Crain's Chicago Business had a story Monday filling in some of the details of a pair of agenda items for this Thursday's monthly meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. The first includes - all in one swoop - "Preliminary Landmark Recommendation, Report from the Department of Planning and Development and Final Landmark Recommendation to City Council" for the last skyscraper designed by Mies van der Rohe, the 1973 IBM Building, now known, after the departure of its namesake tenant, by its address, 330 North Wabash.
Immediately following this is the second item, "Review of Pre-Permit Submission and Recommendation to City Council for Approval of Class L Property Tax Incentive " also for the IBM Building.
Now it all makes sense. When a classic unprotected building is under imminent threat, the Commission is more than likely to crawl at the official pace of a lumbering bureaucracy, but in the case of the IBM, it's the developer, Prime Group Realty Trust, that is pushing for designation, in order to qualify not just for local tax incentives, but federal tax credits, as well. The plan is to convert office floors 2 through 14 into a 300 room hotel.
The IBM has been suffering as an office building with the loss of several key tenants. (When Trump was planning an office component in his tower, he attempted to lure IBM tenants with the fact that his building was going to block their views. Then he decided to dump office space from his own project.)
Chicago is reaching the peak of a hotel construction bubble. According to Crain's, room rates have jumped 24% over the past two years, while occupancy rates have hit levels not seen in at least two decades. The number of new rooms either planned or under construction is topping 9,000, including, just across the street from the IBM, a five-star, 286 room hotel at the base of the Trump Tower, scheduled to open - depending on who you believe - in either December or February. If Prime Group's plan goes through, minimalist Miesians and glitz-crazed Trumpists will soon be able to glare at each other in mutual disdain from either side of Wabash.
Two blocks to the south, Kimpton Hotels has just announced their plans to purchase the 27 story-high 203 North Wabash - opened in 1928 as the Old Dearborn Bank and one of only two office buildings designed by Rapp & Rapp, the movie palace architects behind the Chicago, Oriental, Palace and Uptown - and convert it into a 220 room boutique hotel. Two blocks to the north, the beautiful park next to the AMA building has been obliterated for still another hotel, the 259 room Hotel Palomar.
Making IBM an official landmark means any future changes to the protected exteriors will have to be approved by the Landmarks Commission. Let's hope the Commission doesn't give away the store in getting to that point, as they almost did recently at the Palmer House, bargaining away the historic retail facades for a jarring storefront "modernization". A protest led by Preservation Chicago scotched that plan, but the decimation of the hotel's grand block-long arcade, rubber-stamped by the Commission, is well under way.
At the IBM, garish oversized elevator signs as glaringly bright as a shopping mall parking lot, part of a Philippe Stark redesign, have already been slapped on Mies' travertine. Meanwhile, on the other side of State Street from the IBM, Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City complex, among the most iconic and important emblems of the city, yet one the Commission has made no visible effort to landmark, continues to undergo a series of desecrating alterations under the commercial properties' new owners.