Thursday, March 14, 2013

The End of an Epic Dream: Calatrava's Chicago Spire hole on the block - retelling an amazing story

click images for larger view
Crain's Chicago Business is reporting today that the undisclosed owner of what's left of Santiago Calatrava's Chicago Spire has hired Jones Lang LaSalle to find a buyer for the project's nearly $93 million of debt.  The story of the Spire - from how the spectacular design took the world by storm when it was unveiled, to how it all eventually unraveled - would make a great book, but until I write one, here's the tale, as we covered it down through the years . . .
Calatrava's Latest Twist from Spire to Licorice Stick.  A 124-story building with a 400-foot-high antenna becomes a 2,000-foot, 160 story building with no antenna, reducing its twist from 360 degrees to 270

Calatrava Spire Shrouded in Irish Fog.  On a cold January night, Gatsby-like Irish developer Garrett Kelleher, who began his career in Chicago rehabbing industrial lofts into new residential space,  emerges from seclusion to present the Spire to a community meeting and gets into a verbal skirmish with Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin.  My take:
There's no disputing that Kelleher has guts, but the question for the city remains: for a billion dollar project, is it enough to be a faith-based initiative?
Santiago explains it all for you.  Santiago Calatrava is not only a great architect, he's a captivating salesman who could probably sell you your own watch after making a drawing of it that would be a work of art in itself.  In January of 2007, he came to Chicago to help Kelleher launch the Spire and captured the heart of the city - or at least the community group SOAR - for whom he gave a presentation where he talked about his building accompanied by drawing beautiful pictures on an overhead projector to explain the design.  
It's like writing a poem . . . with a magic that if you close a book that you left in a library, 300 years later someone opens it and gets the book, because this language is understandable.  More universal than the words, themselves, because language may change, but the monument remains there.  And when you go and visit a piece of architecture and you see there is a lot of the soul of the people that had been living a thousand years ago, and they are still there.  They are telling you . . . to believe in your time, because the buildings are still there .
The portfolio of art Calatrava created for the Chicago Spire will wind up being the most valuable  and enduring part of the project.

Calatrava Spire goes before Plan Commission Today.  It's official name: Residential-Business Planned Development No. 368.  Kelleher has pledged $500,000 (the promise will eventually grow into the millions) towards the projected $12 million cost of creating DuSable Park, just east of the Spire, which will use it as a staging area for construction.  Santiago Calatrava has presented a design for an elegant new - and unfunded - pedestrian footbridge for the new park.
Chicago Spire Officially Hole in Ground.  By August of 2007, construction had actually begun.
Calatrava's Chicago Spire Looking for Persons of Interest.  Soon, the ads were even appearing on the city's bus shelters.

The Chicago Spire:  You loved the building, now buy the soundtrack.  When a penthouse is going for $40,000,000, money is no object, and composer Thomas Chance is hired to create music for the Spire's promotional video.

Chicago Spire: Planetarily notorious - Garret Kelleher declares the Spire will prove immune to the growing world-wide housing slump. ”Everyone in the world knows about this project,” he says, but declines to say how many of the Spire's 1,200 units have been sold.
photograph: Bob Johnson
Santiago Calatrava to Chicago Spire Developer: “You owe me MONEY!!”.  By the fall of 2008, it was all beginning to unravel, with liens being placed against the project, including one for $11.3 milion from Calatrava.  One reader suggests making Calatrava's images into posters.
At the Calatrava Spire, the hole just keeps getting deeper.  By 2010,  the lender, Anglo Irish Bank, took control of the site, where the only thing left is the hole . . .
. . . and a now you see it, now you don't model as part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's popular Chicago Model City exhibition. (You can also buy your very own Calatrava Spire as part of the 4D Cityscape Chicago puzzle set.    Calatrava Spire Completed - then Vanishes!
In 2010, the Chicago Architectural Club held a Mine the Gap Competition for ideas of what to do so about the Spire's massive hole in the ground.    The concept presented by a team led by UIC professor Alexander Lehnerer submitted the winning entry.

And this is where we stand today, an empty site with an orange-rimmed hole, no work underway at DuSable Park, and the memories of a dream.


Anthony Thompson said...

Actually, this post is incorrect / outdated. The developer is in new talks w/ financiers to restart the project. That was reported recently in Crain's.

Lynn Becker said...

Anthony, if you really believe anyone is about to hand Kelleher the $1 billion+ he needs for this this project, I've got a couple bridges over the Chicago River I'd like to sell you.

Here are the links to the stories:

Chicago Spire developer hopes to revive project.

Related sues Kelleher