Chicago Spire Still May Soar

The Chicago Spire may restart construction, thanks to a group of union pension funds that want to put their members back to work and are in discussions to lend Irish developer Shelbourne Development Group $170 million to complete what would become the nation’s tallest building.

The Spire’s construction came to a halt when the global financial crisis set off battles between bankers, architect Santiago Calatrava and the developer.  The pension funds would pay off an approximately $64 million loan made by Anglo Irish Bank and settle liens against several firms, including one associated with architect Santiago Calatrava, who says Shelbourne owes him $11 million.

According to Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, the loans will be made by an AFL-CIO pension fund and Union Life Insurance Company, among others.  “This would be 7.5 million man-hours for my members and I have locals that have 30 percent unemployment,” Villanova said.  That adds up to four years of construction for two dozen unions with approximately 100,000 members.

Villanova did not address the impact of adding 1,200 new condominiums in a city that is currently experiencing a glut of unsold units.  According to the Spire’s developer, 30 percent of the units are already sold.  Because the Spire is years from completion, the market could improve significantly during that time.  Additionally, the arrangement now under consideration would make the trusts the Spire’s first mortgage holder.  If the project ultimately failed, the trusts would be “first in line” to take possession of the building.

At completion, the Spire will be 2,000 feet tall and have 150 stories.