The Chicago Spire may soon begin its 2,000-foot climb upward.
The Irish development firm planning the residential tower near Navy Pier announced Tuesday that construction will commence within weeks on what would become North America's tallest building. Case Foundation Co. has been granted a city permit to start the process of installing 34 concrete and steel caissons that will support the Spire, Shelbourne Development Group said in a news release.
"This marks a significant milestone," Shelbourne's executive chairman, Garrett Kelleher, said in a written statement.
The underground phase is expected to be finished in early 2008, but the high-rise portion will not be completed until late 2010. Sales of the building's 1,200 high-end condos are slated to begin in September, Shelbourne said.
Architect Santiago Calatrava created the Spire's design, a gently twisting and tapering cylinder of 150 floors that resembles a birthday candle. Developers modified the street-level design to allay concerns about increased traffic, and the Chicago City Council gave its blessing to the project recently.
Some observers have been doubtful the project is viable because Kelleher has said he will use a combination of his own equity and bank financing, rather than relying on "pre-sales" of residential units. No formal estimate has been provided, but it is believed the building would cost more than $1 billion to construct.
Among the skeptics is competitor Donald Trump, who is erecting a 92-story hotel-and-condo skyscraper along the Chicago River near Michigan Avenue. At an appearance last month, the billionaire said the condo market is too sluggish for a project of the Spire's scale. He also suggested such a building could be a target for terrorism.
Spire proponents disagree the residential tower would be a target and say Calatrava's building will have state-of-the-art security features.
The tallest building in North America currently is Chicago's iconic Sears Tower, at 110 stories and 1,450 feet. Even if the Spire is built across town, the highest building in the world is expected to be the Burj Dubai, a tower of more than 2,500 feet being built in the United Arab Emirates.
Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or firstname.lastname@example.org.