350 West Mart Center
|River North Point|
Apparel Center sits at a juncture in the Chicago River known as Wolf Point. Among the buildings and structures shown are (left to right) Left Bank at K Station (300 North Canal), 333 North Canal, Kinzie Street railroad bridge, River North Point, Merchandise Mart, 300 North LaSalle, Franklin Street Bridge and part of 333 Wacker Drive.
|Location||350 North Orleans Street
|Opening||November 6, 1976
(Grand Opening January 22, 1977)
|Owner||Shorenstein Realty Services, LLP|
|Floor area||2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Skidmore, Owings & Merrill|
River North Point (formerly 350 West Mart Center) is the official name of the 24-floor multipurpose building located in the Near North Side community area of Chicago, at the intersection of the North Branch and the Main Branch of the Chicago River. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1977, the building is located in the River North district north of the Main Branch and east of the North Branch. In 1988, Helmut Jahn designed an enclosed pedestrian walking bridge over Orleans Street connecting the building to Merchandise Mart. Originally built to serve as the world's largest wholesale buying center for the clothing industry, the building is more commonly known by several other names including 350 West Mart Center, Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza River North, Holiday Inn Mart, Merchandise Mart Annex, Merchandise Mart Annex Apparel Center, Apparel Mart, Chicago Apparel Center and Apparel Center. The building opened on November 6, 1976.
The property was formerly owned by Marshall Field who sold it to Joseph P. Kennedy and the building's grand opening was attended by the entire Kennedy family. The family owned the land upon which the building was constructed for over 50 years. After the building was constructed in 1976, it remained in the family for over 20 years, but it was sold to Vornado Realty Trust in 1998 as part of a larger $625 million ($904.3 million today) transaction including Merchandise Mart and several other properties. However, the family has retained its ownership interest in adjacent properties and continues to manage the Marchandise Mart business.
The building is associated with the neighboring Merchandise Mart to its east, which it is connected to by way of an enclosed pedestrian walkway and the two buildings are sometimes jointly referred to as the Merchandise Mart and Apparel Center or Merchandise Mart and Apparel Center Annex. The building is one of four distinct properties that are known as Chicago's Mart Center complex, also known as World Trade Center Chicago: The Merchandise Mart, the Chicago Apparel Center, the Merchandise Mart ExpoCenter and Wolf Point. In James Thompson’s original 58-block 1830 plat of Chicago, the property upon which the building is situated is represented by what was then designated as "Block 7" and a large portion of "Block 6", both of which are located at the fork of the Chicago River. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called the building "a concrete hulk that mars the downtown bend of the Chicago River."
When the building was constructed, it was the world's largest wholesale buying center, featuring over 1000 display showrooms and representing over 3000 clothing lines. It was Chicago's attempt to replace New York City, where businessmen have to travel to 20 different buildings to see a comparable variety of clothing as the world's fashion center. Its completion bolstered the Merchandise Mart's claim of being the "World's Largest Wholesale Buying Center". The building was completed just as the downtown office space market recovered from the 1973–75 recession and was part of a boom of Near North Side hotel constructions. The adjacent parking lot has over 2000 parking spaces. The grand opening ceremony on January 22, 1977 was attended by the Kennedy family, as well as Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic. The grand opening celebration included a fashion show attended by 1200 people.
The New York Times describes the second-floor walkway as a "glass-enclosed bridge", The walkway was part of a late 1980s makeover of the adjacent buildings that occurred when NBC moved its midwest headquarters to its own NBC Tower. In the late 1990s, many concrete walls were replaced by windows. The building includes a 7-story light court over a swimming pool to the west. Although the Chicago building code only requires kilos per square foot of bearing pressure for the caissons, the Apparel Center was built with 40 ksf.
The Kennedy-Vornado transaction occurred during an urban commercial real estate recovery that also saw the Sears Tower change hands at approximately the same time. Kennedy had purchased the property in 1945 or 1946 (depending on the source) from the Marshall Field family. John F. Kennedy, Jr. told a joke about Chicago that included the Merchandise Mart and Apparel Center: "In the '40s, my grandfather bought the Merchandise Mart. In the '70s, there was the Apparel Center. And in the '60s election, my family bought 20,000 votes." Christopher G. Kennedy met his wife who is from Winnetka, Illinois and became involved in the Merchandise Mart Properties business, that he now presides over.
The Kennedys retained their interest in Wolf Point, the 4 acres (16,000 m2) of land between Apparel Center and the Chicago River to the south of the building with an address of 340 North Orleans. There have been numerous plans to develop the property dating back to the late 1980s. In 2007, the Kennedys planned to develop the property with three high-rises and skyscrapers according to Cesar Pelli designs. These redevelopment plans would obstruct the view of the Apparel Center. The Wolf Point land is considered to have been the focal point of the earliest settlements in Chicago at the beginning of the 19th century.
Among the original designer tenants were Diane von Fürstenberg, Joan Leslie and Jerry Silverman. The top ten floors are occupied by a Holiday Inn hotel, which incorporated 527 rooms in its original design. In the early 1980s, The New York Times included the hotel among city's first-class hotels. NBC was a tenant until it moved to the NBC Tower in 1989. At about the same time that NBC moved out, both Quaker Oats and World Book moved out of their Mart facilities. The Chicago Transit Authority, which had been a tenant of the Merchandise Mart since 1947, had facilities in the building until it decided to build its own dedicated building in 2002. Illinois Bell moved into the Apparel Center in 1990.
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