Condos looking up

New towers transform city skyline, downtown living
HudsonTowerThings are looking up in Chicago’s market for new condominiums – way up. After a couple of years in which developers largely focused on selling off existing condos, sales rose sharply during the first quarter of 2004, and a host of new highrises has been announced.

At press time, New Homes counted 37 active highrises planned, completed or under construction with at least half a dozen condos on the market, and at least seven more towers are expected to begin marketing within the year.

Concentrated between 18th Street on the south and North Avenue on the north, the new highrises are reshaping the city’s skyline. As they add density to the central area, they continue the trend of residential growth in corners of downtown that were once empty after 5 p.m. They are key to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s vision of a 24-hour downtown, though in some spots, they’ve also been controversial, raising concerns about traffic and congestion.

The Mayor himself is part of the trend. Daley reportedly is trading his Central Station house in the South Loop for a condo at the Heritage at Millennium Park, a 57-story highrise nearing completion behind the Chicago Cultural Center and overlooking the new Millennium Park.

RiverEastCenterMillennium Park, a project that suffered its own share of controversy after facing delays and massive budget overruns, is a centerpiece in the Mayor’s downtown development efforts and has been hailed for encouraging residential development in an area dominated by business and civic uses.

MillenniumCenterDowntown neighborhoods such as Streeterville and River North continue to be favorites among highrise buyers drawn to restaurants, entertainment and shopping, but residential development increasingly occurs in the area between the Chicago River and Cermak.

Around the corner from the Heritage, Magellan Development and Near North Properties have seen strong sales at the Lancaster, a 29-story tower that’s part of a massive mixed-use development between Randolph and Wacker. The Regatta, Magellan’s newest highrise at “Lakeshore East,” has 324 units priced from the $270s to $1.2 million, and at press time, LR Development planned to start marketing 340 on the Park, another Lakeshore East highrise, with condos tentatively priced from the $330s to around $4 million, in late summer.

Central Station, the 80-acre development south of Grant Park, is adding thousands of new residents to an area once filled with weed-choked land and old railroad tracks. The Enterprise Companies alone has four active highrises totaling nearly 800 units underway at Central Station as part of its Museum Park development. The Gammonley Group’s 23-story Prairie Pointe is adding another 156, and Warman Olsen Warman’s 23-story Tower at Prairie District Homes has 177 condos.

MuseumParkSuch highrises are generally welcome in the South Loop, an area that until recently lacked the density to draw restaurants, retail and services. Neighbors have been much more critical of a proposal to build a 64-story tower on a parking lot behind the Fourth Presbyterian Church, at Michigan and Chestnut. Some nearby residents argue that Streeterville already has too much density and are wary of another tall condo building in an area now dotted with construction cranes.

Buyers of new homes in Chicago, however, have shown an amazing affinity for highrise living, and the towers are likely to keep coming. Shoppers now have perhaps the best selection of new residential highrises ever from which to choose. Here are a few other trends shaping Chicago’s skyline:

840LSDSmall is big. Several tony buildings are competing for $1 million-plus buyers with large lavish units in highrises of fewer than 50 condos. In the Gold Coast these include Jameson Development’s 50 E. Chestnut, where 34 full-floor condos are priced from $2.2 million to $2.9 million, and Smithfield’s 30 W. Oak, where just 45 units are priced from the $520s to $4.9 million. LR Development is selling 24 homes at 60 W. Erie, priced from the $750s to $1.59 million in a 19-story building.

Standing tall. Although some of the highrises listed are dwarfs of fewer than 20 stories, the skyline is about to get some grand additions. Trump Tower will come in at 90 stories, making it the fourth tallest building in the city, and Teng Associates Waterview Tower is planned for 82 stories at 111 W. Wacker.

WaterviewConcessions are big. Developers don’t always want you to know this, but they’re more than willing to offer sales incentives in today’s competitive market. The most popular perks are free parking spots and free upgrades, though some also are offering price discounts and no payments for specified periods. Some advertise these bonuses and others offer them quietly in sales centers as point-of-purchase enticements.

Tough times for some. Not all highrise developers have found success in the current market. Bejco Development lost its River Bend and Prairie Tower projects (the Radco Companies is now developing River Bend, and the Gammonley Group is developing Prairie Tower, now called Prairie Pointe). At press time, the developers of Skybridge reportedly were looking for new financing after closing on fewer than half of the condos in the building, which was completed more than a year ago. The 36-story highrise planned for 1000 S. Michigan has not broken ground after several years taking reservations.

RiverBendMore to come. In addition to the current crop of highrises, more are on the horizon. Neighborhood Rejuvenation Partners is finalizing plans for the Columbian, a 46-story tower with more than 200 condos at Roosevelt and Michigan. Belgravia Group plans two towers at 600 N. Lake Shore Drive, one 39 stories and the other 40 stories for a total of 395 condos. Russland Capital Group plans a second highrise similar to its Michigan Avenue Tower project in the South Loop, and Edward R. James Partners hopes to build a 64-story tower behind Fourth Presbyterian Church, at Michigan and Chestnut.

50EChestnut

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