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Pioneering in Polk Street Canyon

(Photo: Riled residents or paid protesters? Credit: Move the Tower.)

I have the Malcontents of Polk Street Canyon to thank for my boyfriend’s new apartment. Unhappy with the general fratty scumminess of the lower floors of his downtown condo building (sounds a little like Marina City, doesn’t it?), in May, Devyn dragged me around town to scope out new digs. Now, we’re both all into the urban goodness of downtown Chicago (Devyn’s photoblog being named Looper, after all), so we didn’t look very far. In fact, one May day on the way to the Roosevelt Road big-box Target, we found ourselves wandering through Printers Row. And smack into the hands of the malcontents.

As I blogged then, said malcontents, the residents of the Folio Square condominium building at 124 W. Polk Street, were and still are miffed that two high-rise condo towers are set to be built on their street which, when completed, will block their existing views. Of the surrounding, empty lots.

They continue to politic and picket for the alteration of the site plans of the impending developments, and continue to wrap themselves in disingenuous arguments for wise neighborhood development. As I explained in May, the fact remains that these are protesters who don’t want to lose their views, not Printers Row residents who care one whit about any other block beyond their own. Given the slack headway they’re making, it came as no surprise for me to learn that some of the people carrying protest signs outside of the sales office for Burnham Pointe, one of the planned towers, are actually (get this) hired help, and not Folio Square owners at all.

I learned this from inside the sales office. Having gotten an earful from the protesters outside, Devyn and I went into the sales office to see what all the fuss was about for ourselves. I don’t know what hooked Devyn first, the groovy new-modern building model or the LCD floorplans showing spacious — and surprisingly affordable — apartments. I just know that after our visit, the subject of Burnham Pointe started to be raised frequently. Generally after every time Devyn found an empty beer bottle in his building’s lobby or vomit in the elevator.

Not for nothing, but these days, views are lost right and left in Chicago. And unless you want to buy that adjacent empty parcel to preserve your personal vista, there’s really no recourse. Well, except perhaps for moving into the offending building.

That’s exactly what Devyn will be doing. Following much forethought, and a brief fling with a potential unit purchase at the uber-swank John Hancock Center (I have a cat, they don’t allow cats, Devyn and I will eventually move in someday, no deal), last month Devyn decided that, blocked views or not, Burnham Pointe provided the best downtown condo bang for the buck.

After our first run-in with the Polk Street malcontents, I had emailed Burnham Pointe’s developer, Terrapin Properties, regarding my disgust at the myopic reception they were receiving from Folio Square (for example, the equating of a “blind corner” with any building built on a corner property line — essentially including much of the human built environment for the past few millennia). Terrapin forwarded my email to local Alderman Madeline Haithcock (Ward 2) as proof that Folio Square’s opinion was not shared by every downtown local resident. I was glad for them to do so.

I was equally glad to return last month to the Burnham Pointe sales office after Devyn made his purchase, as much to say hi to the sales staff as to meet the malcontents and, er, thank them. Though I must admit to having a few reservations about possibly moving south of the Loop when the tower is finished in a couple of years (purely on L-access grounds), I was thrilled to recount the whole story of Devyn’s purchase to the Burnham Pointe staff. To my mind, Devyn’s purchase there is a vote both for the continued health of downtown Chicago in general and for the continued betterment of Printers Row, in particular. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I would prefer the downtown of my city to have as few fallow, dangerous, unused lots in it as possible, thank you very much.

I intended to say as much to the malcontents when we exited the Burnham Pointe sales office. But as we walked into the waiting arms and waving signs of the Folio Square protesters, a different thought came to mind. Seeing them there, yet again, blocking our way and attempting to stand in the way of civic progress, I greeted them with a more appropriate, much more heartfelt message.

“Get out of my way, you big losers.”

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

12 replies

  1. He didn’t. He moved to New York instead. And I wouldn’t be. The same thing happened to me a few years later in Marina City. I just dealt with it, then moved elsewhere. It’s what happens when you live downtown.

  2. Hmm, Well I guess your bf never got his condo since the development decided to turn apartment. Burnham point and countless other new high-rise buildings in the area have zero character. The units are small, cookie cutter and boring. The units in Folio Square are massive and the building has tons of character from its industrial past. It’s architecture is in true Chicago style which is what the city is famous for; Burnham Point, not at all. Besides, can you blame the owners for being upset? Yeah it was a vacant lot which inevitably got developed, but if it were you on the other side of the table, you’d be out there holding a sign.

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  6. You should take a look at the polk street canyon website and look at the new comments. You’ll get a laugh out of at least one.

  7. Ach, the blog went away. I didn’t feel like I could really give it enough attention to keep it interesting, and there’s nothing sadder than a half-abandoned blog.

    I think you may be confusing the Lennar development directly to our south with the Roosevelt Collection, which will open onto Roosevelt west of the Target and the Metra tracks. As far as I know the Lennar development hasn’t changed and is just three towers, a park and no retail (and a 50-ft setback, and an extra turning lane, apparently in a sop to my neighbors’ ass-backward sense of urbanism since they’re claiming that as a victory). As for the Roosevelt Collection, I like the fact of the retail and all the residences and overall density, and that it has a pedestrian-oriented side at its north end, but I’m not too hot on the little bit of Libertyville the mid-rise architecture brings to the area. Still, it beats the postindustrial wasteland that sits there now, and hopefully that and Whole Foods will so utterly cripple traffic on Roosevelt that they’ll have to seriously expand the public transit options around here.

  8. Hey Polkster, where did your blog go? Is it down or do you have a new URL? I liked the way you were scribing this issue on there.

    The Terrapin email basically repeated everything I said in my May 2006 post on the matter. I wasn’t the first person to speak out in favor of the development, mind you. But I guess I was one of the few who put my opinion as far out there in public as the protesters did.

    What do you think of the new development scheme for the south lot? Looks like lots of snazzy new retail…with a roadway running right down the alley. Just watch the screams of increased traffic ensure next from your condo board. I give you a lot of credit for having an open mind on this issue and being open about that fact while living in that building.

  9. By the way, I’d love to see the correspondence to/from Terrapin.

    On the appalling subject of the paid protestors, I can confirm that that happened at least a couple of times early on. I don’t think they kept it going too long because only the neighborhood homeless were swayed by the $15/day they were offering. This is the first I’d heard of Terrapin using that as a sales tool–that’s hilarious. You should tell the polkstreetcanyon comments board about it.

  10. Aw, that’s too bad. Devyn probably could’ve gotten a bigger, more interesting place in Folio Square for bargain basement prices, since our condo board has been so busy promulgating the idea that the views are the only thing valuable about the building and scaring the shit out of potential buyers.

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