The penultimate addition to our Dead by Design series of cancelled Chicago projects is a gargantuan 2011 proposal oriented around the nine-story Old Chicago Post Office. The original post office was a smaller mail terminal designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. Having completed in 1921, the Art Deco structure was expanded in 1932 to bring its total square footage to 2.5 million square feet. While shuttering its mail operations in 1996, the building was inducted into the National Registry of Historic Places in 2001, then would be sold by the city to Bill Davies of International Property Developers in 2009 for $24 million.
Interestingly, this masterplan is one of few we have have covered that actually occupies two neighborhoods: South Loop and Near West Side. Despite spanning multiple districts, the complex would be interconnected with a series of elevated parks sky bridges, one of which would cross the Eisenhower Expressway, the other crossing the river itself. With Larry Booth of Booth Hansen overseeing its design, the glassy $3.5 billion scheme would have spanned three phases in total, occupying 16 million square feet, divided between 6.2 million square feet of retail/entertainment, 3.8 million square feet of residential units, 2 million square feet of office space, 7,500 hotel rooms, and 12,000 parking spaces. Davies received zoning approval for this initial iteration of the masterplan in 2012.
The first phase would have transformed the original post office into a retail venue with its entrance to the original grand lobby located along Van Buren. A segment of the interior would also be converted into a parking garage. This stage would also included a 40-story hotel attached to the east side, with this block costing $450 million.
The next component would have included a 60-story hotel skyscraper just west of the post office and a 120-story megatall tower on its east side. This office, hotel, and residential centerpiece would have stood 2,000 feet to its rooftop, atop of which would have been a set of antennas bringing the pinnacle height to the mid-2000-foot range. If it were built at the time of the proposal in 2011, it would be the second tallest building in the world only behind the 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa. This second stage of the master plan would have come out to a total cost of roughly $2 billion.
The third and final phase of the proposal would be located across the river on the current site of the Southbank scheme. This remaining $1 billion component would come with two residential towers and a parking garage.
Despite the 2012 approvals, the plans would be tweaked once more in 2013 with the oversight of Antunovich Associates, calling for the renovation of the post office to include 800,000 square feet of retail and four levels of parking. The first batch of new construction would include a 100-story tower, 2,900 residential units, 525,000 square feet of office space, and a 320-key hotel. There would be a second phase to include a tower mirroring the height of the original proposal, along with 3,500 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of office space, and 920 hotel rooms.
Construction appeared within reach in 2014 when Davies partnered with Sterling Bay to form a $500 million joint oriented around Phase I. This same year, Sterling Bay would reveal its own partnership with J.P. Morgan Asset Management, opening up new investment channels and pushing the project even closer to realization. However, according to an article by Curbed, the two property developers would ultimately dissolve their partnership just months later due to differing ideas for the project vision.
Leading into 2016, Davies began receiving pressure from the city to develop the property or sell it. He would make his third and final proposal consisting of 1.500 micro-apartments inside the post office itself, along with a new tower addition.
This brief scheme would ultimately not pan out, leading to the purchase of the property by the New York-based real estate firm 601W on May 13, 2016. Coincidentally, Davies would pass away the next day.
The Old Post Office would still undergo redevelopment in the form of a $500 million office renovation and amenity upgrade. The current owner 601W, whose portfolio also includes Aon Center and One Prudential Plaza, tapped Gensler to oversee the renovation designs. The revamped amenity package includes an 18,000-square-foot fitness center, a tenant lounge and bar, a speakeasy called The Vault, a common workspace area called The Library, and a conference center. Atop the building is a 3.5-acre rooftop park known as The Meadow.
Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects collaborated with Gensler on this staple amenity, which includes basketball court, native plantings, a bistro and bar area, and a running/walking track. BEAR Construction served as general contractor behind the renovation, with interior work completed in 2019 and The Meadow completed in 2020. Since its completion, the project has attracted numerous high profile tenants such as Uber, PepsiCo, Walgreens, Ferrara Candy Co., HomeChef, and Cboe. While this ultimate fate has not shattered any height records, the Old Post Office’s restoration and additions are ones fitting for an iconic piece of Chicago history.