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

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

  • Is the blue line on the 3D map above the Midwest HSR connection plan?

  • Austin Busch

    I’d be shocked if they were proposing to pay for the whole Orange Line extension themselves. It looks like it will need to be stacked over the existing elevated rail tracks, as I can’t imagine they would be upgraded and shared. I suppose if One Central built a yard/turnaround on site, that would still be a decent financial undertaking.

    This proposal’s back-of-the-napkin transit proposals are fascinating. They seem only slightly more tangible than the Goose Island “transitway”, but are dreaming bigger than the city has in over a decade.

  • what_eva

    I think it’s just the existing Amtrak route into Union Station from the South and East via the Air Line.

  • Dennis McClendon

    What’s not yet been discussed is why Metra BNSF—much less Amtrak—would have any interest in running trains over here. And apparently they call the CTA idea an “Orange Line” extension just so people can imagine a short trip to Midway, even though it would make no sense whatever as part of the Orange Line. Maybe as a stub-end terminal for the Pink Line, offering a cross-platform transfer at Roosevelt and an O’Hare transfer at Clark/Lake.

  • Mcass777

    Proof the headline -It says Cental

  • Roo_Beav

    The border of Ald Dowell’s ward goes through this site. The area south of 18th is in Ald King’s ward. Ald King been known to remove bike infrastructure and to push for more parking in South Loop.

  • Carter O’Brien

    What we really need for the Museum Campus is a subway spike that just takes people from the Roosevelt hub and gets them somewhere between Soldier Field and the Field Museum as street level traffic crossing Michigan, Columbus and LSD is always going to be a mess. This plan may help a bit, but 18th south of Soldier Field is a country mile from the museums themselves. If Chicago wants to be a cosmopolitan city like London, Paris or Rome, look and learn at how they make it *easy* to get to places like the Museum Campus by subway. We instead obsess with access for private vehicles, and then wonder why everyone drives and traffic (including those who need to make deliveries, school buses, etc.) is a hot mess. I’ve been working at the Field Museum for 22 years, and I don’t think people in relatively good health and not dealing with kids, ADA challenges, etc. understand what a royal hassle it can be to get here by public transit – one of the crown jewel tourist attractions of the city.

    It was much different before the South Loop exploded. I come from both the Blue Line and Brown Line at ~ Belmont depending on school logistics for my kid. And it shouldn’t take an hour to travel 7 miles, much less a half hour to go from the southeastern edge of the Loop to the Museum Campus. And people and our staff should not have to walk 1/2 mile on Roosevelt as bus service is so erratic, with frequent disruptions by events in Grant Park and on Columbus. During Lollapalooza we may as well be on lockdown, the City doesn’t even let us cross the 11th street unless you are using the Metra station.

  • Dennis McClendon

    That might be killing mosquitoes with a howitzer. Except for 10 days a year, the 146 bus provides an easy link to Roosevelt CTA station, and in summer the 130 bus to the Metra stations.

  • troll e troll

    time to have a good conversation about the Grey Line!

  • JacobEPeters

    It isn’t showing the turnaround at Halsted that trains must do to connect to Union Station. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1c4906e42cf0e1f2f6480a92ac562cfdac26b3babd43cbc6c461df0b285b9451.png

  • Dennis McClendon

    There’s currently no turnout from the Air Line to Union Station trackage. As Jake points out, Champaign and New Orleans trains have to go west onto BNSF tracks, then back up.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Those buses are barely adequate for visitors, and woefully insufficient for staff, as the 146 that comes here (half don’t) is a buncher. We get over 5 million visitors a year, so I think you need to think about the bigger picture as it pertains to our economic impact and tourism. Meet me in the Loop during the sunmer and I will be quite happy to show you where the rubber meets the road.

  • Austin Busch

    Disregarding ridership estimates, the capital cost is probably considerably less for extending it at surface level on to the museums than for elevating it between Roosevelt and Metra/18th. The extra trackage may also be easier for turnarounds than the limited space in the hub.

  • 191645316515

    Diverting the Orange Line here makes zero sense. They would be inconveniencing thousands of commuters going to and from the Loop. If the project needs CTA service, why not extend a line that ends downtown, like the Brown Line?

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    The proposed Red Line extension follows the same ROW necessary to get trains from the NS tracks along Halsted/State to the IC Line, which would negate this BONKERS maneuver and free up space for the St Charles Air Line to be used as the South Ring of an Outer Loop Line, from museums up through the Park to Navy Pier, then West along the Carroll Street ROW to Clinton Street and OTC and CUS.

  • what_eva

    I suspect that’s simply a lack of precision on the map with colored lines from a developer who has zero connection to proposals to fix that issue.

    Seriously, if you’re a developer drawing a marketing map, do you put a curly-Q on it to show the turnaround or do you just draw a curved line?

  • Dennis McClendon

    Sorry, but what is the “it” that you’re proposing extending or elevating?

  • Dennis McClendon

    The problem is that this developer’s analysis of transit and access issues seems to have consisted of nothing more than “the Air Line comes pretty close to our site; therefore all trains in the Chicago area could come to our new hub.” No understanding that none of the riders on any of those trains want to come to your new hub more than once or twice a year.

  • Austin Busch

    Sorry by ‘it’ I meant the Orange line, or whatever CTA L line is being proposed.

  • what_eva

    you expect more out of a developer?

  • paulrandall

    Do we really need a $500M Red Line Clark Street station when most of The 78 is within a 15 minute walk of existing Red Line stations in Chinatown and Roosevelt?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Question: Would Museum Campus — along with many other destinations/places — be sufficiently and satisfactorily served by mass rapid transit if the Metra Electric line operated as a CTA rail line? If so, would 1) adding a new station at McFetridge Dr. (with an under- or over-pass under/over Columbus Dr. and Lakeshore Dr.) and 2) creating a direct connection (i.e. a “transfer” station) at the Van Buren St. AND/OR the Millennium Metra Electric stations to one or more of the existing CTA rail lines be the best solution? This approach maximizes use of existing rail infrastructure, involves relatively feasible new connections, and would help bring new, more urban and lively development to the south side of Chicago, along the ME line, no?

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