Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site near North Columbus and East Wacker drives in the Loop Wednesday morning but the earth movers actually began their work along Lower East Wacker in mid-August.
"The largest real estate investment by a Chinese firm in the United States of America is going to be right here in the city of Chicago," Emanuel said.
The Vista Tower will be a $1 billion, 95-story, 1,186-foot structure comprised of Vista residences and a five-star hotel. One-bedroom apartments start at $1 million.
Award-winning architect and Chicago native Jeanne Gang, who also designed the well-known nearby Aqua Tower, designed the Vista Tower as well, making it the largest-ever designed by a female architect.
"That's going to also bring a lot of vibrancy to this area and our city can support that," Gang said.
"This project is significant for many reasons. A huge investment. It's nearly $1 billion," said David Reifman, the city's planning and development commissioner.
Preparation for construction began last month. The project is expected to take three years to complete and will create thousands of construction jobs and more than 500 permanent jobs once the building opens, officials said.
Activist Bob Israel crashed the groundbreaking event Wednesday, complaining that African American workers are not getting their share of construction jobs on downtown projects.
"My concern is minority participation in a billion dollar project. I don't know why, that's why I'm down here to see. That's why I've been meeting with these developers, going to city planning commission meetings. That's the question I'm asking. Why is there no minority participation?" Israel said.
None of the speakers addressed the issue of African-American workers. Instead, the mayor focused on the size of the Chinese investment and his hopes of more to come.
"This represents their confidence in the vitality of the city and we're going to continue to talk to them about different projects that exist in the city where it's appropriate," Emanuel said.
During construction, the city said there will be a new traffic pattern at Columbus and Wacker and Lower Field Boulevard will be closed. Access to the Chicago Riverwalk from Lower Lakeshore East will be blocked, officials said.
Vista Tower is expected to open by the end of 2019.