ChicagoFar North

Grading Flats Chicago – Incomplete, Fail

by Joe Zekas on 2/3/14

As Flats Chicago cranks up its hype machine with an eye on the spring rental market, we’ll try to provide an occasional reality check. Start with the current screen cap from Flats’ website: reservations were being taken last June for four buildings, only one of which has apartments ready for occupancy.

But first, a look at some of the more gag-inducing hype. Moss Design blogged that the aim of its redesign of the 4+1 at 5411 N Winthrop “is to restore the building’s iconic 1970′s drama and glamour” and went on to make a comparison with Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. Real Estate BIZNOW and ext. 54 contribute not-to-be missed efforts.

I visited all eight Flats sites last Friday. At 7722-7734 N Ashland, which has occupied units, a worker was clearing snow that had fallen several days earlier. The snow didn’t deter a city inspector from recording 61-degree heat in apartment 1 at 7734 and reporting: “Drafty windows throughout. (note windows are new, drafts coming from around window frames.)”

There are several listings for 7722 in the MLS. The one for Unit F1 , dated October 16, 2013, includes the following:

Ample Street Parking Available. Steps To Lakefront & Public Transportation – Just 2 Blocks To The Red Line & 1 Block To The Sheridan Bus. Available Now!

I’ve been at the location many times over the years, including half a dozen times in recent months, and have only seen parking that can remotely be described as “ample” on street-cleaning days. “Steps to lakefront?” Google Maps puts the distance at three-tenths of a mile, over 500 steps for most people. Multiply the distance to the Red Line and the Sheridan bus by two, and you’ve got it right. On your way to the Red Line or the bus, at the south end of 7722′s block, you’ll note one of the infamous blue light cameras found in high-crime neighborhoods.

A number of units at 5411 N Winthrop are occupied, and several are listed for rent in the MLS. Unit 213 is a 1-bedroom that was probably once a studio and is renting for $1,250 unheated. I wouldn’t allow too many active people on the balcony, and I’d avoid the balcony if the upstairs neighbors have a group on theirs. Renters have a lot of options in far more attractive neighborhoods at the $1,250 price point.

The fence is down at 2500 N Clybourn. Workers at the project reported that none of the apartments were complete, and none are currently listed for rent.

There were no visible signs of progress on the exteriors of 5718 N Winthrop and 6134 N Kenmore. Openings to winter weather have to be taking a toll.

The exterior of 4875 N Magnolia doesn’t appear to have changed since early last July.

5051 N Kenmore appears unchanged since mid-November, except that some of the trash has been cleared from behind the fencing.

There’s sidewalk scaffolding and building graffiti at 1325 W Wilson that I don’t recall from my previous visit to the property.

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  4. Sign up for a hardhat tour of Halsted Flats
  5. Chicago-area sales, prices rise in December

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Nardella February 3, 2014 at 8:43 AM

Important to note, Yo Chicago, there is a lot of construction activity that happens inside of a building over the course of a 15 month project that is not discernible from the street, especially when most of the improvements are interior renovations.

Since its obviously just based on conjecture, you’ll be happy to hear that instead of “a 1-bedroom that was probably once a studio” several demising walls were relocated to make usable bedrooms at the 1-bedroom units, including at unit 213.

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Joe Zekas February 3, 2014 at 9:17 AM

Thanks for the info, Matt.

As someone who’s been around construction all his life (carpenter / contractor dad) and gut-rehabbed nearly 100 units in half a dozen buildings back in the day, I’m well aware that not all rehab activity is visible from the street.

I’m also aware that lengthy periods of inactivity can be discerned from walking the perimeters of buildings and talking to neighbors and workers. Almost all projects of this type are accomplished in less time than Flats has been taking to complete them – and Flats’ repeated and extended failure to meet its publicly-stated delivery dates reflects that.

My conjecture was informed by a WGN video interview with Jay Michael in which he illustrates converting studios to 1-bedrooms. I can’t tell whether you’re saying I was wrong in this instance.

