A Chicago developer has set its sights on transforming a parking lot on top of the Kennedy Expressway into a one-of-a-kind "experiential" retail space and a park-like pedestrian connection between the Fulton Market and Fulton River districts.
R2 Companies is hoping to attract a well-known brand or benefactor to create what it calls a "habitable billboard." The plan calls for a low-density building of up to 12,500 square feet and conceals on-site parking beneath a green roof that will step up and connect to the Halsted Street viaduct.
Matt Garrison of R2, which purchased the lot at 708 W. Wayman Street in 2016, says he believes such a project will create a unique win-win situation for both the city and whatever company decides to set up shop at the site.
A brand or retailer will benefit from the location's high visibility along I-94, which boasts traffic counts of over 100 million cars per year, according to a marketing flyer for the property. "It's like the old Lasalle Bank or Wintrust mural building, but better," Garrison said. "It's more visible, surrounded by a park, and your brand can live in it."
For the city and local residents, there's a chance to create publicly accessible open space in an area of the city where land costs make new parkland prohibitive. "Rather than build another giant apartment or office tower, we can create a public greenway that connects the entrance to Fulton Market across the highway," said Garrison.
Renderings of R2's vision show a glassy cube-shaped building hovering on stilt-like legs. Created in collaboration with global architecture firm Gensler, these images are still conceptual and R2 plans to release several other "low density" concepts in the near future, Garrison said.
R2's proposal is visually reminiscent of a long-discussed idea to cap the Kennedy Expressway with new park space. Although the concept was first explored in a 2003 draft of the city’s Central Area Plan, the Kennedy cap has yet to move forward in a meaningful way.
"Capping the Kennedy is a noble pursuit and we hope it happens someday," Garrison told Urbanize. "Here, the Kennedy is already capped, and R2 owns it. This is an opportunity to make something happen. If we think outside the box, we can privately fund a major public benefit here."
The flyer for 708 W. Wayman suggests the unusual development could be delivered in 2023. For that to happen, however, Garrison says community stakeholders and government officials will need to get on board.
"The project will require buy-in from neighbors, the city, CDOT, and IDOT," said Garrison. "The only way that happens is if we can provide a tangible public benefit, which we will do."