Renderings Revealed For Conceptual Reimagining Of Michigan Avenue

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

Renderings have been revealed for the conceptual redevelopment of the north-end of Michigan Avenue. Spanning from roughly E Chicago Avenue to the south and Oak Street Beach to the north, the ideas were created as the popular street faces record high vacancy. The designs and ideas were created by architectural firm Gensler.

View of Michigan Avenue via Google Maps

The concepts come as the avenue faces a nearly 30-percent vacancy rate. Currently the only major moves on the strip are H&M moving to the former Apple Store building, leaving their current structure which once held Verizon and Uniqlo completely empty, as well as Aritzia moving to the former Gap store.

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

With most of the changes coming to the southern end of the road, the northern end remains disconnected. Thus the team at Gensler, which is being led by the same designers who worked on other redevelopment projects like Navy Pier and the Willis Tower, is proposing a pedestrian focused approach.

The conceptual design can be split into two portions, the area around the Water Tower, and the connection to Oak Street Beach:

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

Water Tower + Jane Byrne Plaza

Currently seven-lanes wide, one of the major aspects of the proposal is a road diet to bring the avenue down to four-lanes. The gained space would be given back to the areas sidewalks which are often jam-packed with tourists, allowing for more planters, outdoor dining space, and kiosks. This would also help promote foot traffic north which often dwindles away from the river.

View of Michigan Avenue via Google Maps

A major portion of this area would be to draw traffic to the MCA on the eastern end of the road. This would be done by removing the parking by engine 98 and adding additional park and restaurant space, adding new ground floor restaurants to Water Tower Place and opening its facade with glass.

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

Sculptures would also be scattered across Michigan Ave to guide people to the museum. Across the way, Jane Byrne Plaza around the Water Tower would be redesigned with new plantings, seating areas, vendor kiosks, and sidewalks on the east end for easier flow. The tower itself would have its base commercial space redeveloped as a cafe potentially.

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

Oak Street Beach Connection

A few blocks north is one of the toughest spots on the avenue, the street splits into three separate roads leading in different directions and creating a harsh connection to one of the few downtown beaches in the world. To fix this, the roads would be slimmed and streamlined with two different options to cross Lake Shore Drive (LSD).

View of Michigan Avenue via Google Maps

Lakefront park would be redesigned with a large central plaza, vendors, welcome center, and various green spaces, with a wide sidewalk connection to Oak Street and Michigan Ave. The team also proposes either a placemaking bridge over LSD as a landmark, or an expanded tunnel with additional art and lighting.

Conceptual rendering of Michigan Avenue by Gensler

This would lead to a new beach space with added boardwalks, a new restaurant and commercial pavilion with deck overhanging the water. This would lead to a large fountain to be utilized for shows as a major tourist attraction as well.

The proposal comes as the governor approved a Business Improvement District for the mile, allowing for property owners to tax themselves in order to fund improvements. The design team has officially submitted the drawings to the city who has confirmed receival, however there is no concrete timeline or pricing for the concepts according to Crain’s.

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48 Comments on "Renderings Revealed For Conceptual Reimagining Of Michigan Avenue"

  1. love this but wish bus lanes were added to michigan ave or bike lanes to connect to the lakefront trail.

    • They do show bike lanes in that last rendering, but yes we need bus lanes as well…it’s one of the busiest bus corridors in the entire city, if not *the* busiest.

  2. Great ideas. Reducing lanes on Michigan Ave. is bold and a risk but would be great if it works. What ever happened to the rebuilding of LSD? These renderings do no look like they are coordinating with the rebuild LSD plan….

  3. This really looks quite exciting, and I certainly welcome that road diet for Michigan Ave. however, my one problem with the plan is I really don’t want to see Lake Shore Drive still remaining or being reinforced as a highway, so hopefully that part of things can change

    • Seconded, strongly! Time for LSD to be “downgraded” back to being a high capacity, multi-modal boulevard. Tunnel or bridge not even needed then.

  4. Ever since I arrived in Chicago, it’s been clear to me: Michigan Avenue desperately needs a road diet. Revamping the lakefront access is an amazing pitch, but I’m not a fan of Mag Mile in its current state.

