New plan presented for old post office building

July 18, 2013 (CHICAGO)

It is a scaled down version of the ambitious plan offered by the developer several years ago.

When the old post office building opened nine decades ago, it was the biggest building in the world. Its days as Chicago's main post office ended in 1996, and apart from getting dressed up for some Batman movie scenes, the incredible hulk of a building has remained empty since, but a new day may be rising.

Plans to convert the old post office into a five-million square foot retail and residential urban mecca got a unanimous green light Thursday from the Chicago Plan Commission. The idea to remake the national historic landmark building is not new, but it has been re-tooled since its owner - British businessman Bill Davies, bought it at auction four years ago.

The idea now is to build in phases. Still, this is a project that will require billions of dollars.

"The banks are saying, yeah, we're keen on doing this first phase, we agree with that strategy. So, hopefully we can satisfy them and raise all the money," said Charles Hubbard of International Property Developers. "My client is quite a rich man, but he's not wealthy enough to do it all of it himself."

Unlike other proposed mega-projects that died on the drawing board or a hole in the ground, the post office makeover involves a building already there - a gateway to the city's core that sits atop an expressway and multiple rail lines.

"We've got a river that runs alongside it, an expressway that runs through it, it has all of the criteria for success," said architect Joe Antunovich.

Should success be real, the later phases would call for three skyscrapers, one of which would surpass the Willis Tower.

"If nothing else happens other than phase one, it's a very successful project, because of the fact that you're bringing this post office, this beautiful building back to life," said plan commission member Patti Scudiero.

The plan commission blessing and expected approval from city council will allow the developers to more directly shop for money, and if they get what they need for phase one, the building permits will come sometime next spring to summer with construction to follow. A casino is not part of the plan, but they were not entirely ruling it out.

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