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CHICAGO-City planners are hoping a shift from RFP to RFQ spells success for star-crossed Block 37. Rather than putting out a request for proposals only to ooh and aah over development schemes that may never advance beyond architectural renderings, the city is examining the quality of the development team, says Ty Tabing, assistant commissioner of the city’s planning and development department in charge of the Central Loop.

That means Requests For Qualifications, rather than Requests for Proposals, will be used, a departure from previous planning practice.

The city is moving to reacquire the 2.7-acre site on N. State Street, just east of the Daley Center after a $250-million mixed-use project collapsed with the inability to obtain hotel financing along with a higher pre-lease requirement on the condominium portion. The development team sought additional subsidies to make up the difference.

“The lesson that has come out of that is maybe we should bring back alleys to the site, and have four different sites, or three,” Tabing told a luncheon meeting at GVA Worldwide’s conference here Friday. “We don’t want to be wowed by pretty pictures that come from the best architect’s in the world.”

Instead, the city will take a closer look at the developer, or perhaps developers, involved. Although the mixed-use proposals incorporated residential, retail and hotel elements into a workable scheme, the city is focusing on a master plan, Tabing says, that does not include projects doomed to fail because of faulty economic underpinnings.

“In this economy, we’re looking to form a partnership with someone, and there are a lot of theories about developing that project,” Tabing says. “We’re advertising nationwide for a partner for the next five to seven years.”

The city expects to issue requests for qualifications before the end of the year, Tabing says. Meanwhile, the city enlisted the Urban Land Institute’s Chicago district council and the American Institute of Architects, which co-hosted a two-day workshop in September for developers, retailers, lenders and brokers to solicit ideas for Block 37, which has been a 10-year redevelopment odyssey that has failed to advance beyond Square One.

“It’s empty and needs to be developed, not only for the site, but for the vitality of Downtown,” Tabing says.

The movement toward the RFQ process stems from the workshop, when it was suggested the city should identify a backup development team in case negotiations with its first choice fail to produce an agreement in a predetermined time frame. Conceding market forces and the developer will determine uses, office (30%) emerged as a favorite with small group members, followed by retail (20%) and hotel (15%). Multifamily (15%) was split almost evenly between rental and condominium.

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