Chicago's Revived Riverfront Offers New Opportunity

A new downtown liquid amenity

As Chicago’s downtown businesses move into summertime, you’d expect people to be looking up at the rooftop decks or out on the street patios. Wrong -  the first place that’s drawing attention: The riverfront.

Most great cities, throughout history, have been built on rivers for trade and transport. But how many cities in the United States today really claim and celebrate their riverfront, inviting the populace to enjoy it up close? Chicago hadn’t embraced its riverfront for a long time, but now we’re finally living into the promise of being a true “city on a river” with all the energy and entertainment that implies.

The Chicago Business District has long been seen as a place for locals to work and for tourists to visit, but not as a true stolling outdoor neighborhood. The revived riverfront is changing that. Expanding from where the river meets Lakeshore Drive all the way to Wolf Point, there’s been a riverfront renaissance.

Chicago’s hot new summertime spot: The Riverwalk

The entire landscape of downtown is changing because of the revived riverfront. Along with the new skyscrapers going up along the river, the new additions at the ground level have been blossoming – a unique entertainment culture, with hip restaurants, boat and kayak rentals, yacht docking, fishing piers, and unique floating gardens.

Restaurant outposts like City Winery and Tiny Hatt have already started serving up drinks and gourmet meals to thousands of visitors. The official season opening festivities took place this past Saturday, May 20th, and included live music and parades. Last season, the construction wasn’t fully complete, yet the 11 riverwalk vendors had a total of 330,000 visitors and grossed $8.5 million. With this season being the Riverwalk’s first full season, all construction complete, expect to see the riverwalk make even bigger waves.

It’s a combination of work by the city and by real estate companies such as Hines and CMK Companies that’s created this new frontier. Efforts to clean up the river are helping move the development forward – and vice versa. Although taking a dip in it is still not an option, measures have been taken to make it cleaner, including turning pollutants into fertilizer.

And the opportunity is just beginning.

A residential boom on the River’s Edge

The residential boom along the riverfront is making it more than just a place to spend an afternoon, but a place to work, hang out, and live beside. With the recently completed Wolf Point and the upcoming Riverline development, Vista Tower, the Rezmar site, and so many others, the riverfront is getting revolutionary. It’s becoming a world-class city amenity. 13 years ago, it was Millennium Park that changed the way the world saw Chicago – and now it’s the river.

The 48-story Wolf Point West Tower is the first of three residential/commercial towers to be built on the long vacant stretch of land. Right in the iconic fork of the Chicago River stands a new and modern 509-unit tower, representing the beginning of something big.

At the mouth of the river, a skyline-changing building is coming in 2020. The luxury residence and hotel Vista Tower will be Chicago’s third largest building, with the median price of its condos being $2.5 million. It’s the single largest Chinese investment in the country right now, and is being designed by new, alternative architecture practice Studio Gang with the famous Jeanne Gang at the helm, in conjunction with progressive bKL Architecture. It will also include the Lakeshore East Village Market, a retail space that will further activate the riverfront.

But arguably the biggest development coming is the Riverline development with 3,600 residential units spread across eight waterfront buildings and expansive public space for outdoor recreation along the river.

Some of the most important development of the century

This is the biggest residential boom Chicago has seen in a long time. In total, there are upwards of 5,000 residential units coming to the riverfront. All of this development is going to create a whole new neighborhood, change the skyline of Chicago, and create a new vibrancy and culture along the riverfront.

This change is making our city better, and perhaps setting a precedent for others.