    It’s essentially a chaotic stroad dominated by shopping, not a welcoming space for people.
    While there are a few restaurants, most of it caters to those with money to burn. Instead of just a shopping destination, the Mag Mile should be transformed into a “third place” for people to enjoy.

    With its 13 bus routes and bike-friendly potential, a dedicated bus rapid transit lane, or a shared bike/BRT lane, would be a game-changer. It would improve safety, increase accessibility, and make the most of a road that could be a vital transit corridor.

    • I couldn’t agree more nor state my position better. Exactly this. We need bold leaders who aren’t afraid to think outside the car and the overly represented car constituency.

  5. AJM – I think awhile back some aldermen wrote to whoever was doing Redefine the Drive to scrap their plans and instead work towards a more transit-friendly design, so I’m not sure if the current proposal still stands.

    • Anti-Parking Wizard | July 9, 2024 at 8:41 am | Reply

      Unfortunately, IDOT is gonna build whatever they want to build. They’re using the standard state DOT playbook when it comes to expanding highways. It may take awhile, but eventually they’ll push through their expansion because
      state DOTs really only care about one thing: the appearance of improving level of service for folks in cars. The only thing that will move the needle is a change in policy from the Governor. Unfortunately, he seems to think highway expansions improve congestion despite 90 years of evidence showing that doesn’t work.

      • Two of the largest corporations in Illinois are Allstate and State Farm. IDOT has to make sure income keeps growing to keep shareholders happy.

      • Exactly, highways are important pieces of infrastructure to connect productive endpoints together, but not by running them through the productive place – it’s a productive place (i.e. Chicago) killer.

  6. Anti-Parking Wizard | July 9, 2024 at 8:28 am | Reply

    I love the idea of slimming Michigan Ave and giving the space to pedestrians. It would also give space for restaurants/cafes to possibly have more outdoor seating, which would liven up the streetscape.

  7. Now let’s take all those hundreds of millions from opportunity fund and all other funds Chicago been collecting money from developers and pay for this. Michigan ave needs help. And it needs it now.

  8. One of the challenges will be having the MCA as a cultural “anchor”. I’ve been a member for decades, but this museum is often filled with bewildering/alienating/confrontational/political art that can leave one feeling depressed and deflated rather than stimulated and inspired. It is nothing like MOMA in New York, for example, which is a magnet for visitors.

    • You are correct, the MCA is not very fun at all. I still remember this awful photo display of mangled women with ropes squishing their faces…I never went back not realizing why. Why? Seeing something so disturbing in what should be a MOMA style museum.

    • Why are we always focused on Michigan Ave. It has a 30 percent occupancy rate because it was based on retail…a dying industry. There are so many areas in Chicago that need investment.

      • Please get educated. Retail is actually thriving just not THIS kind of retail. Mag Mile is basically an outdoor suburban mall. Why should I fly in or drive in to visit something I can just get at Oak Brook? — Nobody wants gigantic warehouse style GAPS and H&Ms anymore — that is an old model of 1990s merchandising where a ton of merch had to be stored “in the back” so if they were out of your size they could check. Since the 1990s there has been a silent revolution of warehousing Amazon style so you can just get the thing you want delivered to your home or picked up the next day, so nobody need 15,000 square feet of retail space anymore. People want smaller, unique boutiques like Colores Mexicanos but commercial landlords are too lazy to look for 5 small footprint retailers when they can try to just land one giant retailer. This is why old-guard national chains are struggling but places like Museum of Ice Cream and the Starbucks Reserve Roastery are thriving with huge lines. This evolution has been a long time coming, COVID just forced the hand of lazy greedy and ineffective commercial landlords.

        • Indeed, and visit any vibrant (i.e. encourages tons of foot traffic over driving) foreign city that “enforces” this small footprint retailer model through small footprint spaces and they’re generally not struggling to fill these with a diverse set of “retail”.

  9. Too much crime and shootings in Chicago. We don’t go there anymore. We go to Wisconsin or Northern Michigan instead. Over 100 people shot over the 4th of July weekend. No thanks…we’ll spend our money somewhere else!

