Chicago woke up Wednesday to the prospect of an 89-story skyscraper, which would be the city's third-tallest high-rise and which its Chinese developer wants to start building later this year.
But it is easier to announce a supertall tower than build one, as the as-yet unrealized plans for the 2,000-foot Chicago Spire show.
The plan for the Lakeshore East tower, with completion foreseen in 2018, was announced by Beijing-based Wanda Group, controlled by mainland China's richest man, Wang Jianlin. Wanda would take a 90 percent stake in the building.
If completed, the new tower will contain a luxury hotel and apartments. It would be at least the third prominent hotel controlled by Chinese interests here. The others are the luxury Langham hotel on the Chicago River and the Allerton Hotel on North Michigan Avenue.
Many Chinese developers are investing in projects overseas as growth on the mainland slows.
Wanda Group describes itself as China's largest commercial property company and the world's largest movie theater operator.
“Investing in Chicago property is just Wanda's first move into the U.S. real estate market,” Wang said in an online statement, which included a rendering of the building. “Within a year, Wanda will invest in more five-star hotel projects in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
A spokesman for the city's planning department said Wanda and its partner, Chicago-based Magellan Development Group, have not submitted any proposals for the site for review.
The building's design would at least require the approval of the Chicago Plan Commission and possibly the City Council.
Typically, developers don't make their projects public until plans have been vetted at City Hall. The release of the design appeared to catch local officials by surprise.
At a height of 1,148 feet, the planned tower would be about 214 feet shorter than Trump Tower at the top of its spire, the city's second-tallest skyscraper after the Willis Tower.
The Chinese-backed tower would have an unusual profile, consisting of three interlocked, zigzagging high-rises.
There was speculation Wednesday that Chicago architect Jeanne Gang is the tower's architect, but her firm declined to comment.
If Gang has the job, it would reverse the trend of Chicago exporting its architectural strength in skyscrapers to China.
Instead, a Chicago architect would be designing a tower for a Chinese developer on her home turf. And it could be the world's tallest building designed by a woman-owned firm, as Gang's Aqua Tower was at its opening in 2009.
The 28-acre Lakeshore East development is roughly bordered by Lake Shore Drive to the east, Michigan Avenue to the west, the Chicago River to the north and Millennium Park to the south.
The site for the proposed tower is along the Chicago River, east of the Swissotel, at 323 E. Wacker Drive, and the Coast apartment tower, a Lakeshore East property, at 345 E. Wacker.
The area was a rail yard, then a nine-hole golf course, before Magellan, led by Joel Carlins and James Loewenberg, proposed thousands of homes in the late 1990s.
It now contains condominiums, apartments, town homes, a hotel and shops — an urban enclave separated from the rest of downtown by a network of triple-deck streets.
Instead of building more of those streets, the developers saved millions of dollars by constructing a six-acre park at ground level and surrounding it with high-rises.