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City Leaders Unveil ‘Once In A Lifetime’ Plan To Bind Wounds Of Bleeding LaSalle Street Corridor

In what Mayor Lori Lightfoot said would be “the engine that pumps the blood to the rest of our body of Chicago,” city officials unveiled plans Monday to offer up incentives aimed at revitalizing one of the city’s most iconic and historic corridors.

LaSalle Street, which has fallen on hard times since the pandemic began, now has almost 5M SF of vacant commercial space, more than any other part of the city’s downtown business district.

In hopes of reversing the decline, city leaders said they will finish what Google began with its $105M purchase of the architecturally famed James R. Thompson Center between LaSalle and Lake streets in July, dangling tax increment financing dollars and other incentives to transform historic but emptied office buildings along the street into 1,000 new apartments and condos, 300 of which would be affordable.

A portion of LaSalle Street ending at the Chicago Board of Trade

On Monday, the city opened an invitation for proposals for LaSalle Street Reimagined, an effort to revitalize and repurpose dozens of historic and prewar structures built for a different era in which “a monoculture of office uses” was prioritized.

“The corridor has the highest commercial and retail vacancy rates in any downtown subdistrict, the biggest drop in new leasing activity anywhere downtown,” Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox said at a Monday press conference held at the historic Rookery Building, noting that while the Central Business District's population has tripled since 1980, “virtually none of the growth occurred on LaSalle and there's not a single affordable apartment on the street.”

Meanwhile, market reports show the area around La Salle suffers from vacancy rates of about 26% for office space and 36% for the retail space, which city officials attributed to changes in work habits and large employers relocating to newer, shinier offices with full slates of amenities to lure workers back.

“We believe we can change that,” Cox said. “This is, in fact, an unprecedented opportunity for the court of stakeholders to reinforce LaSalle’s legacy as the home of business while also plotting its future as a home for people in a dynamic live, work and play environment.”

Properties along LaSalle from Wacker Drive south to Jackson Boulevard would be eligible to apply for tax increment financing, or TIF, money, which would help cover some of the costs of conversion. Lightfoot said the city was also prepared to seek funds from federal and state programs to subsidize historic preservation and affordable housing, and to activate city initiatives that support clean energy efficiency and equity-driven redevelopment to drive additional private investment in the corridor.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a Monday press conference

The La Salle Central TIF district, which sets aside a portion of property taxes for public improvements, had a balance of $197M at the end of 2021, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

Lightfoot said the city would prioritize proposals involving underutilized property that is either designated or eligible for landmark status as well as those focused on equitable and sustainable improvements.

That can include the conversion of commercial spaces into residential units and affordable units, reactivating building lobbies for cultural and entertainment purposes, storefront improvements and neighborhood amenities that serve the needs of office workers, residents and visitors to the area, she said.

“I’m confident that history will look back on today’s announcement as a day when we press the gas on fueling our city’s downtown business from economic recovery to economic dominance,” Lightfoot said. “This is our once in a lifetime opportunity to create an economic model based on inclusive growth.”