New Timber Lofts brewing in River North

Timber LoftsIGL Real Estate and Lion Capital Development have planned and ex ecuted their Timber Gallery Lofts project with all the patience and expertise of master brewers preparing a fine beer.

The analogy is an apt one, since the site of the project, at 420 W. Ontario, once served as a brewery for Berghoff and before that, Sieben’s beers. The brick and timber beam building is best known to Chicagoans today, however, as the home of Reza’s restaurant, which has gained a large following for its gourmet Middle Eastern cuisine. Two of the antique beer vats – there are only two others of the type in the country – still sit in the Reza’s space, now creating atmosphere instead of beer.

IGL and Lion have taken their time preparing the space above Reza’s for market as 30 loft condominiums. At press time, the joint venture partners were only beginning to market the development, with 11 units sold and 80 percent of the construction completed.

“We’ve sold units so far mostly by word of mouth,” says Nicholas J. Helmer, president and CEO of Oak Brook-based IGL Real Estate. “It’s a walking neighborhood, so people who come to Reza’s or the other three restaurants on the block see the project.”

And those potential buyers have been impressed by move-in dates only a month or two away for what is essentially new construction, Helmer says. After assessing the market, IGL and Lion decided on a strategy of building first and marketing second at Timber Gallery Lofts,

“We’ll be having our first move-ins at the end of June this year,” Helmer says. “Everything else on the street is 16 to 18 months away. People don’t like planning that far away anymore. We used to sell off blueprints too, but people, given the economy now, want more certainty.”

The other thing they apparently want is a true loft condo, something in short supply in the city lately.
“These are real timber lofts, with big beams and huge posts,” Helmer says. “They’re dramatic, huge, interesting, eclectic.”

The loft craze of the late ’90s, when nearly everything on the market was some kind of loft, ate up much of what is a limited commodity, especially in prime neighborhoods such as River North.

Developments like Timber Gallery Lofts, with ceilings of up to 14 feet, exposed brick and ductwork, hardwood floors and large windows have become rare, though the demand has not lessened.

IGL has made the most of its opportunity, highlighting the building’s lofty nature instead of covering it up. The original skylights on the fourth floor are being preserved along with other whimsical touches. Large metal sliding doors that once connected the building to its neighbors are being maintained (there’s nothing but brick behind them now), and giant hooks used to hoist materials still will dangle from the cross beams, though they’re more likely to support planters than sacks of barley.

“Some of the demolition people said we’re going to tear those metal doors out, and I said, no you’re not,” Helmer says. “We see it as artwork, not an eyesore.”

The units have two bedrooms and two baths, with 1,160 to 1,400 square feet and prices from the $280s to the $460s. Features include granite countertops, balconies, washer and dryer hookups, some roof decks and indoor heated parking, priced from $35,000 to $40,000 a spot.

The project takes its name from the many art galleries of River North, and Helmer arranged to hang artwork from four of them at Timber Gallery Lofts’ grand opening in April. The flavor of the immediate neighborhood, known for its long list of restaurants as well as art galleries, will be a big attraction, Helmer says.

“We’re just two blocks from the East Bank Club, which is a draw, and there are restaurants up and down the streets that facilitate this as a walking neighborhood,” Helmer says. “Transportation is excellent too, with the Ontario feeder ramp onto the expressway and the el just to the east.”

The project, which emphasizes the artistic tradition of River North and the lofty tradition of its design, has started yet another tradition. The partners who purchased the building being marketed and built by IGL are Jon Levey, whose father, Lewis, is a well known real estate maven, and Nicholas J. Helmer II, son of the IGL President. Together, they have formed Lion Capitol Development.

“At IGL, we’re doing the general construction, sales and operational management to bring it to market, but Jon and my son have formed the financial partnership to develop this,” Helmer says. “Their fathers have been in the real estate business all their lives, and now they’re carrying on the tradition.”

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