In his newsletter to constituents, 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly released a Powerpoint presentation that HOK Architects gave at a recent community meeting that depicts the designs for three interlocking hotels, totaling 601 rooms, that Friedman Properties is proposing to build on the western half of the block between Dearborn and Clark, Illinois and Grand in River North.
The first casualty of the project would be the 19th century building at 501 N. Clark, conveniently left out of a sprawling River North landmark district that was hastily sprung last October only to fall into limbo after screams by affected property owners, including Friedman, the "King of River North," who has been instrumental in transforming the area from a skid row to one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city.
We may be entering the declining stage of Albert Friedman's stewardship. As a rescuer of landmark properties - the original foundation of his empire - he's sine qua non. As a developer of new construction, he's turning out to be just another enabler of junk architecture. The designs presented for the hotels are dull as dishwater, and would be a major contributor to the usual trajectory of a hot area made attractive by a storehouse of interesting architecture becoming overwhelmed by increasingly large scale projects that overtake and smother its character. The newer megabuildings are basically parasitical. They add density and economic value (and, of course, get their own substantial cut in return), but give little to nothing back to the urban fabric.
The Fairfield Inn design at least promises a fairly open facade. The Hyatt looks like a second rate hospital, the Aloft like an upscale SRO, with a stripe along the short facade that seems to be a street vendor knockoff of Jackie Koo's bold green lightning bolt on the new Hotel Wit.
The next shoe to drop may be just across the street, where the U.S. Postal Service is looking to unload the Myron Goldsmith designed Fort Dearborn facility for the highest possible economic return, meaning the last opportunity to provide a real park for the exploding residential density of River North may well be lost to another series of overscaled, built to to-the-lot line, dead-as- a-beached-cod towers. Where's the collapsed real estate market when you really need it?