place events, shows, and conferences. In addition, the agreement establishes hiring goals, including employing no less than 25% minority and five percent women-owned businesses. It also establishes other opportunities for community residents with appropriate skills to participate in the project during and after construction in both permanent and temporary jobs.

“The project will increase Chicago’s convention business by an additional $123 million a year,” said Strazzabosco. “It will also generate 3,600 permanent jobs and 10,400 temporary jobs.”

Mary Kay Marquisos, MPEA spokesperson, said the City expects to break ground in early 2015, with the headquarters hotel and event center completed sometime early 2017. In March, the City Council approved $55 million in tax increment financing to be allocated toward the headquarters hotel.

Initially, the hotel was to be located at the southeast corner of Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue. The current site is now 300 E. Cermak Rd., the northeast corner of Cermak and Prairie Avenue.

“It will incorporate the ABC [American Book Company] building, and the complex will now be closer to the event center and McCormick Place,” said Strazzabosco.

The event center will occupy the north side of Cermak between Indiana and Prairie Avenues. Strazzabosco said negotiations are continuing for the property at the southeast corner of Cermak and Michigan. A portion of that site now is being targeted for the 500-room boutique hotel.

“The alderman has made an effort to bring wins for the community, including keeping the Harriet Rees house,” said Feldstein, noting Dowell said she is proud to have secured a new park at 21st Street and Prairie Avenue for the area as well.

Workers will relocate the historic Harriet F. Rees house to make way for the event center. Currently located at 2110 S. Prairie Ave., the Chicago landmark was built in 1888. Marquisos said the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the move in April; the house will be relocated to a vacant lot at 2017 S. Prairie Ave. this summer.

Feldstein said officials would hold follow-up meetings for the community.