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Matt Nardella February 3, 2014 at 1:43 PM

Fair enough. From an architectural standpoint, all I can say is that it is a huge endeavor to rehabilitate several 100-year old (in some cases) buildings and it is very likely that you will run into unexpected conditions. Pile on top of trying to acquire permits at the exact time the City decided to transition to an all electronic submittal system and I think delays are easy to understand. In my experience, the construction at these projects has proceeded at a normal rate since permits were issued.

Basically, I don’t think its fair to include our design overview as ‘gag-inducing hype’, we are just trying to highlight the things we thought about while designing a rehab for one of our clients. We’d, of course, like to see Flats do well, but don’t have any reason to unnecessarily hype anyone.

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Joe Zekas February 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Matt,

Where you see “iconic 1970′s drama and glamour,” I see a run-of-the-mill 4+1 with a goofy façade, and I have a hair-trigger gag-reflex for associating that building type with true architectural icons.

Was the fencing an integral element of your restoration of the building’s “glamour?”

Where you see a “huge endeavor” to rehabilitate several buildings, I see something that, in my experience, developers routinely accomplish in far less time in Chicago without extended work stoppages and without touting occupancy dates that they’ll miss by half a year or more. The permit issue’s a distraction given how long ago they were approved.

I’d be interested in hearing more about your experience with multi-family rehabs in Chicago, since your website lists only single-unit projects.

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invictus February 4, 2014 at 7:53 AM

It is beyond me why the developer would think that prospedive tenants would think prision gray would be attractive. And what is with that wooden fence at 5411 Winthrop?

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LMS February 4, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Completely agree about the grey paint. But barfy color aside, painting masonry is asking for deterioration problems down the road. And if you paint it once you have to paint it again and again and again.

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the urban politician February 4, 2014 at 9:48 PM

Joe,

You sure are impatient. Permits take very long, as do contractors, especially when you’re having one of the worst winters in the books.

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Joe Zekas February 4, 2014 at 10:01 PM

tup,

These guys announced that some of the units would be complete a year ago – long before this winter. There have been prolonged periods of inactivity long after permits were issued and at times when weather wasn’t an issue.

I’m not at all impatient – I’m trying to warn people away from taking these guys at their word and getting burned in the process.

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Jenny Roberts February 5, 2014 at 5:01 PM

there are reasons beyond what the public is being shown through FLATS chicago media releases, stories via WGN, Curbed chicago, DNAinfo, etc. If you want to know the real story about why do to …

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Jeremy Lynch February 5, 2014 at 11:27 AM

FLATS is a joke but this coverage would be much better if it wasn’t laden with cheap shots at a working class neighborhood. One of the main reason YoChicago is such a snoozer and minor player is that constant green zone coverage is getting to so, well Crib Chatter.

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IrishPirate February 5, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Hey Joe,

enjoying our fine weather? The wind is up and the trolls are out today.

Unfortunately I think you’re correct about FLATS. They seem to be more focused/better at the marketing than the renovating. I do hope that they get their act together as it will be great for Uptown and the city as a whole. Unlike Alderman Smith in Lincoln Park I recognize the need for people to live in the city and taxes to be paid.

As for “Jeremy” well you won’t be surprised to find out his real name is different, as my real name isn’t IrishPirate.

That’s another ID for Chicago Supertroll “FGFM” otherwise known as Brian in his real life. His comments here and on the earlier “FLATS” thread are just meant to illicit a negative response from you or others. It’s what he lives for.

He has many obsessions and Uptown and FLATS are two of them. Considering he lives practically across the street from the FLATS Clybourn project I can understand his FLATTISH interests.

Personally I don’t like seeing anyone not named “IrishPirate” badmouthing the YoChicago site. You really don’t need Brian doing it as “rental season” is approaching and the locator “bedbugs” will be attacking you.

Spring isn’t quite in the air yet, but once the bedbug trolls attack I know it can’t be too distant.

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Joe Zekas February 5, 2014 at 3:59 PM

IrishPirate,

I’ll have to disagree with you on your assertion that FLATS is better at marketing than at renovating.

