Condo buyers docking in River City

River CityFew downtown condo developments advertise their units at boat shows, but then again, few have anything to offer boat lovers. That’s not the case at River City, the American Invsco conversion at 800 S. Wells. Architect Bertrand Goldberg’s futuristic complex in the South Loop recently put its 57 year-round boat slips up for sale and received an overwhelming response.

“We just put our boat slips on the market three weeks ago, and of the 57 available, we sold 36,” says Sales Manager Ted Sveda. “They are anywhere from 20 to 60 feet, and the biggest ones sold the quickest. People are buying a condo with their boat slips. Naturally, they see the value of the condo, which can pay for the boat slip as it appreciates.”

Amenities often are the deciding factor for buyers trying to separate one downtown condo development from another, but many have the same standard set: doorman, dry cleaner, indoor parking…

River City is different, partly because of Goldberg’s philosophy. The visionary designer championed self-contained urban environments whose residents would never need to leave home if they didn’t want to. He endeavored to create in the heart of the city the kind of idyllic lifestyle that attracted people to the suburbs. His complexes provided the amenities, security and sense of community that buyers were leaving Chicago to find, but in urban locations that put workers a few minutes’ walk from the office.

It’s a formula that was successful when River City was built, in the mid-’80s, a time when fresh ideas were needed to keep people in the city. Today, when Chicago, especially downtown Chicago, is booming, Goldberg’s vision is proving even more popular with urbanites. At press time, condo conversion giant American Invsco,, had sold about a third of the 448 units in the Riverfront complex as it transforms the apartments into condos.

It’s hard to imagine a more complete community than River City. Urban Market, a full-service grocery store in the building, delivers to residents free of charge on orders of $15 or more. The Bally’s Sports Club downstairs, which recently underwent a $2 million renovation, is one of the largest in the country. The community has a dry cleaner and valet service, indoor and outdoor parking, 24-hour security, a private one-acre park, a roof deck with stunning views, a clubhouse with full amenities and a private grade school.

And of course, the year-round marina offers buyers slips to dock their boats. A special churning system keeps the river from freezing over in the marina, allowing it to stay open even during Chicago’s brutal winters. The remaining slips range from $25,000 to $41,000

“I don’t know of another building with our amenities,” Sveda says. “We’ve got the Bally’s, the market, the dry cleaners, the shuttle every 45 minutes and a one-acre park on the fifth floor with big barbecue areas and decks. It’s kind of a city within the city.”

The free shuttle service from River City leaves the complex about every 45 minutes from 5:45 a.m. to about 10 p.m. dropping commuters throughout the Loop and up North Michigan Avenue. It’s one more River City perc that fosters a sense of community, according to Sveda.

That sense of a complete, safe community and the convenience of living minutes from the Loop, however, are not the first things buyers notice about River City. It’s the one-of-a-kind futuristic design that has them gasping.

“Bertrand Goldberg is a big feature, and people are definitely attracted to the design,” says Sveda, who cut his teeth with Invsco at another architecturally significant conversion, Lake Point Tower. “It’s an added benefit, like at Lake Point Tower. You can buy into any square building, but this is unique.”

River City is the reason architectural boat tours turn down the South Branch of the Chicago River. The development’s meandering curvilinear façade, with its smooth concrete face and fish-eye windows has become a Chicago landmark that draws architecture buffs from all over the world.

Goldberg designed the complex as two S-shaped buildings over a four story base supported on concrete piers. Penthouses break the sloping roofline, which varies from 12 to 17 stories. The gentle curves of the façade give a surprisingly soft look to a design made entirely of concrete.

The buildings are separated by “River Road,” A dramatic 10-story atrium that winds between their interior walls, softly lit from above by a slanted, undulating glass block ceiling. A series of “skybridges” connect various levels of the two buildings above.

Buyers recognize the building as a local icon, Sveda says, but equally important, they recognize the value of the units in a booming downtown market where prices have skyrocketed.

Around 100 of the remaining units at River City are priced under $200,000, a price point especially attractive to first-time buyers, as well as those who want a second in-town residence for weekends. Prices range from the $160s for a studio to $806,000 for a four-bedroom multi-level penthouse with 3.5 baths and breathtaking views.

A number of special “townhouse” units are duplexed, with patios that open onto the private park and some interior windows that face River Road. Many of the studios have private balconies, as do the penthouses. The building’s greatest outdoor space, however, may be the winding S-shaped roof deck, which offers spectacular views in all directions and an entertainment suite with a kitchen and other amenities.

“It’s like country club living,” Sveda says, “a resort really.”

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