    • Thanks for chiming in with that amazing information, on an article about architecture, it really enlightened the topic

    • Wow I’m sure the people of Austin and Belmont Cragin where you’ve never been are missing your business.

  10. A road diet would also “break the circuit” of muffler-deleted muscle cars and motorcycles that use Michigan (and many other streets) as their noise-testing ground. Chicago in general needs to restrict the nightly “takeovers” of extreme-noise vehicles but Michigan Ave is usually their target. They turn the Mag Mile into a mean-streets drag strip. Anything to humanize the city is a win.

    • Demetria Nanos | July 11, 2024 at 2:47 pm | Reply

      I totally agree with you. Friends who used to live on DSLSD by North Ave. complained about motorcycle noises for years.

  11. Steve River North | July 9, 2024 at 11:09 am | Reply

    I would prefer the bridge over LSD instead of a “better tunnel”.

  12. Midwest Blade | July 9, 2024 at 11:34 am | Reply

    Yes, this would be a good start in reactivating N Michigan Ave. Pedestrian traffic is trending up on pre pandemic levels and the residents of the area need to see something to help make the city more friendly and livable.

  13. I’m 71 years old and I live in this neighborhood only about 500 ft from the oak Street beach. Do you think or guess this work will be done in my lifetime?

  14. Diego Gotchical | July 9, 2024 at 12:03 pm | Reply

    I dont like the commercialization of the Water Tower Building itself, I think that should remain as preserved and historical of a site as it can. I do however really like the plans to add more public and park space around the Pumping and Fire Station across the street.

  15. in a city of 2.8 M people where roads are in disrepair filled with potholes, and people paying less attention to road signs/lights on crosswalks these days (and also bikers, scooters, etc.), I doubt “road diet” will work; it will create a big headache for drivers and city dwellers.

    • Think about this – a road diet means less roads to maintain. Pedestrian friendly sidewalks, bike lanes, and planters are cheaper to maintain than roads. Narrower roads also mean slower traffic and less accidents and injury due to speed. The only headache I get is when I try to cross streets that are too wide and cars that are driving too fast and aren’t stopping for pedestrians.

      • Steve River North | July 10, 2024 at 9:59 am | Reply

        News flash for you, narrower roads do NOT lead slower traffic. Cars will continue to speed, blow thru intersections and do what ever they want. Kim Foxx and the courts do not want to prosecute any crimes anymore and people know it. MAYBE we will see a change next year with a new prosecutor but we will have to wait and see. Also, something about a genie and a bottle.

        • Any evidence for this? Saying narrower streets doesn’t lead to slower traffic 100% of the time is not the same thing as saying that narrow streets lead to slower, safer traffic 99% of the time.

      • Demetria Nanos | July 11, 2024 at 2:51 pm | Reply

        When “the powers that be” ever improve auto & bus traffic for North-South streets parallel to Michigan Ave., so that cars don’t have to use it, that would help. Until then, where are the cars going to go to get to their destinations? If I have to take someone to a doctor’s office on Michigan Ave., or Northwestern Hospital, etc., how do you think we should get there if the person has lack of mobility & needs transportation?

    • Βενιαμίν | July 10, 2024 at 12:40 am | Reply

      This would be an incredible change, a huge step on the right direction

  16. Boffotheclown | July 9, 2024 at 4:08 pm | Reply

    Love it BUT look at how they intentionally crop out the side street at Michigan and East Lakeshore Dr (Not the freeway but that last street that disconnects Michigan from Oak Street Beach). Instead the need to Cul De Sac that street in or extend the pedestrian “fly over” into Michigan ave so that folk don’t need to wait for another light to cross over. Michican ave needs to terminate directly at the lake from a pedestrian perspective.

  17. Does anybody else feel like this will just fizzle out and disappear like Redesign the Drive for LSD? I want to be optimistic but how realistic is this VS just a design exercise? Obviously I want it to be built as I think it’s dope as heck.

    • Of course it will. This is not on the South or West side so Brandon does not care on iota about it.

  18. Isaac…transportation infrastructure is key to economical growth and global dominance. roads need to improve and expand to allow city to grow. workers need to get to jobs, students to school, the sick to hospitals. just think about emergency vehicles trying to get through narrow streets…

    • So workers and students can’t get to where they’re going in NYC or Boston, or pretty much every European city? Same for emergency vehicles? The reality and data of real city design doesn’t back up what you’re saying.

