High times

Skyline growing with boom in condo towers

If you were to stack all of the planned highrises with units now for sale in Chicago end to end they would stretch almost a mile and a half. That’s not including the mile or so of towers that have recently sold out and are under construction, or a couple of additional miles in the pipeline.

Chicago’s market for brand new residential highrises is hot, with around 20 buildings totaling more than 4,000 units on the market. The planned towers range from 16 to 74 stories in neighborhoods from the South Loop to Streeterville. The sheer range of what’s currently available is staggering from a consumer standpoint. And for builders, there is an unsettling amount of competition at a time when the economy is slowing, though so far, sales at most projects appear to be strong.

The good news for buyers is that the latest highrise developments offer a wide variety of choice in pricing, location, style, finishes and amenities. And unlike in past boomlets, the design concepts behind the buildings themselves show an unusual amount of creativity and originality in a market usually marked by sameness.

The highest end of the market goes to LR Development’s, 840 N. Lake Shore Drive, which weighs in with a price range of $1.4 million to more than $8 million. The traditional 26-story tower designed by Lucien Lagrange is the most expensive of three towers planned by LR Development on a former Northwestern University site.

“This is fully custom, the highest of the high end,” says Laura Molk, of LR Realty. “It’s on the lake and park, with beautiful views of Navy Pier and the water.”

The French-influenced boutique building has only 77 units and caters to its well heeled buyers’ every whim.

“When we say fully customized – If you want Terrazzo floors, bird’s eye maple paneling – whatever you come up with they can match the profile and create what you want in your home,” Molk says. “We have 25 architects in house for buyers to work with. Buyers also can purchase space there raw if they want.”

But you don’t have to be a millionaire to get into a new highrise. Two of the most affordable and noteworthy projects underway also were designed by Lucien Lagrange – Erie on the Park, 500 W. Erie, and Kingsbury on the Park, 520 W. Erie. Both of the buildings, developed by Smithfield Properties, are heavy on steel and glass, with sharp angles and modern design elements.

Erie on the Park is not built on a typical rectangular site but on a parcel with some acute angles, which makes for interesting floor plans. On the façade, Lagrange exposed the structural steel bracing to create a triangular motif that runs forcefully up the center of the 25-story building, breaking the roofline and ending in a steel beam cap, an extension of the skeleton. Each of the bisected triangles is three stories high (picture a series of spearheads pointing up, the final one piercing the sky). The design becomes sharper as your eyes rise, the façade folding back to create terraces and angular outcroppings.

The neighboring 25-story Kingsbury on the Park also features heavy steel and floor-to-ceiling glass, with articulated trusses that connect the balconies in strong vertical bands of varying height. In renderings, the building seems to collapse the barriers between interior and exterior space in grand Miesian style.

The common wisdom among real estate types here is that modern architecture does not sell. Not so, according to Mike Golden of @ Properties, exclusive sales and marketing agent for Erie on the Park and Kingsbury on the Park.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Golden says. “The designs are very unique, cutting edge, sort of a new thought on architecture. There are a lot of new highrises being done, but they’re all pretty standard concrete buildings with standard finishes.”

Erie on the Park was about 90 percent sold, according to Golden, and Kingsbury on the Park was 65 percent sold at press time. LR’s new highrise at 840 N. Lake Shore is about 70 percent sold, according to Molk. Each of these highrises stands out in a field that looks crowded to some – 840 N. Lake Shore is the only building in its price range, and Smithfield’s buildings have a distinct look – but new highrises seem to be doing well across the board, with most reporting at least half their units sold.

After two weeks on the market, Grand Pier Tower, the tallest of the planned highrises at 74 stories, had 117 reservations for its 400 units. Though reservations require only a $1,000 refundable deposit, Nick Helmer of Inland Great Lakes, which is selling the units, says he’s encouraged by the response.

