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

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.

  • JKM13

    How many members does Friends of the Park(ing) lots have?

    How many of its members actually spend any time in Pritzker Park?

    Its a crappy “park” two blocks away from a useful park. The land is better served by other uses, FOTP should spend their precious time on something else, or better yet, go away. I like parks, but I’ve yet to see eye to eye with anything FOTP wants. They seem to view parks as a nice amenity to see open space while driving through Chicago (or, in the case of Lucas Museum, to park in), as opposed to a place people actually want to go and spend time in.

    If the Garfield Park Conservatory would be proposed today, what do you think FOTP would say? Lincoln Park Conservatory? Lincoln Park Zoo? Museum of Science and Industry? Planetarium? Field Museum? Shedd?

    They’d be against it all, if they were at all logically consistent to their views today.

  • I think this parcel would better serve the city as a building built to the maximum zoning allows (and I believe DX-16 is the most-intense zone available). Money for parks comes from property taxes and this development would generate a LOT of property taxes.

  • Logan Square Dad

    Well, like ’em or hate ’em, the mission of Friends of the Parks is protect Chicago Park Land. Much like it’s the public defenders job to defend all criminals, even the guilty ones. While I can’t say I always agree with them, I do agree with their mission.

  • Logan Square Dad

    This is pretty interesting and thought inspiring.

    How about a land swap like Cook County Park District does? For example, a developer has to provide a parcel of land the same size or larger that can clearly be used as park space in addition to purchase price?

    And, having a full, well designed transfer station on the South Side of the Loop would be a huge benefit to commuters and to businesses. This should be a no brainer for any development that has a retail focus as well as office tenants. I can’t begin to tell you how much of a perk it is for workers to get off a train and go up to their office without having to step outside. And it would drive higher retail rents with its guaranteed foot traffic.

    The 80-car parking situation is less of an issue with me. By the time the design charets are complete, this aspect of the plan will be reduced and, to be honest, it will mirror much of the newer office development taking place downtown.

  • “An earlier transfer from the Brown Line to the southbound Red Line for
    customers who board the Brown Line south of Fullerton.”

    It’s already a transfer point, and a better one than State/Lake which isn’t accessible.

    It would be very nice not to have to cross State St to transfer between the stations for those needing to use the elevators. This is also an important transfer location to the South Lakeshore Drive buses. An indoor waiting area and a raised curb would go a long way.

  • cjlane

    They “let” the Nature Museum be built in the park. In an affirmatively dumb location.

  • Anne A

    I enjoy the year-round sunny spot that Pritzker Park offers, but otherwise it’s a crappy park. Overall I agree with Friends of the Parks’ mission, even if they make a few missteps along the way.

  • JKM13

    Is a land swap even needed? There will be new, nicer park space created via the river walk expansion, in addition to all of the newly created green space by 150 N riverside and 444 W Lake covering the metra tracks.

    These are places where people are actually likely to linger, as opposed to a dark, noisy block in a less trafficked section of the loop.

  • Pat

    While both of those are positives, they are not Park District controlled land. While they are semi-public, the buildings operators could very well do what they see fit with them. They have no obligation to allow the PD to have events, can put in their own set of rules, etc.

    Think of something like Zuccotti Park in NYC.

  • JKM13

    Public defenders are legally required to defend all criminals.

    For Friends of the Park to be successful, ultimately they need to convince the public to be on their side. By reflexively opposing every potential development in parkland, or in this case defending a poorly located, poorly designed (and redesigned), barely utilized park, they aren’t doing much except making their stances less and less relevant.

    At some point some of their rich benefactors may decide not to fund their constant lawsuits, if it becomes clear even among their set the public isn’t on their side.

  • JKM13

    And they’ll likely be vastly more popular with the public than this park district controlled land. Who cares?

  • Pat

    I hope they fight tooth and nail for against the Obama Library as it is proposed now. No need to be taking away from Washington and Jackson Parks for parking and pavement. Private and University land should be the only real parcels on the table.

    How kind of a private institution to commit our public land for us!

  • Pat

    Not saying they won’t. I agree this park should be developed, but getting more parkland in the process on helps down the road.

  • Anne A

    State & Van Buren is not exactly a less trafficked section of the Loop. The volume of ped traffic is substantial, but most people don’t linger for multiple reasons.

  • Anne A

    FYI – FOTP does a lot of “boots on the ground” and “navigating park district bureaucracy” work assisting park advisory councils in neighborhood parks across the city from downtown to Rogers Park to the far reaches of the northwest and south sides. This results in better park facilities, better maintenance, better user experiences, etc. They generate a lot of tangible results behind the scenes, so much of what they do isn’t necessarily seen or appreciated by the general public.