  19. It’s going to affect CTA. A lot of their buses go down Michigan Avenue during rush hours. And they’re already pretty slow.

    • Demetria Nanos | July 11, 2024 at 2:59 pm | Reply

      During the early 1970s the Lincoln Ave., North Ave., Fullerton, Diversey, and Belmont buses used to turn at Sheridan Rd. or DSLSD and go downtown on Michigan Ave., then go back for the return trip. When eliminating some bus routes, these were deemed redundant and unnecessary to go downtown, so the bus routes were terminated at the lakefront, (except Lincoln Ave. which was turned around at Lincoln & Clark) and then you had to transfer to another bus or take a train downtown, as is done today. Imagine if those buses and others were still doing the old routes, even more traffic problems might ensue – or would more people ride the buses? I think that old bus routes like Southport should be revived today so that we don’t need to use cars so much.

  20. Has anyone considered the impact of the “road diet” on the flow of patients to Northwestern Memorial, Prentice and Lurie Children’s? It’s great to imagine boatloads of pedestrians strolling through slick retail islands but the reality is that you have 3 hospitals + 2 Level-1 trauma centers (adult and pediatric) just south of the MCA. Not that you would know it from these renderings. N. Michigan & Chicago Ave is the nearest major intersection so every ambulance goes through it. If you stand on this intersection I guarantee you will see the inbound lights and sirens every 10 minutes.

    • If you make streets that encourage fewer people to drive, by definition it’ll be better for emergency vehicles to get through to NW. It’s the car congestion today that is the biggest obstacle to emergency vehicles getting through.

      • Plus if there’s BRT and no buses ahead, an ambulance could use those lanes to bypass car traffic if needed

    • Demetria Nanos | July 11, 2024 at 3:01 pm | Reply

      I agree with you, the designs are idealistic and not taking medical center realities into proper consideration. Ideals are lovely, but logistics matter.

  21. They tried the same thing with State St it was a failed experiment put our tax money to better use

  22. Demetria Nanos | July 11, 2024 at 2:41 pm | Reply

    1. Do Not thin out the lanes on Michigan Ave., make dedicated bus lanes as well as 2 auto/truck lanes Northbound & 2 lanes southbound. There is No other immediate parallel major North-South route for any kind of traffic unless you count DSLSD on the East and Ashland Ave., two miles West. Halsted has been a joke for decades re: auto & bus traffic, there’s nothing to help traffic on Racine, no buses on Loomis or Southport to relieve the Ashland Ave. bus, which will now add a mile to the northern leg of the route. People have to be able to get around, and not everybody is well-bodied enough for using the buses & trains. I transport elderly & disabled folks sometimes, Please Do Not Choke Traffic even more on Michigan Ave. than it already is! 2. Building a couple of bridges from N. Michigan Ave. crossing DSLSD to the lakefront is an excellent idea. A new tunnel on the North for Oak St. Beach and another on the South for the Museum Campus & 12th St.Beach will be excellent. 3. If there is a serious desire to improve conditions for retailers and restaurateurs on Michigan Ave., how about reducing the temptation to easily break into high end businesses? Some of the retail glass windows on the street could have beautifully decorated, strong wooden shutters with pull-down iron gates or grates behind them, inside the shops. They can possibly be mechanized or computerized for greater ease of employees at opening and closing times. High end businesses don’t want to look like regular neighborhood stores where folks have to take these less-than-attractive-options, but security shutters could also function as window billboards for the business, or simply be beautiful art or photos displayed on them. These would impede the “break windows & grab” and make it harder for cars crashing into windows for easier thefts. 4. Outdoor dining is a good idea, but this area seems better suited to rooftop and side street cafes, or opening street-front window-walls for open air dining, rather than a bustling thoroughfare filled with pedestrians, strollers, dog walkers, bicycles, vehicles and car exhaust. How about some delicious street dust in your wine or beer, along with a side order of bird droppings? To each their own! Good Luck to everyone working on these proposals, but I think that some are not practical for the area.

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