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Old June 25th, 2006, 11:14 PM   #1
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Land Costs Keep American Skyscrapers Away

Land costs keep downstate skyscrapers closer to ground
25 June 2006

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - Crowds aren't the only thing that shrink as Chicago and its fast-growing suburbs give way to smaller towns circled by miles of corn and soybean fields across the rest of Illinois.

The neck-bending skyscrapers that pack Chicago's fabled skyline are little more than scaled-down miniatures in downstate cities, where even the tallest buildings are at least three times shorter than the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center.

About 100 high-rises stand outside the Chicago area, a fraction of the 1,048 in Chicago and well short of the 164 that have been built there and later torn down, according to Emporis Buildings, a German company that has catalogued nearly every building worldwide that rises to 115 feet or higher.

And as proposals float for even bigger skyscrapers in Chicago, downstate's tallest building remains one of its oldest -- the Illinois State Capitol. The more than century-old Springfield landmark measures 361 feet to the top of its familiar dome, a runt compared to Chicago's 1,451-foot Sears Tower.

Many experts say the reason for downstate's stubby skyscrapers is simple: land prices.

"In larger cities, property is more expensive so the option is to build vertically. In smaller towns, land is plentiful so developers can build out rather than up," says Lou Oswald, an architect with Chicago-based Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc., whose projects include the 40-story Central Bank of Kuwait headquarters and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Mir Ali, a University of Illinois architecture professor, says mega-story skyscrapers also provide more space than downstate cities need, at costs that are significantly higher to fortify the towering buildings against high winds and earth tremors.

"Once a developer finds out he's going to have a hard time finding tenants, he's going to build a five- or six-story building, not 50 or 60 stories," Ali said.

Most of smaller-town America mirrors downstate Illinois' close-to-the-ground construction, says Marshall Gerometta, a senior editor who logs building heights for Emporis. There are a few exceptions, he says, including 40- and 50-story residential high-rises sprouting along Florida's Atlantic coast.

Downtown living could ultimately bring taller buildings to more smaller towns, says Peter Ellis, an architect with Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, which designed the Sears Tower, Hancock Center and the Trump International Hotel and Towers now under construction along the Chicago River.

Ellis cited Milwaukee and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., as cities that recently added residential high-rises downtown, breaking away from low-rise norms he says could be as rooted in local building traditions as economics.

"Not everybody wants to live in a single-family house and mow their yard for the rest of their life. ... I think it could happen in any smaller city that really develops a good downtown urban life, with plenty of amenities and cultural resources that people want," Ellis said.

Housing provides Peoria's tallest landmark, the 29-story Twin Towers, built in 1984 with 122 units. The downtown complex is one of four downstate buildings that top 300 feet, joining the Statehouse, Springfield's 30-story Hilton hotel and Illinois State University's Watterson Towers, one of the world's tallest college dormitories.

"I think it definitely adds to the skyline of Peoria, the second best skyline in the state," said Trevor Holmes, vice president of Becker Construction, which built the 308-foot high-rise.

Experts say skyscrapers can give cities a signature image that reflects prosperity and ambition.

"If you go to any city, they take pride in their tall structures," Ali said. "People want to see something that is going skyward, defying gravity. It's just human nature."

Soaring buildings also can be a drawing card, according to officials at ISU who say their towering 2,200-student dormitory is bigger than 700 towns in Illinois.

"We're always looking for points of distinction, whether it's Watterson, having the top physics program in the country or the fact that one of every seven teachers in Illinois graduated from ISU," ISU spokesman Jay Groves said. "It separates us from the other institutions that students and families are considering."

Statehouse buff Jim Donelan says he's just happy that the building where he worked as both a page and a lobbyist is still downstate's tallest, well over a century after it was completed in 1888.

Donelan, who launched a Web site honoring the Capitol at http://www.ilstatehouse.com , says many likely overlook the building's height because it has a broad, blocks-long base rather than the sleek rise of most skyscrapers.

"I think being the tallest adds to its ambiance and its stately structure," said Donelan, now executive assistant to Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin. "It's a symbol of our state, and this just adds to that."


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Old June 26th, 2006, 04:10 AM   #2
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Land costs are the driver of sprawl think how many people can afford to live in an older neighborhood, my family would love a nice house in my cities historic area its just too expensive. For the average person they cant afford the new condos being built here in florida and house prices get lower as you go farther away from the city center.
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Old June 26th, 2006, 07:55 AM   #3
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They forgot the importance of transit. Tall buildings work great when not many drive to get there. But when too many people drive, then roads, traffic, and parking all become serious problems.
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