New homes and loft condos are rejuvenating Bridgeport's diverse mix, blue-collar streets

The neighborhoods were part of the larger ethnic states. To the north of the Loop was Germany. To the northwest was Poland. To the west were Italy and Israel. To the southwest were Bohemia and Lithuania. And to the south was Ireland.
-Mike Royko, Boss

Stroll the side streets of what once was known as “Chicago’s Ireland,” the Near South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport, and you will experience a voyage in a time machine.

Today, like 25 years ago, the neighborhood is inhabited by blue-collar families, a diverse stew of Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, Mexican, Chinese and African-American.

The streets and alleys are spotlessly clean, the cars are polished and it’s not uncommon to see a church on one corner, a funeral home on another and a saloon on the third at one intersection. Policemen, firefighters and city workers are everywhere.

Much of the neighborhood looks just as it did 25 years ago, but a remarkable change has occurred during the past few months.

Developer Thomas Snitzer has managed to assemble 35 acres of vacant former industrial land along the South Branch of the Chicago River for a new residential development called Bridgeport Village. The community is planned for as many as 400 single-family homes with prices starting at $325,000 for a three-bedroom of 2,400 square feet.

Meanwhile, veteran South Loop loft developers Paul Dincin and Paul Marks have launched the 71-unit Union Lofts, Bridgeport’s first loft condominium development, at 939 W. 35th St. Their company, Tandem Developers, L.L.C. has had remarkable success, selling more than 40 units in only a few months to young professionals eager to return to their neighborhood roots.

Pre-construction base prices at Union Lofts range from $189,900 for a one-bedroom, one-bath unit to $378,900 for a two-bedroom, two-bath penthouse, according to Sandi Lent, partner in Garrison Partners, the exclusive sales and marketing agent for the project.

Suddenly, Bridgeport, which is only four miles from the Loop and 15 minutes by car, is Chicago’s hottest emerging neighborhood. Real estate developers say middle-class stability, a great location, sound housing stock and the influx of affordable new-home and loft condominium construction are sparking a residential boom that likely will lure young professionals from pricier areas like Bucktown and the West Loop.

Snitzer Homes, an Arlington Heights-based builder, recently held a grand opening for the 116-unit first phase of Bridgeport Village, the largest single-family home community to be launched in Chicago in decades. The $55 million community is located on the South Branch of the Chicago River between 32nd and 34th streets.

Reminiscent of Chicago’s great boulevard neighborhoods, developed at the turn of the century under the Burnham Plan, Snitzer said the center point of the community is a “midway pleasance,” along with a 1,700-foot landscaped nature walk containing a series of private parks.

Snitzer has confirmed that the Bridgeport Village venture has purchased another 16-acre tract of land, immediately west of Phase I on the west bank of the Chicago River. Phase II of Bridgeport Village could involve development of 120 single-family homes and creation of a river walk / park system even larger than the green space planned for the first phase.

Snitzer said he hopes Phase II will eventually be connected to Phase I by a pedestrian overpass linking the east and west banks of the river. Boat slips also are on the drawing board for Bridgeport Village, real estate insiders say.

In addition, the development team reportedly is in negotiations to buy another 16-acre industrial parcel east of the river and south of Archer Avenue, just north of Bridgeport Village, for a proposed third phase.

“We’re creating a community where people can sit out on their front porch in the summertime, talk to their neighbors and cement relationships,” Snitzer said.

Real estate columnist and media consultant Don DeBat has written about Chicago-area housing and mortgage markets since 1968. He is president of Don DeBat and Associates, www.dondebat.net.

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