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Calatrava Spire Shrouded in Irish Fog





Is developer Garrett Kelleher a visionary or delusional?

 -by Lynn Becker








Donald Trump step aside.  Garrett Kelleher may be the most confident developer on the face of the earth. Monday night - January 15th - the man behind the proposed Chicago Spire, the twisting 2,000-foot-high tower from superstar architect Santiago Calatrava - flew in from Ireland to present his project to a meeting sponsored by the Grant Park Advisory Council.  But in patiently – mostly -  taking on questions from an overwhelmingly  enthusiastic crowd that braved snow, ice and cold to pack Daley Bicentennial Plaza fieldhouse just east of Millennium Park, he raised as many questions as he answered.Santiago Calatrava's Chicago Spire

Kelleher, Chairman of Dublin's Shelbourne Development, talked like a man who has Chicago’s Department of Planning in his back pocket.   “The plan is to get on site as soon as possible,” he told the crowd,  “The Garrett Kelleher of Shelbourne Developmentplan is to order cassions within weeks.”   This being despite the fact that the final project hasn’t even been formally presented.  “It hasn’t been approved yet,” said Kelleher, “A submission is under way at the moment.”

From Monday's discussions, we would be led to believe that no one really knows how much the Spire will cost. "We have no firm numbers on it," said Bruce Toman of Perkins+Will, consulting architects on the project. "There is a cost consultant. It’s still under development.  We don’t have a number in our mind even amongst ourselves on the team."

Kelleher, who's had an ongoing presence in Chicago real estate for nearly 20 years, described his involvement with the Spire as a matter of instant attraction "I was over here on other business and the opportunity arose to buy this site," Kelleher recalled.   "I looked at it on a Wednesday, and we closed it the following Thursday.  Did no due diligence on the site whatsoever.  I decided the site spoke for itself. "

"We’re starting without any pre-sales," Kelleher admitted. He's brought on the same firm for his project that's marketing London's One Hyde Park, a four building ultra luxury complex whose architect is Richard Rogers, where the units are projected to be priced at up to £25,000,000. "It’ll be marketed in every major capital in the Chicago Spire site planworld," Kelleher says of the Chicago Spire. "That’s the plan.  What I find encouraging is the reception I’ve had in other jurisdictions.  It’s been met with great enthusiasm in New York and London and Madrid.  I was in Seville last week and the people there are talking about it . . . There’s huge interest in the project.  I’m sure there is in Chicago, but elsewhere there is. "

So, to recap for a moment, there are no pre-sales, and, apparently, no gauging of the Chicago market, just the international.

While the project has been shopped around coupled to Calatrava proposals for the remainder of the site's peninsula, including the new DuSable park, and distinctive Calatrava footbridges across the river and Ogden slip, Kelleher made clear that these are, at least at the moment, nothing more than speculative window dressing.

"We looked at the whole peninsula as a master plan," explained Kelleher.   "That’s as much as we’ve done in terms of  the peninsula , itself.  We’re just focusing on ourChicago Spire section own building and our own land.  We’re not costing the park or any land that we don’t own . . . We certainly couldn’t be building anything on land we don’t own. "

"There is a requirement for the developer to contribute – I think it is $450,000 or $600,000 dollars to the development of DuSable park.  And I’ll be quite happy to do that, and I’ve indicated that already.  To the alderman, in fact."

And while site plans, floor plans and sections were presented, there were no renderings, which led to a politely testy exchange with Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who wrote last week of a new version of the tower - which he had retapered the top of tower that had been blunted when the initially proposed television spire was removed in December - a photo of which Kamin claimed had been removed from the Illinois Institute of Technology website only days after its appearance.

Kamin:  Is this version C flat top - are we seeing version C or version D?
Toman:  This is a version you’ve seen a month ago.
Kamin:  So we're not seeing the new version?
Toman: No. We have not met with Mr. Calatrava since the 6th of December.
Kamin: Garrett, why aren't you showing the new version? Cause you showed that to the mayor and city leaders. Why aren't you showing the public the new version?
Kelleher:  This is it. 
Kamin: No, this is the version C, he [Toman] just said.
Kelleher: This is the one that everybody is seeing.
Kamin: No, everyone saw version D.
Kelleher: Were you there?
Kamin: Yeah, I was. You saw me there.
Kelleher: I beg to differ.
Kamin:  This isn't the version with the tip top that you showed at IIT about two weeks ago.
Garrett:  This is it.
Toman: We have meetings scheduled in the future, and we expect him [Calatrava] to come back with new development.

"We’re just getting on with it," Kelleher said later. "We’re not really being led by media or journalists. "

Perhaps Kelleher would have fewer troubles with the media if it didn't look like he was desperately trying to hide something. His team made a point of displaying site plans, floor plans, and sections. Why, then, did they studiously avoid showing any renderings? The reaction to Calatrava's December revision, which dropped the original spire in favor of a much thicker, blunter top, was nearly as negative as response to the original design was enthusiastic. Is Kelleher hoping that by keeping updated renderings out of public view he'll be able to get his project approved under the radar? His intent to begin construction within weeks even as he says no formal proposal has been made to the Department of Planning raises, however inadvertently, the specter of a backroom deal evading public scrutiny.

Kelleher has no pre-sales. He's surveyed the European market, but apparently not Chicago's. In a city where a successful developer like James Loewenberg works out his projects to the last nickel and square inch, Kelleher's team claims to have no firm idea of how much their Spire will cost.

There's no disputing that Kelleher has guts, but the question for the city remains: for a billion dollar project, is it enough to be a faith-based initiative?



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© Copyright 2006 images and text Lynn Becker All rights reserved.

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