CHICAGO-The interlocking rings at the top of a sculpture at the entrance to the John Buck Co.’s new Shops at North Bridge on Michigan Avenue are meant to symbolize the unusual alliance between public and private interests that made the overall nine-block North Bridge development possible. Indeed, it’s been a long road from conception to completion for John Buck and its investment partner Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds Inc.

“This has been the most complex project I have ever worked on,” says Greg Merdinger, the John Buck principal in charge of the project. “It took many years from idea to completion, which isn’t surprising considering you’re dealing with a nine-square block project.” The idea for the project was tossed around John Buck as early as 1984 and the company was in negotiations with Nordstrom, whose 271,000-sf store will anchor the retail portion of the development, as early as 1987.

John Buck had to overcome significant opposition to redevloping the historic Art Deco McGraw Hill Building on the Michigan Avenue frontage portion of the site. In the end, a compromise was reached in which the Art Deco front panels were removed, refurbished and put back. And critics are still complaining. In today’s “Tempo” section of the Chicago Tribune, Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin blasts the North Bridge development for its “canyon effect” and “lack of attractive public space”.

The total cost of the Shops at North Bridge retail portion of the development was $160 million, according to Merdinger. He would not reveal the cost of the 17-story hotel that is going up on top of the retail development. The hotel was purchased this summer by Le Meridien Hotels & Resorts for an undisclosed sum and is expected to open in the spring.

The Shops at North Bridge represents just a part of the 5 million-sf, nine-block North Bridge development that is, or will be, comprised of office space, restaurant and entertainment facilities. John Buck anticipates North Bridge will generate traffic of 30 million persons year, which will bring a significant boost to the southern end of the Magnificent Mile shopping district, now dominated by office traffic.

At $500 per sf, Michigan Avenue generates some of the highest retail sales per square foot in the nation.

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