Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Musicians performing live in glass at the Hancock? Could happen

Musicians performing live in glass at the Hancock? Could happen
By: Ryan Ori June 18, 2014

Hearn Co. wants to put a diamond-shaped glass atrium in the plaza of the John Hancock center on Michigan Avenue. Photo by Erik Unger

Not long after luring thrill-seekers to the "Tilt" on its 94th-floor observation deck, the John Hancock Center may get an eye-catching addition at street level.

An owner of the 100-story tower hopes musicians will soon entertain crowds in the public plaza from inside a glass, diamond-shaped structure rising four to five stories above North Michigan Avenue.
Chicago-based Hearn Co., which owns the office space in the skyscraper, wants to liven up the northern end of the Magnificent Mile shopping district by building "an iconic structure in front of an iconic structure," said Hearn President and CEO Stephen Hearn. He likened the atrium-like structure to the 72-foot glass and metal pyramid in the plaza of the Louvre in Paris and the 32-foot glass cube outside Apple Inc.'s store in Manhattan.

Hearn is unveiling its plans after the opening in May of the "Tilt," a glass enclosure on the 94th floor that shifts to give guests a facedown view at a 30-degree angle. A Parisian company, Montparnasse Group 56, bought the observation deck in 2012.

A venture led by Hearn last year bought the Hancock's office space and parking structure tower for $140 million, a deal that also included ownership of the public plaza in front of separately owned retail space at the bottom of the building at 875 N. Michigan Ave.

Since completing that deal last June, Hearn has been drawing up unconventional ideas to try to liven up the plaza. Recently, Hearn has begun describing its plans and showing renderings of the freestanding, enclosed glass structure to neighborhood groups and Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) as it seeks support to revamp the well-located but underutilized public plaza.

The vertical, diamond-like glass structure would be the centerpiece of a total overhaul of the plaza, Mr. Hearn said.

Mr. Hearn acknowledges the project, which he estimates would cost about $10 million and include other changes to the plaza such as removing lower-level steps and adding an elevator, still faces hurdles, since it has yet to secure permits from the city, and the company is still meeting with neighbors.


"There is no outdoor space on North Michigan Avenue where you can sit, drink a glass of wine and listen to live music on a summer night," Mr. Hearn said. "There's no place to stand in front of the building to take a picture. We think the beacon will be this glass structure, which will create the notion that something new and interesting has been activated in this plaza."

If approved, the enclosed glass structure would include a state-of-the-art recording studio that musicians could use year-round, Mr. Hearn said. For acoustic concerts, poetry readings and other live events, glass walls could be pulled open on one side, allowing performers to be heard from the stage inside the structure.

"We want to give people a reason to enjoy that outdoor space," he said. "It's not a profit maker. We would hope to break even."

Chicago-based Music Dealers LLC, which licenses music to ad agencies, filmmakers, game developers and others, would serve as a consultant to design the recording venue and bring in both live entertainers and artists booking studio time, according to Mr. Hearn.


If the plans are approved, the project likely would begin next spring, Mr. Hearn said.

"It needs to undergo a lot of approvals, and they need to work with everybody in the building and nearby residents," Mr. Fioretti said. "We want to make sure that they embrace the neighborhood and that the impact is minimal."

The alderman's opinion is key because his ward will include the Hancock under a remap that takes effect next year.

"There are still some bumps in the road, but I feel like it will liven up the area," he said. "It's a slow spot on Michigan Avenue, and this will continue the vibrancy of Michigan Avenue. This can really be transformational for the plaza area, how people are attracted to it and use it."

Gail Spreen, president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, a neighborhood group, has met with Mr. Hearn but declined to take a position on the project until others in the group have seen the plans. Generally speaking, she said SOAR favors creating more events north of the Chicago River.

"We would be for activating the plaza with some fun, interesting things," Ms. Spreen said. "The avenue needs to have things that are somewhat programmed so that there is always something going on at the north end at Hancock and the south end at Pioneer Court."

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