Friday, October 16, 2015

Marina City Closer to Landmark Status? Public Hearing Friday Morning

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[update: 1:00 p.m., October 16][ No formal objections were filed during the public hearing on landmarking Marina City.  Speaking on behalf of LaSalle Hotel Properties, Mariah DiGrino of the law firm DLA Piper declared her client's - at least momentary - neutrality:
We are among the owners that have not provided a consent to the designation. At this time, ownership is not prepared to consent or object, but continues to evaluate the effect of the designation on its hotel and commercial operations. Obviously, we’re not here to challenge Marina City’s place in the city’s visual landscape or its place in the city’s history. We have met with [Landmarks] Commissioner [Eleanor] Gorski, who has been very informative and helpful to us understanding the effect of the designation and we look forward to continuing to work with the Landmarks Division on future requests for approvals for the hotel and commercial spaces as they arise.
Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald expressed her organization's support for the landmarking . . .
Marina City is a critical part of the city’s mid-century architectural heritage and is considered one of the city’s most photographed buildings . . . We know from a 2008 survey that a majority of Marina City’s residents are in favor of landmark designation, which will also provide helpful financial incentives for future capital improvements. 
Two of these incentives are the property tax assessment freeze, and, due to the building’s location, the opportunity to receive capital improvement funds through the city’s Adopt-A-Landmark program. Both of these incentives demonstrate that in addition to protecting one of the city’s most distinctive buildings, landmark designation can result in financial assistance for its owners.
The State of Illinois Property Tax Assessment Freeze program makes unit owners eligible for freezing the assessments on their units for 8 years, while the City of Chicago's Adopt-A-Landmark program allows developers to increase their allowable built density by financing improvements to a nearby designated landmark.

Preservation Chicago President Ward Miller stressed both Marina City's revolutionary design, and its path-breaking motor boat docks and river edge dining rooms that jump-started the transformation of the Chicago river from an "industrial canal" to the civic amenity of a recreational riverfront proposed by Daniel Burnham in his 1909 Plan of Chicago a half century before.

It's was all over in a little more than 40 minutes.  You can listen to the entire session, courtesy of Steven Dahlman, here.

Friday, October 16 at 9:30 a.m., in Room 1103 of City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will be holding a hearing for the public, owners, and any "unknown owners" to present comment on the proposal to make Bertrand Goldberg's Marina City complex an official Chicago landmark.
A week or so ago, I had heard no objections had been filed to the action, although Trib architecture critic Blair Kamin tweeted yesterday that there was still one owner who had yet to declare their consent.  In an article posted last evening, Kamin reported that the party not heard from was LaSalle Hotel Properties, which in 2006 acquired what was then the House of Blues Hotel - built in what had originally been the Marina City office building - and parking floors of the two residential towers for $114.5 million.  After rehabbing the facility as the Sax Hotel, it was rehabbed again recently and is now known as the Hotel Chicago. LaSalle's silence has been aggressive and complete, with Ald. Brendan Reilly saying nothing had been heard from the company and Kamin's phone calls going unreturned.
Although most people make thinkg of Marina City as just the twin cylindrical 60-story residential towers, with parking on the first twenty floors, it's actually perhaps the first, true multi-use complex, also including an office building, a theater, a marina, and public plazas.

The landmarks resolution protects  the exteriors of the complex's original buildings, as well as the "driveways and open plaza areas between the buildings."  The jarringly out-of-place Smith and Wollensky restaurant structure, constructed in 1998 where the original skating rink had been, is not protected, nor is the skylighted entrance pavilion next to it.
Although the Commission has now apparently largely outsourcing the work of writing the "Summary of Information" reports on the history and importance of proposed landmarks, the 54 page report on Marina City - a product of experts from Bauer Latoza, Ramsey Historic Consultants and Granacki Historic Consultants -  maintains the highs standards established in reports written by in-house scholars such as Terry Tatum.   The report includes a history of the building and its architect, Bertrand Goldberg, and of William McFetridge and the Chicago Labor movement that made the project possible, an account of the construction, financing and marketing, and a placement of Marina City's importantance within the larger context of Expressionist Modern Architecture.  Richly illustrated, it's a must-read.  (As is Steven Dahlman's on-line City Within a City: The Biography of Marina City.)
Last November, Marina City had its global moment in the sun moon when daredevil Nick Wallenda walked on a tightrope across the Chicago River from the top of Marina City's 60-story west tower, and then for an encore crossed from the West Tower to its twin to the east.   There's no mystery as to why he chose Marina City for his stunt.  Chicago has no more iconic building than Marina City.  With the Picasso and Cloud Gate, it's the most globally recognized symbol of the city.  Making it an designated landmark simply makes it official - and offers some needed protection.  If Marina City isn't a Chicago landmark, then there is none.

Read More:
Night Magic: Wallenda Walk Lights Up Chicago's River Skyline

 Up on the Rooftop: Night and Luftwerk's Art at Marina City

At Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg - Screwed Again


Door to the Heart: Bertrand Goldberg's Reflections - the things he made, the things he kept

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