|By Kathy Bergen, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 8, 2008 - Skokie-based Alter Group on Monday confirmed it has an agreement to pay $70 million for a 3.7-acre site directly across from McCormick Place's new West Building, where it would like to build a convention hotel of at least 1,000 rooms, along with some retail and residential units.
The plans, first reported by Crain's Chicago Business, could include a casino, though "it's not very high on our list of expected uses here," said Richard Gatto, executive vice president of the commercial real estate development firm.
The state has yet to decide whether it would authorize a downtown casino as part of a plan to rescue public transit. If it did so there likely would be heated competition for the new license.
The Alter Group plan targets a parcel directly across Cermak Road, between Prairie and Calumet Avenues.
It is directly east of a parcel being pursued for potential hotel development by the Metropolitian Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates McCormick Place and Navy Pier. The authority, also known as McPier, will continue its eminent domain proceedings to acquire a Cermak Road parcel between Indiana and Prairie Avenues, Chief Executive Juan Ochoa said Monday.
"Over the last two years we have seen several plans for hotels by this owner," Ochoa said, noting that those plans have not translated into a project yet. "So we will continue the process unless we see something that is very concrete."
McPier also is planning a 600-room expansion of the 800-room Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, the existing convention hotel at the convention center.
Maine-based developers Pam Gleichman and Karl Norberg own the parcel to be sold to the Alter Group. They also own part of the parcel that McPier is pursuing for its plans. They could not be reached Monday.
The speed with which McPier proceeds with its site acquisition will depend on whether Illinois lawmakers approve its request for a debt restructuring, Ochoa said.
"If it is passed we can do it quickly," he said. "Otherwise, we'll have to be very fiscally conscious of what it would mean for the authority."
Meanwhile, the Alter Group "is in very early stages of due diligence" on its land purchase, Gatto said, adding that he would like to see the deal close at some point in 2008. It would take another 18 months to two years to build the hotel, he said.
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