Take a look at what they term “our shtick:”

We are often small, but are always mighty. The FLATS™LiFE is to live well. To create. To rearrange. And rearrange again. To be nimble, yet heard. To pioneer. To love community. To have a home with a soul. Value, individuality, and character make us tick. Authenticity is our addiction. We are anything but expected. We create our own finishes. We thrive on bicycles and great coffee. Dogs keep us running. We believe that living well is a necessity and we spend our lives curating what we simply call The FLATS™LiFE.

They obviously don’t realize that they come across as pompous buffoons. Pair that kind of language with their nuttily-inflated view of the impact of a few third-rate developments on communities as large and varied as Uptown and Edgewater, and you get the sense that you’re dealing with clowns.

“Authenticity is our addiction?”

Marketing is completely ineffective when people are turned off by it or ridiculing it. It’s deadly when it’s accompanied by a failure to deliver.

Thus far they’ve only failed at renovating. They’ve crashed and burned at marketing.

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IrishPirate February 5, 2014 at 6:10 PM

Fair point Joe.

Let me rephrase.

FLATS is better at getting publicity than renovating apartments.

Not many putative apartment developers manage to get episodes on reality TV shows.

I’ve mocked them a bit myself and the gray painting of everything was silly. The over the top language regarding the 4 + 1 and just overall “descriptive” language of their marketing does easily lend itself to mockery.

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Javier Babilonia February 9, 2014 at 10:27 PM

Well, well, well, little did I know this article mentions the heat complaint we filed on this property.

The inspector you mention was a nice gentleman. Yes, I was the one welcoming him into our very cold apartment. His reading was 61 only because I had the oven fired up for quite some time, I worked from home that day. I also had an area heater by the dining room, where I had setup shop to work on my laptop. As the inspector could probably attest, some readings were not even up to 50 degrees. As of this writing, the highest reading in our master bathroom, which is located in between the master and guest bedrooms, somewhat “protected”, has been 52 degrees, the lowest 46. I have two thermometers that keep track of high/low/actual temperatures.

I have found some of Joe’s articles today and have posted, with great detail, all of the issues we have encountered and how many have been plainly ignored. Not happy campers here, to say the least. Actually, quite upset because, like I mentioned before, this units are absolutely misrepresented.

Before I forget, I should point out that comparing ANY building in Chicago to anything designed and/or built by the Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, a.k.a., Le Corbusier, my favourite architect, is an insult to his legacy and he would certainly be rolling in his grave if Mr. Nardella’s comments were translated in French for him to enjoy. I would understand drawing parallels between something designed by Saarinen or Mies, but that is not the case. Yes, having studied architecture makes me appreciate good architecture.

Another reason for me to be upset and disappointed is because I know how construction works. My partner and I have renovated two houses, more than enough experience to be aware of how the unit we are currently renting at 7734 N Ashland has fallen into the sub-par category as far as what’s “behind the scenes”. We have asked ourselves many times how other tenants, who have no idea how a renovation is done, are just putting up with these issues maybe thinking that “the place just gets cold”, or “oh well, it’s cold, that why our pipes exploded”, or “why is there no hot water in the shower?”

If a development company is venturing into undertaking such a huge endeavour, they better have enough funds to do things right from the get-go. I have the impression that these were “sweatshop” renovations to make quick profit. Maybe is just a case of biting more than what they can chew.

I think that for a company like FlatsChicago to be spending so much money, at least seemingly doing so, in fancy advertising, seems ludicrous. Why? Because that is money that can actually be invested into making sure future owners or tenants are actually happy with the place they occupy and pay for. Design-wise, there are many things to like about this particular unit, however, the entire situation seems rather shameful because the building is very nice, the units are spacious and the area is definitely “up-and-coming”, but, in the end, you can put quite a bit of lipstick on a pig to disguise it, and the tail, among other things, will give it away.

Anyhow, our case is not isolated, there are more tenants going through similar problems. The sad part is that, beyond sharing their experiences with us, many just don’t even know what to do. Never mind the three units that were sold as condos that, after having gone into foreclosure, are now for sale.

