CHICAGO-With plans for the development of Illinois Center’s last 26-acres calling for less density and mostly focused on building a residential community, the co-developer anticipates quick approval for the nation’s largest downtown mixed-use plan.

“We expect to get city approval by the end this year,” says Joel Carlins, president of Magellan Development Group Ltd. who, along with Near North Properties, is developing the $1.5-billion Lakeside East project. Carlins said he anticipates breaking ground by next spring.

But given the sheer scale of the project, the three-step city approval process may take longer. Magellan and Near North’s plans, which were unveiled at a community meeting near the proposed site of the development, call for the construction of seven condominium towers, five rental apartment towers, possibly two hotels and an elementary school. Labeled a “town within a city”, the new buildings will ring a six-acre park in the center of the development, which was designed by Adrian Smith of architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP.

Jim Loewenberg, Near North president and a practicing architect, says the plan was mindful of the fact that developers were essentially building a residential community where up to 10,000 people will be living when construction is complete in 12 years.

The residential focus is a significant departure from previous office-tower dominated plans for the huge parcel, considered one of the biggest undeveloped downtown pieces of land anywhere. Developers say this shift was due to their greater sensitivity to community concerns following massive protests against an earlier, 1993 plan. However, with the rebirth of interest in Downtown living and the resultant big appetite for residential space along the Chicago River near Navy Pier, where other huge developments are already underway, the developer’s plans likely have as much to do with profits as they do with sensitivity to community concerns.

At the community meeting, comments ranged from “it’s much better” to “it’s a con job”. But the gathering was generally subdued and nearby residents, although deeply concerned about the 50-story and 60-story height of many of the buildings, seemed resigned that the site would soon be developed.

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