Chicago’s real estate landscape is growing and developing so much. One such mega-development is ONE CENTRAL. It is one of the most crucial and also controversial real estate developments within Chicago. Between the McCormick Place Convention Center and the Museum Campus on the Near South Side, Landmark Development's ONE Central is a 32-acre mixed-use project. On top of the Metra tracks immediately west of Soldier Field, this will include residential and retail space, parkland, and a transit hub.
It promises to be a catalyst for transit investment that benefits South Side residents and the entire region, immediate job creation within close proximity to under- and unemployed residents on the South Side, and a comprehensive program to encourage economic opportunities.
History of One Central's Development
Landmark has been a master developer of iconic urban destinations for over 25 years, centered on the spaces, places, and civic assets that define our cities. They envision ONE Central to be the next Landmark in Chicago, with the potential to become America's most influential urban attraction in the twenty-first century.
What can you expect from One Central?
ONE Central is a multi-phase development. It involves transit infrastructure projects, commercial districts, and neighborhood development.
1st phase - Civic Build:
The first phase, nicknamed the 'Civic Build' portion of the project, will cost $3.8 billion. It includes the following:
A. Multi-Transit Hub
Landmark Development seeks support by promoting the project's $3.8 billion transit hub's far-reaching benefits.
The plan's mass transportation component proposes to connect the Museum Campus to the sunken right-of-way between Millennium Park and McCormick Place by bringing together various rail lines and a new busway. According to a transportation feasibility study by engineering consulting firm WSP, the hub has the potential to "dramatically boost mobility and transit access throughout the Chicagoland region."
B. Experiential District
The Experiential District is one of four districts planned for this first phase, and it will be accompanied by a Neighborhood District to the north.
C. Neighborhood District
To the north, the Neighborhood District will be joined by the Experimental District. The 275,000-square-foot zone is anchored by a grocery store and public market, with the rest of the space dedicated to restaurants and retail.
D. Lifestyle District
A "lifestyle district" would be built next to the transit hub, with an experimental design. Here the district's retail outlets would be there to primarily show off a brand's catalogue and new items to adapt to evolving consumer patterns.
E. Entertainment District
The Entertainment District, a 435,000-square-foot area that will offer new live entertainment venues, bars, nightclubs, and dining experiences to the neighborhood, will be the final district. The new stages will be added to a growing list of projects in the city, including the renovation of the Ramova Theater in Bridgeport and the Morton Salt Warehouse Complex in West Town.
All four districts, the transit hub, and 200,000 square feet of residential space would be developed at the same time and are said to be fully funded, though the final piece of state money is still pending.
Phase 2 - Private Build: commercial and housing
The final phase of ONE Central will be focused on private housing, more known as the “Private Build.” This will include 9,050 new homes and 12.5 million square feet of office, hotel, retail, and other commercial spaces.
But amid these promising features of ONE Central, it’s still a highly contested real estate development in the Chicago community.
Problems with the One Central Development
There are many issues associated with ONE Central Development. Primarily, there is intense government opposition with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot being a skeptic of the project as a transit hub since 2019. Then transport organizations themselves do not endorse the project. And of course, the Chicago Bears moving out of Soldier Field for Arlington Heights raises doubts about the project because of their partnership with ONE Central.
A. Some government leaders oppose and block financing
The $20 billion plan has drawn a lot of attention, particularly because it relies on $6.5 billion in state funding for the transit hub. Some lawmakers claim that the phrase allowing for the financing slipped into last year's state budget, and one of them wants to put a stop to it.
State Rep. Kam Buckner, a Democrat from Chicago said that the issue wasn’t on the proposal but on the priorities and process. The issue lay on the precarious nature of Illinois state budget and the other priorities Chicago must juggle due to COVID.
B. Transport advocacy organizations do not endorse the transit hub
The Active Transportation Alliance and the Metropolitan Planning Council are among the transportation advocacy groups that oppose ONE Central. ATA spokesperson Kyle Whitehead said that "The proposed One Central skyscraper and transit hub on Chicago's South Side is poorly conceived and would not boost transit access for the city's highest-need people".
C. The Bears - who partner with One Central - plan to move to Arlington Heights
Because Soldier Field lacks retail outlets, One Central has partnered with the Chicago Bears to allow them to operate multiple eateries as well as a memorabilia and gift shop for fans and visitors. But then the Bears announced their plan to purchase and redevelop the International Race Course in Arlington Heights into their exclusive stadium. So this caused doubts about the strength of ONE Central’s retail development.
D. Community is skeptical about the project
Many Chicagoans are concerned about the One Central project because there was not enough community engagement. In fact, David Zegeye of Streetsblog Chicago, a news agency based in Chicago, wrote about a June 2021 meeting with RSO Architecture that showed how controversial the project was with Chicagoans. One attendee voiced fears that One Central will continue to segregate lakefront access. Another attendee said that the location of the project is not right for the urgently needed massive new housing construction and expanded, integrated transit on the South Side. Others clamored for the Chicago City government to focus on improving the accessibility of the existing Museum Campus and other commuter and freight transportation infrastructures.
But amid the controversy, ONE Central aims to be a game-changing investment. The project is anchored by a $3.8 billion private-sector infrastructure investment that aims to improve transit access for residents of the South Loop, South Side, and Soldier Field. And it will also bring together key interests that are critical to Chicago's current and future role as the "Downtown of the Midwest."
Landmark said it would create an economic opportunity program called SouthSideWorks as part of the P3 agreement to increase job and housing availability for South Siders. Landmark plans to create workforce housing on undeveloped land along South Side transportation lines such as Metra Electric and the Green Line using private funding. The SouthSideWorks include ways to reintroduce manufacturing jobs to the South Side.
All things considered, ONE Central is one of the many mega-developments that seeks to improve Chicago’s economy and cityscape. It has the potential to bring progress to Chicago by investing in housing, public transit, and commercial development.