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High hopes for America's tallest building as unions offer loan

A tower that would be North America's tallest building may become a reality thanks to unions that want their workers to build it.

A group of union pension funds - eager to provide work for union members - are in talks to lend 170 million dollars (£105m) to Irish developer Shelbourne Development Group so work on the twisting 2,000ft Chicago Spire can resume as soon as early next year.

The CN Tower in Toronto, at 1,815 feet, is North America's tallest freestanding structure. Chicago's Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, is the tallest US building at 1,451 feet.

The Spire, which won city approval and saw workers break ground in 2007, has lay dormant for a year since the global financial crisis triggered various fights involving bankers, the architect and the developer, bringing work to a standstill.

The loan would pay off the estimated 64 million-dollar (£39.5m) loan made by Anglo Irish Bank and satisfy various liens to firms that have worked on the Spire, including one by a firm associated with architect Santiago Calatrava.

The Spaniard stopped working on the project, claiming the developer owed him more than £6.8 million.

Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, said the money would come from an AFL-CIO pension fund and Union Life Insurance, and perhaps pension funds from various local groups.

"This would be 7.5 million man-hours for my members and I have locals that have 30% unemployment," said Mr Villanova, whose group represents two dozen unions with about 100,000 members.

He said the project - which Shelbourne said would take about four years to complete - would mean work for as many as 1,000 union workers.

Mr Villanova said he was "very optimistic and hopeful" that a deal would be made.

He dismissed the risk of investing in a skyscraper that will house nearly 1,200 condominiums in a city flooded with so many new ones that owners in some parts of the city have struggled to sell them.

He said unions had been making similar loans for years and the project was years away from completion, with plenty of time for the market to improve.

In addition, he said, the deal now being considered would make the trusts the property's first mortgage holder, meaning the trusts would be "first in line" to take possession of the lakefront property if the project failed.

In March 2008 Shelbourne said more than 30% of the units had been sold. Spokeswoman Kim Metcalfe said there had been more sales since then and that because of "a little loosening up on the lending side" recently, the developer was confident sales would pick up.

The condominiums start at £463,000 each, with most costing between £1.2 million and £9.2 million, she said.

Belfast Telegraph


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