Proposed Aon Center Observatory will put tourists over the edge

By Stephanie Racine | Staff Writer

Aon Center will soon be able to flaunt its jaw-dropping views with an observatory, glass elevator and “pod ride” that is coming to its 82nd and 83rd floors.

On May 14, The Chicago Loop Alliance and Alderman Brendan Reilly met with community members at The Mid-America Club to discuss plans for an observatory to cap the Aon Center tower located at 200 E.Randolph St.

Representatives from developers 601W Companies, architectural firms SCB and The Hettema Group, and engineering consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates presented designs for the observatory, highlighting the effect the family-friendly attraction will have on Chicago’s tourism industry.

“[The observatory] would also have a very positive impact on the area,” said Mark Karasick, managing director of 601W Companies. “We commissioned a study which found that more than $900 million in direct economic impact will be generated over the next 20 years due to this venture.”

Slides shown at the meeting detailed how the new observatory will transform Aon Center into a world-class destination and help maintain the building’s financial health and iconic real estate status.

To get to the top, visitors will take the external glass elevator—which will be the tallest in the U.S.—traveling at 1,200 feet per minute. The elevator will be accessed via a separate entrance pavilion on the east side of the building that takes visitors down escalators to a walkway at lower level three near Lower Randolph Street, according to SCB design principal Martin F. Wolf. Once at the base of the elevator and on the way up, “views will be quite spectacular,” Wolf said.

Visitors will experience floor-to-ceiling views with interactive multimedia attractions, along with other activities, snacks and drinks, according to Phil Hettema, president of The Hettema Group. They can also check out the Sky Summit pod ride which will lift visitors seated in a see-through capsule over the south edge of the building.

“You will get an absolutely unforgettable view of Millenium Park,” Hettema said. “We just want to give you an experience that’s unlike anything anybodyhas ever seen.”

Many of the residents at the meeting voiced concerns about the tourist attraction’s impact on traffic in New Eastside.

Peter Lemmon from Kimley-Horn and Associates shared the results of a traffic study and proposed widening sidewalks by the pavilion entrance along Columbus Street by 15 feet to accommodate the increase in foot traffic, re-striping crosswalks and establishing a dedicated bus zone. Both Reilly and Lemmon assured residents that options to improve traffic in the area, both related and unrelated to the Aon Observatory, are being considered.

More information about the Aon Center Observatory can be found at aoncenterobservatory.com

Published June 3, 2018

Chicago Fire Department diver remembered as a hero

By Shamontiel Vaughn | Community Contributor

Department diver at Engine 13 quarters in New Eastside, died on Memorial Day while attempting to rescue a man who fell into the Chicago River.

Firefighters hung purple memorial flags in honor of Bucio and U.S. and Chicago flags were also lowered outside of Bucio’s firehouse, 259 N. Columbus Drive, after his death.

Bucio became separated from the rest of the dive team during a rescue mission at the Chicago River while looking for 28-year-old Alberto Lopez, Ed Cross, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told the Chicago Tribune. He died at a hospital shortly after.

Lopez accidentally fell off the edge of a johnboat when a second boat sailed by and was still missing at the time this story went to press. While searching for Lopez, Bucio was separated from his dive partner. The 15-year-marine veteran was pronounced dead two hours after he was found in the Chicago River and taken to Stroger Hospital.

“We’re proud of Juan,” said CFD Lt. Chris Mezirie, a fellow emergency responder with the department, via ABC News. “He’s going to be remembered as a hero.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited the Engine Company 13 and Bucio’s family
to pay his respects.

“I think it’s important for his sons to know that their dad is a Chicago hero, who gave his all for the rest of us,” Emanuel said.

Bucio joined the dive team in 2007 after working for CPD from 2000 to 2003 and CFD since 2004. He is survived by his wife and two sons.

Published June 5, 2018

Balbo Drive renaming proposed

By Taylor Hartz Staff Writer

The decades-old debate to rename Balbo Drive gained attention at a Chicago City Council meeting last month, when two aldermen proposed an ordinance to rename the street after Ida B. Wells.

On May 23rd, New Eastside Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Ald. Sophia King (4th) held a joint press conference alongside other elected officials, community leaders and groups to announce the change of name for the Loop street. Other elected officials, community leaders and groups joined in the announcement.

Rather than honoring Italian aviator Italo Balbo, the aldermen introduced the idea of recognizing Wells, an African-American investigative journalist who brought attention to the lynching of African-Americans in the 1890s.

Wells joined other African-American leaders in calling for the boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition 1893. She died in Chicago in 1931.

“Balbo is to be named after an individual whose advocacy and life’s work will continue to have an historical impact that is timeless,” said a joint statement from the aldermen on May 23.

If the ordinance is approved, this will be the first time a street in Chicago has been permanently renamed since South Parkway was changed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive in 1968, according to the aldermen’s statement.

The street, which runs from Lake Shore Drive to State Street between Harrison Street and 8th Street, will also be the first in the Loop to be named after an African-American woman.

Published June 4

‘You’re our frontline out here’ Chicago Fire Department and Streeterville Neighborhood Advocates hold life ring demonstration

By B. David Zarley | Staff Writer

Residents gathered in Streeterville at the Nicholas J. Melas Centennial Fountain on a clear morning on April 28 for a demonstration on how to use life buoys.

Organized by the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) and the Streeterville Neighborhood Advocates (SNA), Lt. Brian Otto of scuba team 688 taught attendees the best way to throw a life ring, before letting them take a few throws of their own.

Lt. Brian Otto of the Chicago Fire Department throws a life ring into the Chicago River  April 28, 2018. Photo by B. David Zarley

With a dive boat from scuba team 688 maneuvering offshore, Otto explained the importance of knowing what to do during a water emergency. “Residents and passersby are far from powerless,” he said. “They are in fact, often on the frontline for marine rescues.”

According to Otto, the most important thing to do is to call 911 and let the dispatchers know what is happening and where. For river incidents, providing information on the emergency’s location—like “near the fountain” or “under a bridge’—and what side of the river the incident is on, can save precious time.

Once you call 911, the next best step is to encourage the person in distress to swim toward the shore. According to Otto, many victims can swim, but begin to panic and lose their faculties after the initial shock of falling in. Encouragement can be enough to snap them into focus. Any passing boats should be flagged down as well, as they can potentially pluck a victim from the water before CFD arrives.

Next, life buoy rings should be thrown toward the person in distress. The rings are intended to keep someone afloat until rescuers can reach them and each ring can
support three or four people, Otto said. While the ring should be thrown however
feels most comfortable, tossing the buoy upwind or up-current can help push it
toward a drowning victim.

After learning the ropes from Otto, residents took turns tossing the ring to a CFD diver floating in the river.

“I expected it to be so heavy I couldn’t lift it,” said Kathy Schubert, a Lincoln Park
resident who got a throw in. “I was able to lift it, and I got it over the edge.”

Otto discouraged potential rescuers from jumping into the water themselves, as a drowning person can be remarkably dangerous in their fear and could pull them down. Also, the Chicago River doesn’t provide many places to get out once you
have taken the plunge. If you must jump in, a ring or life jacket should be taken
with you. If you fear getting pulled under or hurt by the victim, the ring or jacket can be handed over from a safe distance.

“Having grown up on the water, I’ve had this education most of my life,” said Craig
Kaiser, head of Streeterville Neighborhood Advocates and the organizer of the demo.
“I thought it was important to share it.”

Published on May 2, 2017