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Chicago River

Related Midwest and GMH have enough space south of Roosevelt to build something quite impressive

Plans are underway for the construction of an inspiring new riverside complex in Chicago’s South Loop area, on one of the biggest vacant tracts of land in Illinois’ most populous city.

Owner of the property General Mediterranean Holding, the Luxembourg-based multi-national group founded by Iraqi-born British entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Nadhmi Auchi, will join forces with Chicago-based developer Related Midwest to master-plan the 62-acre South Loop site that runs along the Chicago River. GMH’s activities range from construction and real estate, banking and finance, to hotel and leisure, broadcasting and communications, IT, pharmaceuticals and aviation.

The prime piece of real estate is big enough for a mixed-use project that could include several thousand homes and a major shopping centre along Roosevelt, the South Loop's main retail strip. Ambitious plans for the area were unveiled over a decade ago by the property’s owner at the time, but he failed to get a project off the ground and eventually sold the property to GMH.

“It's a fabulous site,” said Joseph Antunovich, president of Chicago-based architectural firm Antunovich Associates who previously submitted designs for the property. “There's room to transition beautifully into Chinatown but also bring the emphasis back to the river.”

The development is likely to be one of the most substantial Chicago has seen. More than 4,600 residential units and around 700,000 square feet of commercial space were on the original proposal; at one point, Swedish home furnishings retailer IKEA was even rumoured to be considering a huge superstore on the site. Related Midwest and GMH have enough space south of Roosevelt to build something quite impressive; however, any project would require a large investment in roads, sewers and other infrastructure, and developers would need to seek major TIF (Tax Increment Financing) from the city. The firms would also need to find a smooth way to step the project down from Roosevelt Road – which is elevated – to ground level.

Land in the South Loop is a hot commodity once again as residential developers vie each other to draw up plans for new apartment and condominium high-rises. This would be the most ambitious project so far for Related Midwest, which is already on a hot streak but still has plenty to keep itself busy. It recently sold the 504-unit apartment tower that it had developed on Wacker Drive for a record price, and three failed South Loop condominium towers that it took over after the crash.

A development on the GMH site will take vision, patience and lots of money. But the property reminds Joseph Antunovich of a similar tract of land north of Millennium Park: that 28-acre site, which lay empty 15 years ago, went on to become the superb $4 billion Lakeshore East lifestyle community.

“Look at it now,” he said. “It's taken a while, but it sure is fantastic. It could happen there too.”

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