Remnants of the grimy, industrial district that was the West Loop are increasingly hard to find in some parts of the neighborhood, although forklifts still rumble back and forth in the old Fulton Market, and meat vendors hangs on alongside the burgeoning crop of trendy restaurants and galleries. These days, upscale condos abound – the fruits of a trend that began roughly a decade ago.
“At that time there were a lot of one- and two-bedroom units a little bit smaller in size,” says Geoffrey Ruttenberg, CEO of The Brixton Group, a developer of residential real estate. “And most developers were hedging their bets because the area was still in transition.” What the West Loop market needs now, according to Ruttenberg, is move-up properties for those early buyers.
“As this area grew roots and became more established, nobody bothered to escalate the housing to a new level,” he says. “So if you like the location, and you love this area, you had very little housing opportunity if you wished to remain here and needed more space.”
C/A 23, Brixton’s latest project, is meant to fill this niche. The development, at 23 N. Aberdeen St., has 48 condos in twin five-story buildings that face away from each other, one towards Carpenter Street and the other towards Aberdeen Street. A landscaped courtyard separates the two buildings.
The condos range from 1,900 to 4,000 square feet, with two to four bedrooms and ceiling heights of 11 to 18 feet – a generous amount of space for a downtown condo. Elevators open directly into each unit.
The grand scope and private entrances are meant to emulate “the old 1920s multi-core buildings along Lake Shore Drive,” says Pat FitzGerald, of FitzGerald Associates Architects, as he walks through C/A 23’s sales center and model on a warm day in late May. Outside, a demolition crew is at work, knocking down the one-story garage occupying the site.
But while the design of C/A 23 has some traditional elements, it’s essentially contemporary, FitzGerald says. He points out the combined kitchen, living room and dining room at the front of the unit – a feature becoming increasingly common in new-construction developments – and heads down the curving hallway that leads to the bedrooms and bathrooms.
He stops first at the guest bathroom, noting a sliding door that separates the toilet and sink from the tub and a shower. Down the hall are two bedrooms that sit on either side of what is, essentially, an airshaft – but not the kind of dank tunnel found in rundown tenement apartments.
“We brought back another ancient idea, which is the light shaft,” FitzGerald says. “But it’s bigger in dimension so it’ll bring in a lot of light.” The atrium, as it’s officially called, is eight by 25 feet and cuts across two units. It reaches all the way down to the roof of the parking garage, which he says could be a walk-out space for a condo. At the top, the shaft is open to the sky. That means that the two secondary bedrooms and the hallway, which have windows looking into the atrium, will have access to light and the elements.
The architects sacrificed some square footage to the atrium, but it ultimately makes the condos more appealing, FitzGerald says. “It’s a through-unit with light on both ends and in the middle, as opposed to a slice of the floorplate.”
In Ruttenberg’s view, the layout of C/A 23’s condos is a horizontal alternative to a townhouse, which he says, is all West Loop currently offers family-oriented buyers. At the sales center, the model unit shows two versions of the third bedroom: one set up as an office and the other as a nursery.
You could almost stash a child in the walk-in closet in the master bedroom at the back of the unit. It’s big enough for custom shelving and a dresser, FitzGerald says. The master bedrooms also have balconies that overlook the courtyard between the buildings. A dozen of them open directly onto private yards.
Sales kicked off April 19, and at press time about 20 percent of the units had sold in the Aberdeen Street building, the only one on the market. Prices ranged from the $660s to almost $1.6 million, according to Ruttenberg. First deliveries are slated for April 2008.