Function (and Finance) Trumps Form of Lakefront Spire

Garrett Kelleher, the developer who has taken over the “Chicago Spire” project on the city’s lakefront, has submitted a nearly total re-design of the condo tower to city officials for approval.

The tower to be built at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive--formerly known as the Fordham Spire--was originally envisioned as a 124-story combination hotel and condominium complex. The new plan gives the structure a larger footprint and a far thicker silhouette, and replaces the needle-like broadcast antenna at the building’s peak with 36 additional stories of high-priced condominiums.

The revisions will make the Spire three times the size of its original plan, although its height, at 2,000 feet, remains the same.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s original plans called for a complete 360-degree “twist” in the spiraling tower, which has now been scaled back to only 270 degrees. The new version of the building will be capped by a set of finlike ornaments instead of the antenna.

The alterations led Chicago architecture critic Kevin Nance to lament, “The former Fordham Spire is now the Kelleher Calamity. [C]ompared with the exquisite original design, it's a bastardized disappointment . . .”

The 150 hotel rooms and 300 condominiums in the former design have been replaced by 1,300 condominiums. These changes are intended to make the building profitable even in the face of its prohibitive development cost, estimated between 1.2 and 2 billion dollars.

Kelleher, executive chairman of Shelbourne Development Group Ltd. in Dublin, hopes to market condos in the Spire for prices in the neighborhood of $2,000 per square foot--a stratospheric rate in Chicago, and one not often seen outside Manhattan.

Kelleher’s Chicago attorney and spokesman, Thomas Murphy, disputed suggestions the building is financially doomed, citing the potential appeal Chicago would have to European buyers who are used to higher prices.