First loft condominiums proving a hit in Bridgeport

What springs to mind when you think of Bridge- port? Trade unions, stock- yards, machine politics, smoky barrooms?

Guess again. While that stereotype still may be held by some, it’s far from the reality of present-day Bridgeport. The Near South neighborhood is undergoing a resurgence fueled by its relatively affordable real estate prices, unbeatable location and strong institutions.

The newest union in the neighborhood is not a Teamsters local, but Union Lofts, a 71-unit development of luxury condos, at 939 W. 35th St. The project is one of several in and around Bridgeport that are bringing a new level of chic to a neighborhood once known primarily for bungalows.

Tandem Developers, LLC is pioneering Bridgeport’s first loft condos after two years of preparation while they held the property and researched this largely untapped market. What the developers of Bicycle Station and other developments found, according to Paul Marks, was a pent-up demand among those who wanted to stay in the neighborhood but didn’t because of limited housing options.

“There is a real lack of entry-level, reasonably priced housing in the immediate area,” says Marks, who is partners with Paul Dincin in Tandem Developers. “We did our homework and focused on one- and two-bedroom condos. Initially, most of our buyers were from Bridgeport or the South Side in general. Now, there’s a good mixture of people from all over the city, including the West Loop and the North Side.”

Bridgeport has had something of a real estate boom over the last decade. The residential neighborhood, best known as the ancestral home of the Daley clan, is a short ride from the Loop, perched on the edge of both the Dan Ryan and Stevenson expressways, as well as the Chicago Transit Authority’s Orange Line. Prices are much lower than downtown neighborhoods, and development in Chinatown, Pilsen and the South Loop has been pushing towards Bridgeport, where a lack of available land has kept new construction at a minimum.

Still, there have been few condos and virtually no lofts built in Bridgeport. That made the developers cautious, but finding an ideal conversion candidate increased their confidence, according to Dincin. Unlike many loft buildings, which have unwieldy footprints or are located in industrial areas, Union Lofts has light on all four sides and sits on the edge of a residential location.

“This is the perfect loft building,” Dincin says. “On two sides, it’s in a real residential neighborhood, and it has four sides of light. It’s that unique warehouse building that has its foot in a residential neighborhood.”

At press time, around 40 of the 71 units had been sold. Of the remaining units, a one-bedroom with a den starts in the $180s and two-bedroom two-bath units are priced from the $190s. Some penthouses of around 1,500 square feet range up to the $370s.

Union Lofts is a heavy timber building, and units will have classic loft features: exposed beams, brick and spiral ductwork, as well as hardwood floors, oversized windows and ceiling heights of nearly 12 feet. Most of the lofts also will have private balconies. Other features include Kohler fixtures, ceramic baths, track lighting, carpeted bedrooms, washer and dryer hookups and GE appliances. Secured outdoor parking spots are $15,000 each.

“Buyers are thrilled with the price for the size and what they can get,” says Jennifer Ward, a sales agent for Garrison Partners, which is handling sales and marketing for the project. “And this is a great neighborhood. We’re pioneers in the sense that these are the first lofts in Bridgeport, but it’s already a settled community.”

A new construction floor of penthouses will be added atop the existing four-story building, with the new construction set back to create large, private decks. Perhaps the most unique feature, though, is on the first floor. The 14 ground-floor units will have spiral staircases leading down to bonus space in finished English basements.

“This will add a lot of square footage for those buyers,” says Sandra Lent, a partner in Garrison Partners. “The basements are 600 to 700-plus square feet, which is around the size of a one-bedroom apartment. They’re some of our largest units, with 1,300 to well over 2,000 square feet.”

Another of the building’s hidden percs took Dincin by surprise and is likely to inspire buyers.

“This building has the most unexpected, great views I’ve every seen,” Dincin says. “You look at the building and might not expect it, but if you look north to the city, there are no buildings between you and downtown.”

Union Lofts may be the first lofts in Bridgeport, but Lent says they may not be the last.

“When we did Archer Lofts, in the Chinatown area, we had over 30 percent of our buyers coming from Bridgeport,” Lent says. “They were looking for something close to home. We believe there are extended families who have been in Bridgeport for years and are looking for this kind of home.”

Loft lovers from outside of the neighborhood also have been drawn to classic lofts close to downtown with prices starting under $200,000 – something not seen since in Chicago since the early days of loft condos. A little more than half the buyers so far have been from outside of the neighborhood.

“We strongly believe it’s an up-and-coming neighborhood,” Marks says. “It’s always been a strong community with stable prices, but there has been a lot of price movement there in the last five years. Properties are well kept, and it’s a wonderful place with a strong tradition of homeownership.”

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