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Pritzker Park Sale Is a Chance to Create New Transfer from ‘L’ to Subway

2:41 PM CDT on May 8, 2015

A skybridge could connect the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station to the new development on the Pritzker Park site, creating an enclosed transfer to the Red and Blue Line stations on Jackson.

There are several pros and cons of the city's controversial plan to sell the Pritzker Park site for development. One important and urgent aspect is that it would be an unparalleled – and potentially free – opportunity to create the first enclosed, wheelchair-accessible transfer between the CTA's Loop elevated lines and the Red and Blue Line subways.

A skybridge could be built between the Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren station, which serves the Brown, Pink, Orange, and Purple elevated lines, and the new building. A concourse and elevator within the building would take CTA riders to the Jackson Red Line stop's below-ground ticketing mezzanine. From there, customers could stairs or an elevator down to the Red Line platform, or take the existing, ADA-accessible transfer tunnel to the Blue Line platform.

On Tuesday, the city's Department of Planning and Development announced that it is seeking proposals to redevelop a one-acre, L-shaped parcel of land bounded by Plymouth Court, Van Buren Street, and State Street, which is currently occupied by the park and a city-owned parking garage. The city's request for proposals is light on specifics and essentially asks developers to come up with a mix of uses "that will complement the ongoing revitalization of the Loop."

However, now is the time for the planning department to specify that the developer must integrate the 'L' transfer into the new building. Once the building is constructed, it would be next to impossible to get the developer to retrofit it with the concourses and elevators.

The site is already zoned to allow over 700,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and residential uses. The city last appraised the property's value at $14 million, and the property has the potential to be very lucrative for the future developer. Therefore, it's very reasonable for the city to require that the new building include the transfer, and they should add that requirement to the RFP immediately.

CTA riders would reap several other benefits benefits from the new transfer:

    • A station with direct access among all 'L' lines, except the Green and Yellow lines
    • The first enclosed transfer between the Red and Pink Lines
    • An enclosed transfer from the Orange and Green lines to the Red Line within the Loop. Right now, the only place to make an indoor transfer is the Roosevelt station, located more than half a mile south.
    • An accessible, enclosed transfer from the Brown Line to the southbound Red Line for customers who board the Brown Line south of Fullerton. The current downtown transfer between these lines is the State/Lake stop, which isn't accessible.
Riders transfer between elevated and the Red or Blue Lines at Jackson by exiting the fare zone and walking outside. A new building at Pritzker Park could build the vertical circulation and a tunnel to connect to the Red Line station, to which riders would also gain enclosed access to the Blue Line station.
Riders currently transfer between Loop Elevated and the Red and Blue Lines' Jackson stations by exiting the system and traveling around the corner via sidewalks. The new library transfer would allow riders to directly access the Red Line station, and travel to the Blue Line via an existing, accessible transfer tunnel, without going outdoors.

The city's announcement is upfront about the fact that Pritzker Park – one of the Loop's few green spaces – would be eliminated. However, the RFP stipulates that the developer must provide up to 12,000 square feet of multi-purpose recreational space that is accessible to the public.

The park was created in 1992, during the construction of the library, on a site formerly occupied by a single-room occupancy hotel. The green space currently has few amenities, except for a low seating wall. As a result, the park seems to get relatively little use from downtown workers and visitors, although the Chicago Loop Alliance has recently tried to activate the space with temporary seating and special events. If the city moves forward with its plan to eliminate this rare downtown open space, it's important that Chicagoans get a better public facility out of the deal than what currently exists.

Friends of the Parks has already come out against the city's plan, stating in a press release this week, "The elimination of Pritzker Park would leave this community unserved by proximate public open space."

"The site was originally cleared in anticipation of its redevelopment as part of a Washington Library plan, and the interim use as public open space has only been marginally successful," DPD deputy commissioner Peter Strazzabosco told DNAinfo last month. "We believe it should be developed for more people-intensive uses that align with the evolving role of State Street for new retail, commercial, and institutional uses."

Here's one more thorny aspect of the city's plan. The RFP calls for the development to house a new Chicago Park District headquarters, with up to 80 car parking spaces. The site is well served by every other local transportation mode, including the 'L', Metra, buses, taxis, city fleet vehicles, car-share, and bike-share. This begs the question of why the park district – an agency whose mission is to preserve the environment – feels it's appropriate to warehouse dozens of private cars in the heart of the Loop.

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