Developer Sterling Bay buys former John Hancock Center for $300 million

One of Chicago’s busiest developers has reached a deal to buy one of the city’s most famous buildings—the 100-story skyscraper commonly known as the John Hancock Center.

Sterling Bay will take over the office and parking portions of the high-rise from The Hearn Company for more than $300 million, a source familiar with the transaction told Crain’s on Thursday. The terms of the deal exclude the building’s retail spaces, restaurants, observatory, antennae, and roughly 700 condominiums which all have different owners.

The sale comes just months after the iconic Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill-designed tower ditched the John Hancock name to become officially known as 875 N. Michigan Avenue—a title embraced by exactly zero Chicagoans. Sterling Bay, like Hearn before it, is expected to continue shopping the building’s naming rights to commercial partners.

The tower’s 94th floor 360 Chicago observation deck is not included in the $300 million deal.

The purchase of the former Hancock Center is the latest move in Sterling Bay’s recent buying spree that landed it some of the city’s largest and most recognizable office properties. In February, the company snapped up the former Montgomery Ward warehouse and current Groupon HQ at 600 W. Chicago for $510 million. It closed a deal to acquired the two-tower Prudential Plaza complex for $680 million shortly thereafter.

As the group continues to grow its office portfolio through acquisitions, the Sterling Bay is no stranger to building projects from scratch. The West Loop-based company recently delivered McDonald’s global headquarters in the Fulton Market District and is constructing the first of three office buildings planned along nearby Green Street.

If that was’t enough, Sterling Bay is in the process of seeking zoning approval for its largest project to date, known as Lincoln Yards. This massive mixed-use campus along the Chicago River’s North Branch Industrial Corridor calls for new office towers, hotels, residential buildings, park space, an extension of the 606 Trail, an upgraded Metra station, and an entertainment district anchored by a 20,000-seat stadium.


A rendering of the 70-acre Lincoln Yards project.

City unveils new Damen Green Line station designed by Perkins + Will

On Monday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined other city officials to release the first official images of the new Green Line station planned for the intersection of Lake and Damen on the city’s Near West Side.

Announced in early 2017, the CTA facility will fill a more than a one-mile gap in service between existing Green Line stations at California and Ashland. The city hopes the station will bring new opportunities to nearby residents and the small businesses lining the Kinzie Industrial Corridor as well as provide a mass transit option for crowds attending events at the United Center.

The city tapped global architecture firm Perkins + Will to design the airy building—which bears minimal resemblance to an earlier conceptual design commissioned by Randolph Fulton Market Association. The company’s recent Chicago portfolio include the Northtown Branch library in West Ridge, the Simpson Querrey Biomedical Research Center in Streeterville, and the 14-acre Riverline/South Bank megaproject in the city’s South Loop.

With its grand staircase and escalator easily visible through its transparent facade, the Damen station was designed to be intuitive to use, says the city. The structure will be topped by a glassy elevated bridge to connect the inbound and outbound and to provide riders with views of Chicago’s downtown skyline. Exposed steel trusses reference Chicago’s bridges while bright green colored accents mirror the CTA line it serves.

The new platform is part of a larger Lake Street reconstruction taking place between Damen to Ashland avenues since April. Improvements include new street lighting, traffic signals, landscaping, and increased clearance below the L to accommodate truck traffic from the Kinzie Industrial Corridor.

While the Lake Street project continues to move forward, work on the Perkins + Will-designed station isn’t expected to begin until later this year, starting with its foundation. Work on the actual station house structure is scheduled for spring of 2019 ahead of an anticipated 2020 opening date.

Construction funding will come from state sources and the Kinzie Industrial Corridor tax increment financing (TIF) district, said Emanuel in a press release.

Artspace, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives win approval for Pullman lofts

Artspace Projects and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives have cleared the last major hurdle in their $18 million proposal for a mixed-use development in Pullman, putting the builders on track to break ground this year on the historic neighborhood’s first new housing in 50 years.

The concept of a live-work space for artists has floated around Pullman since 2011, and earlier this year Minneapolis-based Artspace and Chicago-based CNI scored a permit to erect three buildings with 38 affordable units and 2,000 square feet of “community space” at the corner of Langley Avenue and 111th Street. The Pullman Artspace Lofts would include a public gallery, classrooms and working studio.

But the project stalled when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ordered a review by dozens of state and local agencies to determine whether it would meet historic preservation guidelines in a neighborhood designated a national monument in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama.

That review is now complete, and the city’s department of Fleet and Facilities Management is the latest agency to give a thumbs-up, CNI announced.

Built in the 1880s as a company town for railroad magnate George Pullman, the Far South Side neighborhood’s preserved brick bungalows have re-emerged in recent years as a hub for independent sculptors and illustrators.

Construction is expected to get underway on the 32,000-square-foot development in late summer or fall of this year, according to the developers.

Uptown Theater will be restored to 1925 glamor with $75 million

After decades of preservationists pleading for the restoration of the once ornate Uptown Theater, a $75 million dollar plan has come together to bring the 4,381-seat, historic building back to life. And quickly too—the project will begin this fall with plans to open in two years if everything goes smoothly.

The surprising news, reported Thursday night by the Chicago Tribune, was met, understandably, with some skepticism given the long wait and false starts. However, “this time it’s for real,” the mayor assured the Tribune’s theater critic in a conversation earlier this week.

The 1925 Spanish Baroque Revival movie palace was designed by C.W. Rapp and Geo. L. Rapp and it was known as “an acre of seats in a Magic City,” when it opened. But it’s really not in good shape now.

Since closing its doors at 4816 N. Broadway in 1981—the plaster has decayed, paint has peeled, rust has set in, signs have disappeared and overall deterioration has taken hold. Despite how hauntingly romantic it looks in Regina Spektor’s Black and White music video, the landmark building needs quite a lot of attention.

In a new partnership, Jam Productions, a Chicago-based promoter, and Farpoint Development, a company started by former Sterling Bay executives, will take on the massive project. In 2008, Jam Productions took control of Uptown Theater for $3.2 million after a court-ordered foreclosure sale.

The state and city will throw in about $49 million in funding from various agencies, and Jam and Farpoint will put together the remaining $26 million.

Jam Production knows concert promotion but expects to schedule a variety of events including comedy, dance, and special performances at Uptown. For some shows the main floor seats could be taken out, pushing capacity to 5,800 which rivals the 3,901-seat Auditorium Theatre and the 3,600-seat Chicago Theatre.

The team hasn’t selected an architect for the restoration and little is actually known about what will be done with the mix of public and private funds for the restoration, which leaves architecture critic Blair Kamin with a lot of questions. For instance, is $75 million actually enough to fully restore the theater?

Uptown’s recent infrastructure improvements might have played a role in why the theater’s restoration is happening now. The new $203 million Wilson Red Line station, part of the CTA’s modernization project, likely means good things are coming for the Lawrence station just steps away from the theater.

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