These Luxury Developments Are Transforming the South Branch of the Chicago River

By Lisa Skolnik | June 10, 2019 | Home & Real Estate

Innovative new luxury developments on the Chicago River’s South Branch are set to make the entire South Loop a better neighborhood.

Southbank Park adds serious green to the scene. (Rendering courtesy of Lendlease)

Great neighborhoods are great because of their diversity. They’re compact, walkable and full of stimulating offerings that go beyond the basics. With Lendlease delivering the first residences, a community park and a Chicago Riverwalk extension in its 7-acre Southbank development, a once-desolate stretch of the South Loop is on its way to becoming the city’s next standout neighborhood.

The area runs from Harrison Street to Roosevelt Road on the Chicago River’s east bank. It originally housed Grand Central Station, which was razed in 1971, notes Lendlease executive Tom Weeks. River City, a mixed-use development designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg of Marina City fame, went up on what had once been tracks in 1986, but its full plan was never realized. Its reduced size, combined with vacant, rubble-strewn land to its north and south, left the area underutilized for decades. No longer. New development has been a long time coming but is finally here.

Lendlease and CMK began work on developing both parcels surrounding River City as a joint venture in 2015. They christened it Riverline and hired Perkins+Will and Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects to design the buildings and grounds. But different timetables led the developers to an amicable split in 2016. Lendlease took the north parcel and renamed it Southbank, but the original plan for apartments, condos, townhomes, parks and Riverwalk extensions on each parcel remained the same.

Riverline’s South Townhomes pathway beckons (Rendering courtesy of CMK)

Southbank is delivering first, and will eventually include five luxury residential towers. Its first, The Cooper (720 S. Wells St., 833.256.5841), is the most family-friendly thanks to 26 townhomes at its base, most with private two-car garages and direct access to the adjacent 2.5-acre Southbank Park. Amenities in the 29-story tower, designed to foster an “urban lifestyle” community, go way beyond the usual array of fitness and hospitality offerings. There’s a listening lounge with playable instruments, a shop space with sewing machines and craft supplies, a styling studio for beauty services and more. Even beehives are in The Cooper’s future once its grounds are complete, says Weeks. And Southbank Park will be accessible to the entire community.

But no amenity may be more welcome—or more transformative— for the entire neighborhood than the Riverwalk extensions. Southbank Park will sport a kayak launch and is angling for a water taxi stop, features that will increase the area’s livability, vibrancy and significance.

Both empty parcels “were de facto dog parks for years,” Weeks says. “Now, the entire city is getting access to amenities that will make this a great neighborhood and enrich everyone’s lives.”

Riverline will offer a whole new perspective of the city. (Rendering courtesy of CMK)

Chalk it up to impeccably executed community engagement. From both developments’ inception, “they had a regular dialogue with neighborhood residents regarding river access, community space and amenities,” Metropolitan Planning Council Vice President Josh Ellis says. “Their process was thoughtful, thorough and well done, and remains so today. Both developments are great neighbors.”

Southbank and sister development Riverline are also bringing state-of-the-art sustainability to the South Loop. “From the start, the developers’ design had a vanguard water management system to conserve rainwater instead of dumping it back in the river. Just this spring, the city updated its Chicago River Design Guidelines to be consistent with this practice,” Ellis notes.

In fact, “these two massive infill projects will completely revitalize the former railroad property,” Deputy Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development Peter Strazzabosco says. “They’re packed with active, people-oriented uses that will create a cohesive, mixed-use identity along the waterfront, and enable large portions of the South Loop to directly interact with its back door along the Chicago River for the first time.” Bottom line, Chicago is getting another great neighborhood.

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