    This comes from my perspective as a member of one of those park advisory councils. If you enjoy less broken glass, less trash and better overall conditions on the Major Taylor Trail, thank Erma Tranter and FOTP for doing a LOT to help that positive change to happen. That’s an example of the tangible results I’m talking about.

    I may not agree with their position in every fight, but they accomplish a lot of good that makes the city a better place to be.

  • JKM13

    Less trafficked in comparison to the rest of the loop. The SE part of the loop has been largely left out growth that’s occurred in the downtown core the last 15 years.

  • Velocipedian

    I wanted to commend the preemptive and detailed nature of this article. Fine journalism.

  • Jeremy

    Wouldn’t all new property tax dollars be required to stay in the Loop TIF district?

  • Maybe the developer should also be required to reproduce Elwood Blues’ apartment, which once occupied a small portion of this site:

  • Dennis McClendon

    Where do you get the idea that the parking would be for private cars? Isn’t it much more likely to be for the Park District motorpool?

  • neroden

    This needs to be a campaign. I’ve wanted an enclosed, wheelchair-accessible transfer at that exact location every time I’ve visited Chicago. It should have been done a long time ago. Any development should be required to do that.

  • neroden

    The Park District should buy and redevelop-as-a-park that dismal parcel west of Wells St. and south of Harrison St., next to the Chicago River. (It’s too late to restore it to railroad use.)

  • There are already plans afoot to punch streets through and join up the grid, to make it easier to get from west loop to Chinatown (and to connect Ping Tom Park to all the residential high-rises near Polk and east of the railroad).

    It’s been discussed here on Streetsblog before, but I can’t find it in the searcher.

  • I’m not getting that idea. 80 parked fleet vehicles is a lot of people or vehicles not in use/working.

  • I’ve updated the text to specify that the station would create an enclosed and accessible Brown to Red transfer.

    Does Jackson Red have elevators only on the east side of State Street?

  • I’m going to guess that the cash from this land sale would be more valuable than land for sale in a park-deficient area of the city.

    So there’d have to be a lot of land in the swap to equal the sale value of the State/Van Buren parcel, and it would take a lot of effort to evaluate each parcel of land in the swap.

  • Great point, but none of this property is within a TIF district.

  • Sorry, no there’s and elevator on both sides of the south Red Line mezzanine. The Blue line station only has an elevator to the north mezzanine, as far as I can tell.*

    * Based on StreetView exploring.

  • Dennis McClendon

    I’m having trouble parsing your reply. Are you saying the park district should not have vehicles to allow park supervisors to easily reach outlying parks in all weather? Or that the employees should be required to take vehicles they’re using home overnight for parking?

  • Steven Vance

    I’m considering that the Park District, like any other organization, likely needs to be able to have some of its employees come to the office in a company car. I’m saying that storing cars on site, in the most expensive real estate in Chicago, is very expensive – there are probably hundreds of car parking spaces in nearby parking garages that can be leased to the Park District.

  • Thrown Roe

    I like parks. I’m having a hard time liking the Friends of The Parks. They’re gonna fight tooth and nail over a postage stamp of green two blocks from Millenium Park? It’s not exactly historical either – this replaced a building on the site less than 30 years ago. What message does this send to developers? If you’re gonna tear something down, leave a parking lot, not a park. You’ll just get headaches with the park.

  • neroden

    Steven is saying that 80 is far more than the likely size of the Park District motorpool. (And if the motorpool is that large, parts of it should be parked somewhere further outside the Loop.)

  • forensicgarlic


  • goes both ways

    That park is a shit hole and not safe for anyone

  • I’ve always enjoyed having a park adjacent to the library. Often I read there. Noise and all.

  • Logan Square Dad

    With this, I must agree.


Blue Line Rehab to Make Only a Single Station Accessible

The Chicago Transit Authority will spend $492 million rehabilitating tracks and stations on the Blue Line between the downtown subway and O’Hare airport in an effort to speed service and improve the customer experience. But the project will make only one station accessible to people with disabilities, out of 11 stations slated for a rehab that are […]

Summertime Means Seating, Parties in Loop’s Public Spaces

The Chicago Loop Alliance, one of downtown’s chambers of commerce, has announced details about its ambitious slate of summer placemaking campaigns. These include monthly “Activate” arts events held in alleys, the Gateway People Plaza on State Street, new amenities for Pritzker Park, and pop-up lunchtime seating throughout downtown. CLA expects to spend $135,000 on placemaking […]