“The market is excellent,” Helmer says. “If you look at the product out there today 70 percent or more is sold out in many of these buildings – LR (Development’s 840 N. Lake Shore), 55 E. Erie – and we will come on line about when they’re selling out. Higher-end sales were up 50 percent last year, and the demand continues.”

Grand Pier Tower, 200 E. Illinois, was originally designed for 500 units, but Helmer says, there seemed to be an early buyer preference for larger units – 3,500 square feet and up – and the project was adjusted. Located on upper Illinois, the short block behind Tribune Tower, the mixed-use development by R.M. Chin & Associates will include a 425-room Hilton, a 56,000-square-foot Dominick’s Fresh Store and additional retail.

“You’ll never have to put on your coat to go from your home to Dominick’s or to the Hilton because there will be a dedicated private entry from the condominiums,” Helmer says.

Units at Grand Pier Tower are selling at about $500 a square foot, with a low end around $300,000. At the high end, Helmer says, someone has purchased all 8,000 square feet of the 74th floor for a penthouse at a price of more than $6 million. Construction on the hotel component is under way, with construction on the tower expected in June. First occupancy is planned for summer of 2003.

Grand Pier Tower and 840 N. Lake Shore are two of several highrises on the drawing boards in Streeterville – the dense neighborhood east of Michigan Avenue and north of the Chicago River. The location is coveted but building sites rarely open up there, making the current offerings a rare opportunity in the eyes of many buyers.

Belgravia Group and Sandz Development are touting the Lake Shore Drive location of their new highrise, 530 N. Lake Shore Drive. The slender art deco-inspired tower will rise 29 stories at Grand Avenue with unobstructed lake and city views.

“The granite and limestone face has a nice curve and some setbacks, which allow more units to have lake views,” says Alan Lev, of Belgravia Group. “The views are spectacular, and nothing can get built east of us.”

Prices start in the low $300s at the full amenity building – not exactly bargain basement but much lower than the only other highrise going up on the Drive, 840 N. Lake Shore.

“We’ve tried to position ourselves somewhere in between other product in terms of size and price – both per square foot and gross price – so you don’t have to spend $1 million to have a two-bedroom condo, which other buildings in the area are approaching,” Lev says.

LR Development’s second Streeterville highrise is the Pearson, a 35-story tower planned for 270 E. Pearson, with prices from the $320s to $1 million-plus. Nearby, MCL Development is selling the 32-story River View and the 58-story Residences of River East Center in a spot the company has dubbed “River East,” where the lake meets the river.

The South Loop, by contrast, has endless room for new highrises, though until a couple of years ago, the market hadn’t been tested. Legacy Development Group took a chance on building the growing neighborhood’s first condo highrise, One E. 14th Place. The affordable product sold well, and now Legacy is back with One E. 15th, a 23-story building priced from the $150s to the $520s, and 41 E. 8th, a 35-story tower, with units from the $190s to the $720s.

Other new highrises planned for the South Loop include Wells Street Tower by D2 Realty and 1111 S. Wabash by the Gammonley Group. Prices in the South Loop reflect its sparser population, though it’s grown exponentially during the last few years. Highrise units in the neighborhood start under $200,000 and most buildings have a high end under $1 million.

River North, with its new residential cachet and copious parking lots on which to build, is host to half a dozen of the new highrises. In addition to Smithfield’s towers on Erie, American Invsco is building Millennium Centre, a 60-story highrise with 341 units at 33 W. Ontario. Development Management Group and Walsh Investors are building a 54-story building with units priced from the $510s to more than $2 million at 55 E. Erie,
and sales are far along at both the Fordham, 25 E. Superior, and the Caravel, 33 W. Superior.

Developer Howard Robinson, of Atlantis Properties, planned a 48-story condo tower for 600 N. Lake Shore Drive but has postponed the project, citing an uncertain economic climate. The crowded field must also have figured in his calculations. It remains to be seen how long the local market will support the boom in highrise construction, but whatever the economic outlook in 2003, Chicago will have plenty of new additions to its skyline.

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