The Esquire in the Gold Coast has been shuttered for a few years. The last film I saw there was Fahrenheit 9/11, so obviously it’s been a few years. Still, I’ve always liked having a theater there, regardless if I used it or not.
M Development has withdrawn plans to build a boutique hotel on the site of the shuttered Esquire Theater on Oak Street and instead will scale down the project to a two-to-three story structure housing about a half dozen luxury retailers.
Efforts to redevelop the historic Gold Coast movie house have been in flux since the theater shut down in September 2006. M Development, the Chicago-based owner of the property, originally proposed a mixed-use complex consisting of a 100-room hotel and retail shops to replace the theater and some adjacent property it also owns.
The hotel portion of the project, which would have risen about 10 stories, encountered resistance from residents worried about traffic congestion and about losing the intimate European character of the tony street, home to Jimmy Choo, Prada, Barneys, Harry Winston and Hermes.
So now what to do? Alderman Reilly, whose district encompasses this location, eventually decided against allowing the hotel to be built.
Putting a relatively tall building in the middle of the block of European graystones “violates basic urban planning principles,” Reilly added in the letter. Most of the buildings on the street are about three stories high.
He also said the proposed hotel would burden the neighborhood’s infrastructure, in particular an alley off of Bellevue Place (a residential street one block north of Oak Street) heavily used by a condo building and Sutton Place Hotel.
The one block street in the Gold Coast has a storied history. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, prominent Chicagoans established the block as an enclave for the wealthy, hiring European-trained architects to build their mansions. Many of those buildings remain, although they now house $1,500 handbags and $150,000 diamond necklaces.
Jeffrey Shapack, president of M Development, said the firm decided to forego the hotel and concentrate on the few floors of retail in order to get the project off the ground.
“Based on numerous factors and considerations, we made the decision to move forward with a retail-commercial-only development on Oak Street with plans to begin development in 2009,” said Shapack. “This development has generated a lot of interest from luxury national and international retailers who like the prospect of having their own branded facade in a new building on Oak Street.”
M Development is also redeveloping Barneys New York down the street from the Esquire.
Plans are to turn the Barneys building at the corner of Oak and Rush Streets into a retail and restaurant complex and move the existing Barneys across the street into a new, bigger building.