The Chicago City Council has approved the landmark status and Class L tax incentive for the Illinois Bell Building. Located at 225 W Randolph Street in The Loop, the tower is located at the intersection of W Randolph Street and N Franklin Street. The tower rises 427 feet over 31 floors, and was constructed in 1965. The building was originally home to the headquarters of its namesake tenant, the Illinois Bell Telephone Company, while most recently home to AT&T offices.
According to the report prepared by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (CCL), the Illinois Bell Building meets three criteria for landmark designation. The building meets Criterion 1, which is its value as an example of city, state, or national heritage. The second criterion is Criterion 4, which is the project as exemplary architecture. The Illinois Bell Building is one of the few examples of New Formalism applied to a skyscraper, and would become the first New Formalist landmark. The marble and granite façade is key to New Formalism. The tower is distinguished by its strong vertical columns, projecting roof slab, cantilevering first floor colonnade, and first level street plaza. Additionally, the building meets Criterion 5, which is an important architect, who in this case was Holabird & Root, a longtime Chicago firm.
The project also meets the commission’s Integrity Criterion. The building exterior possesses a significant degree of historic design integrity. Changes to the project have been limited. Skybridges and concourses that once connected it to its neighboring building have been removed. A 1980s renovation altered the lobby, lowering the ceilings, and adding wood paneling. The elevator lobbies on the upper floors were also modernized in the 1980s renovation. Retail tenants were added in the corners at ground level.
Under this landmark designation, all exterior elevations including rooflines, the first floor lobby, and exterior plazas including the granite planters on N Franklin Street and W Randolph Street will be protected.
Onni Group, the developer for the project, has sought a Class L tax incentive for the building. The Class L property tax incentive is a special real estate tax assessment that is used to encourage preservation and rehabilitation of landmarked buildings. Developers must invest a minimum of 50 percent of the assessed value in rehabilitation and CCL must certify that the rehabilitation meets historic standards.
The scope of work on the exterior includes marble and granite repairs, façade cleaning, and curtain wall repairs as necessary. The plaza pavers will be repaired and planters will be modified.
On the interior, the lobby will be rehabilitated, replacing the non-historic wall panels with stone and replacing the 1980s era ceiling. There will be a new stair constructed to access the basement from the lobby. There will also be a new entrance in the center bay of the W Randolph Street elevation.
On the upper floors, there will be demolition of the interior non-load bearing walls and finishes. Elevator lobbies, common corridors, and bathrooms will be renovated. Elevator cores will also be renovated and restored.
The Class L incentive includes sustainability requirements, where the new development must exceed energy code by five percent. There will be interior water use reduction and proximity to transit and the inclusion of bike parking is required. During construction, 80 percent of waste must be diverted from landfills.
With Chicago City Council approval for both landmark status and Class L incentive, construction will begin once the sale of the building has closed. The developer aims to begin construction in early 2021, with work projected to reach completion in March 2024. The total estimated cost for the project is $342 million, which includes the cost of buying the property.