Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

Wanda's Vista Tower already having an impact on Windy City

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-07-12 09:56

Chicago's First Lady Cruise is the only river-borne tour of the Windy City's breathtaking skyscrapers that partners with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It is definitely the way to go.

The docent, who spoke for the full 90 minutes of the voyage back and forth along the waterfront, was never dull and wove in economics, politics and engineering behind the soaring glass, steel and stone designs.

At one point along the Loop, your attention is directed to the undulating wave-like balconies of the Aqua tower, a facade that seems to be in motion standing among the forest of glass boxes.

The architect is Jeanne Gang, we learned, and she won so many awards for it (including a MacArthur Genius Grant) that they hired her to design what's going up practically right next door - the Dalian Wanda Vista Tower.

Over the years, an unofficial tradition seems to have developed with the architecture along the river, where designers use the color of their glass or the bend and swerve of their structures' lines to salute the waterways they loom over.

Gang's Aqua, with its rippling irregular balconies, does it spectacularly and her design for the Wanda Tower gives a nod to the water in a completely different way - its three interlocking towers will undulate upward, irregularly in counterpoint, and there seems to be some confusion over just how high the highest tower will go. Our tour guide said it would become the second-tallest building in Chicago; other sources say the third-tallest.

In any event, it will transform the skyline dramatically. It will also be the tallest skyscraper in the world designed by a woman-led firm. And in a city that finds itself in the midst of a building boom (one report says there are 44 high-rises under construction) there seems to be a real sense of excitement about the 1,186-foot-tall Vista Tower.

Just last week ran a brief story under the headline: Vista Tower Construction Now Visible from a Distance. Crews have been hard at work for almost a year, with two tower cranes and a telescoping crane now setting in place the angled columns that will create the undulating shape.

Dalian Wanda and its partner Magellan Development Group landed a $700 million construction loan from China-based Ping An Bank in June - some say it's the largest such loan ever for a Chicago project.

The previous biggest loan, incidentally, was the $640 million Donald Trump used to build his tower along the banks of the Chicago River, which is the city's second-tallest building.

The ultra high-end $1 billion Vista complex will include 200 hotel rooms and 400 condominiums with prices upwards of $1,750 a square foot, putting it up there with the most expensive housing in the city.

Vista's 21 penthouses list for $8 million to $10 million each and Magellan President David Carlins told the Chicago Tribune last month that 35 percent of the complex's apartments are already sold.

With construction not expected to be completed until 2020, landing such a big loan and selling so many units is something of a coup. And an endorsement of Chicago's future.

Crain's Chicago Business reports that Magellan and Wanda have been authorized to raise $200 million through the federal EB-5 visa program, which allows non-US citizen investors to get residency in the US.

The other good news about the project is that it will create 2,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs, according to a statement from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

As one reviewer wrote on the First Lady's Tour website: "Who knew buildings could be so interesting!?" It seems certain the tour is fixing to get more interesting still.

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