Here’s to New Beginnings

This is the first official post from the spanking brand new Reel Story website and blog, and as the owner and executive producer, I welcome you and thank you for checking it out.

This marks the official groundbreaking for what I hope will be a long and rewarding dialogue with the Reel Story community and with anyone who finds the process of designing and creating the worlds great structures as fascinating a I do. Though I have much to say (ask anyone who knows me), I couldn’t think of a better place to start than to talk about one of several new bright spots on the skyline of my home town, Chicago, and what may prove to a pretty good signal of something that strongly resembles what we used to refer to as “good news”.

As it did everywhere, the collapse of the economy in 2008 left many scars on the Chicago landscape, and none more telling than the hulking, unfinished shells of various high and mid-rise buildings that never made it past infancy. This was something no one had seen before in Chicago; buildings with grand intentions left for all intents and purposes abandoned for years in the heart of one of the worlds most vibrant and otherwise healthy cities. And not just in fringe areas, where they might blend in with a neighborhood already in decline, like a car on blocks. These were proud structures in the very heart of the city, sitting on some of the most valuable real estate in the country, and their cumulative demise can be measured in the hundreds of millions.

A1C_0101Ironically, even in Detroit, one of the hardest hit cities in the US (and my first and still true “home town”) you didn’t see unfinished skyscrapers scattered around in recent years. Crane rentals were way down before the crisis, and newer buildings like the casinos (which I think come in a box and just have to be assembled), were finished by the time the bottom fell out. Sadly, there’s no shortage of abandoned buildings there, many of which I’ve photographed over the years (you can see more of them here), but at least in Detroit, at one time one of the most vibrant cities in the world, the proud¬† and beautiful buildings that now have trees growing out of them had long and rich lives before the world decided to ignore them en masse. The buildings in Chicago were literally left for dead on the sidewalk, far too big to ignore and too valuable to bury and forget about. Like a Rolls or Bentley sitting on blocks. On Michigan Avenue.

chi_Waterview_Tower2Topping this list – quite literally – was the ambitious Waterview at 111 W. Wacker, planned as a 95 story luxury Shangri La hotel and high-end condo monolith, on par to be the 5th tallest building in the US.

Unfortunately it was a little too ambitious (OK, a lot), and work stopped in 2008 less than a year after it began, when unpaid workers walked off the site.

Chaos ensued.

And there it stood, on one of the prominent corners in the Chicago Loop at Clark and Wacker, directly overlooking the Chicago River, until 2012, when Related Midwest brought the distressed property out of foreclosure and, working with Handle Architects of New York and Epstein and Kara Mann in Chicago, re-imagined the 28 story shell as a more modest but equally impressive 60 story, 500 unit rental property, aptly named 111 West Wacker. Due for completion in June of 2014, the dramatic design of the glass facade is slowly starting to take shape, and what languished as a dark and empty symbol of irrational exuberance is now a shiny blue reflection of recovery and prudence.

I’ve been watching for months as the building rises up to meet its neighbors, and finally, on a picture perfect afternoon last week, I couldn’t resist grabbing the camera enjoying a half hour finding as many vantage points as possible; on the Clark and Lasalle Street bridges, the river walk, and the sidewalks below.

The very busy Lend Lease Chicago is the GC, and topping out appears imminent, if my counting is accurate. Looking forward to heading out again in the weeks to follow, but below are some shots from 10/4. Next post will be another riches-to-rags-to-riches story, this time about a ghost of a hotel that is once again living and breathing in River North. Hope you’ll check back.


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