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Skyscapers Are Alive And Well In Chicago, Because People Want To Live In Them

The world's tallest buildings might be in Asia these days, but skyscraper development in Chicago — home of some of the first skyscrapers anywhere —isn't at all a thing of the past. That is because Downtown living is spurring development to new heights.

Chicago skyline

With the completion in August of the 535-foot 465 North Park building, a 444-unit apartment property by Jupiter Realty Co., Chicago's skyline now features exactly 100 skyscrapers, and more are on the way.

The development of tall buildings isn't being driven by the demand for office space, though the three tallest buildings in the city are legacy office towers. The urge to live Downtown is driving new skyscrapers in Chicago, according to a new report by CommercialCafé.

Job growth is bringing people back to Downtown Chicago, as it is in many major downtowns, as is the desire to be near urban amenities and a transit infrastructure. 

The report covers the entirety of skyscraper development in the United States and notes — perhaps to Chicago's chagrin — that the majority of such construction these days is in New York.

Even so, Chicago has been busy building skyscrapers at a time when they are supposedly out of fashion in the U.S. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, China is where the action is now in skyscrapers (its definition is over 200 meters, or about 650 feet — CommercialCafe's report defines a skyscraper as at least 40 stories and 500 feet including spires). In 2017, there were 76 skyscrapers completed in China, while in the U.S. that year, there were only 10. 

Since 2000, 38 skyscrapers have been added to Chicago’s skyline, the report says. Of that, 25 were residential towers. 

An additional seven skyscrapers are expected to come online by 2022, with only 110 North Wacker as an office building. 

Vista Tower is now halfway toward its full 101-story height.

The renewed interest in urban living in the 21st century is now driving new tall buildings in Chicago. In June, for example, the 406-unit Vista Tower reached the halfway point in its construction. The property is scheduled for completion in 2020 and will top out at 1,198 feet, which would surpass Aon Center as Chicago's third-tallest building. 

The fact that Vista Tower got out of the ground at all is testament to the demand for high-rise living in Downtown Chicago. Magellan Development Senior Vice President of Sales Leila Zammatta said in June that 40% of its condos are already sold.

Also early this summer, Related Midwest announced $1B plans to build two skyscrapers on the site of the ill-fated Chicago Spire, which was canceled when the recession hit. Called 400 Lake Shore Drive, the development would consist of an 800-foot building with 550 apartments and a 1,100-foot building with 300 condos and a 175-room hotel.

The new tall towers are partly a continuation of a long-standing trend in Chicago. Of the cities highlighted in the report, Chicago has been at the forefront of “living in the sky” for decades.

In the mid-1960s, a time when many people left the urban core for the suburbs, 1000 Lake Shore Plaza was built to celebrate city living. In 1964, the 55-story, 590-foot multifamily property was the tallest concrete-reinforced building in the world, complete with the fastest elevators available at the time, according to RentCafé.

The Marina City twin towers, Lake Point Tower — to this day unique among Chicago luxury abodes — and nine other developments of similar height and scope were built in Chicago by 1990, the report notes.