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Brittany G. May 9, 2014 at 9:00 PM

Javier,

I feel your pain. I live at the Ashland complex as well and I know we have met in person prior to the winter. At first, I thought the place was ok (small but it was a quick move). You were a tad bit more thrilled when we spoke about living at Ashland but, of course, you have a condo (with more space) so I could not have possibly shared your excitement.

After moving in October, I wanted to pack up my belongings and move again in December. I inquired about early lease cancellation but was told I could only sublease to another individual. Guess they need their money more than I need an apartment worth mine. I wasn’t sure if I was the only person unhappy with the lethargic attitude of management, until I spoke with other tenants within my building.

Experience is the best teacher but I feel like I’m being robbed. This place is too small and too expensive. When I first saw the advertisement for the 2 bedroom/2bath, the images that were provided falsely advertised the unit. The photos shown were from the condo not the shoe box with an odd layout, which is where I currently reside. The apartment should be advertised as more of a 1bedroom/den or office.

In conjunction with my displeasure at the size and layout, I have had all kinds of issues: a drafty and cold living room (from only 3 small vents trying to supply heat to such an open space paired with windows that hardly provided insulation), a cracked bath tub cover (I don’t believe the tub is porcelain), a loose shower curtain rod (that may just be defected but now it’s my issue), an uneven floor board perpendicular to an uneven wall, a tenant below me that has smoked heavy weed since he moved in (now my apartment smells like skunk almost every time I come home), little to no parking on the block the building is on (I usually have to park either a block and a half down the street or around the corner because “ample” parking is a joke), the blue light camera was not mentioned nor acknowledged (yes, this area is considered a HIGH CRIME area because of the crime, the camera is NOT placed at the corner of Ashland and Jonquil for leisure surveillance), constant dog poo all over the front courtyard from people allowing their dogs to relieve themselves without picking up after them, and now the air conditioner does not provide cool air. I also had an issue with the front buzzer and intercom system but that was eventually fixed.

If I could have, I would have moved in December. Since I am not pushing my problem onto anyone else through subletting, when my lease is up, I am going to fly out of here like a bat out of hell! I would NEVER recommend this building nor property management company to anyone, and no, I have no hard feelings about a business. Businesses need to make money, that’s understood. But when it comes to business practices with realty, comfortability should be the #1 priority, and if someone is uncomfortable, set them free! Avoid this company people!!!

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Brittany G. May 9, 2014 at 9:11 PM

I forgot to attest to the lack of hot water on several occasions. Management would sometimes fail to notify tenants when the water needed to be turned off in order to fix the boiler issues. Lastly, there was a sewage smell that was said to be caused by the cold and warm air pressure within the pipes during the winter. The smell was deadly and I have recently experienced it again within the past month.

For the credit they deserve, I would say communication has become slightly better with my new property manager but the existing issues outweigh that minor positive.

Again, Flats Chicago is not worth the money.

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Dane K February 14, 2014 at 11:03 AM

blue light cameras aren’t exclusive to high crime neighborhoods. They have them in East Lakeview at Broadway/Belmont which is one of the more expensive places on the north side.

The catch 22 for these blue light cameras is… they are known locations so the blue lights themselves are of no relevance to crime prevention, and they are just hindering people who are living better lives from moving in.

That building’s location is OK. I wouldn’t hang out at the corner a few hundred feet away in the summer for too long, but I walk by there all the time. Criminals are smart enough to not do the crime right in front of the camera, so it works to your advantage… there are cameras all along the the park now too, on the way to the red line. There is quite a diverse mix of people in the area. Those are the less tacky kind that don’t have huge flashing blue lights.

People should really petition to get these blue lights removed.

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Joe Zekas April 16, 2014 at 12:32 AM

A 16-year old was shot to death the other day at the blue light camera intersection I pictured.

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Sherdian B February 18, 2014 at 1:59 PM

I noticed that awful grey from the el last week. It looked like Modac, however, which can be useful for protecting interiors with porous brick (but yeah, you do have to recoat it every few years, more frequently than tuckpointing intervals.). This would have been a good candidate for properly done EIFS which is the only way to properly insulate masonry (i.e. on the outside of the brick) if they had been looking for an aesthetic change.

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