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One Central Mega-Development Could Connect Museum Campus to Mass Transit

A rendering depicts a section of the planned mega-development. Photo: Perkins + Will

Yet another transformative mega-development is taking shape in Chicago. This time, a Wisconsin-based developer is seeking to construct a series of skyscrapers, new park space, and a major transit hub over a long stretch of Metra tracks in the South Loop. Dubbed “One Central,” the proposed development would not only extend the density of downtown further south to McCormick Place, but the massive undertaking would help better connect attractions such as Soldier Field and the Museum Campus to Chicago’s existing mass transit network.

According to Landmark Development, the company behind the ambitious proposal, One Central would span a 34-acre site and create more than 15 acres of new public green space. The plan, which is expected to take 15 years to complete, would cap the Metra tracks with an enormous platform anchoring new towers, plazas, and the transit hub. Master planning comes from global architecture firm Perkins + Will, which is also the lead designer and planner for the nearby Riverline and Southbank mega-developments along the Chicago River.

An aerial view of the existing conditions at the site where the development is planned. Photo: Landmark Development

Coincidentally, the proposal was unveiled the same day that the Chicago City Council voted to approve the controversial Lincoln Yards plan on the North Side—a mega-development that will reshape over 50 acres of former industrial sites along the Chicago River. While questions remain about the feasibility of connecting Lincoln Yards with surrounding neighborhoods, the developer behind One Central has made transit integration one of the key components of the plan.

Another major difference between the two mega-developments is that Landmark is not seeking the use of tax increment financing and has pledged to privately fund infrastructure improvements at the site.

The proposed transit plan for One Central, including the "Chicago Line" circulator route. Image: Landmark Development

The proposed hub for One Central is expected to bridge a transit divide for the Near South Side, connecting residents and office workers to the CTA’s Orange Line as well as Metra and Amtrak service. A proposed "CHI-Line" circulator system would transport people "over Lake Shore Drive, around the Museum Campus, up to the parks, and to Navy Pier." In many ways, the proposal would see a mass transit vision—connecting the Museum Campus to the rest of Chicago’s mass transit—that has been long desired and discussed for the area become a reality.

While it’s still yet to be determined exactly how many new residences and how much office space is planned for the site, Landmark’s proposal does include 6,000 parking spaces. That's a potentially problematic aspect of the plan, because thousands of additional car trips a day would likely lead to headaches for residents and office workers getting in and out of the district—and Lake Shore Drive—each day. However, the developer asserts that the project would result in "traffic reductions in the neighborhood."

A conceptual site plan for the One Central development. Photo: Landmark Development

As with any proposal of this scale, changes can be expected as the public review process advances. Just one week after its unveiling, 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell has already asked for revisions, the Chicago Tribune reported, seeking reductions on building heights and density. It’s not the first time Alderman Dowell has pushed back against such plans for the ward. In January, Dowell opposed Related Midwest’s plan for a new Red Line station at the 15th Street and Clark Street intersection that would connect its proposed “78” mega-development to the CTA rail system.

Chicago is no stranger to ambitious developments over open air rail tracks. One only needs look to Millenium Park, and the technical marvel of 150 North Riverside. And in the tradition of thinking big, the wildly ambitious One Central has the potential to transform a no man’s land of open air rail tracks into a dynamic new residential and commercial corridor. But it’s the transit plan and connectivity that will ultimately make or break the development as a meaningful—and worthy—addition to Chicago’s downtown core.

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