New West's new lofts at University Station

New West Realty, which is marketing the University Village development that has transformed Halsted Street near the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, has launched a 231-unit loft conversion nearby.

University Station will turn the old Produce Terminal Cold Storage building at 1550 S. Blue Island into loft condominiums. The project comes at a time when the supply of new lofts, which dominated downtown real estate for much of the ’90s, has shrunk, though quick sales at a recent spate of conversions show that demand remains high.

The classic building will translate well into residential use, according to co-developer Ted Mazola, president of New West Realty and a partner in 1550 S. Blue Island Development Co.

“With its size, innovative design and construction and dramatic Art Deco embellishments, the landmark University Station development stands as one of Chicago’s most historically notable storage buildings of the early 20th Century,” Mazola said.

Designed by architects Henschien & McLaren and constructed in 1928, the massive Art Deco office building and cold storage plant features a limestone lower level and upper floors accented with terra cotta tiles and sculpted elements. In recent years the property has been vacant.

The landmark building recently was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Mazola said. “The building’s landmark status gives home buyers at University Station the benefit of a tremendous break in their real estate taxes,” he said.

Under a state program, the developer of an owner-occupied historic residential building can apply for a tax break that would freeze the assessed valuation of the homes near the pre-development level for eight years following completion of the rehab.

After the initial period, the taxes would gradually return to market level over the next four years.

“The best part is that the program has a pass-through feature that allows the developer to pass the assessment freeze on to the first buyers at University Station. However, owners must live in their residences to take advantage of the tax freeze,” Mazola said.

“This means that the resident buyer of the most expensive penthouse at University Station will pay less than $300 in annual real estate taxes, or $25 a month, for the first eight years instead of more than $9,000 a year, or $750 a month,” Mazola said. “On a typical one-bedroom residence with a den the real estate taxes are only $12 a month, or $144 a year after the tax freeze.”

The real estate tax incentive and affordable prices at University Station have sparked an early wave of sales, noted Amy Settich, sales manager for New West Realty, the exclusive marketing and sales agent for the development.

More than 80 units have been sold since the project’s August sneak preview, Settich said. Studios are priced from the $150s, one-bedrooms from the $160s and one-bedrooms with dens from the $190s. University Station also offers two-bedroom two-bath lofts priced from the $240s. An indoor heated parking garage offers spaces for $30,000 and an outdoor lot provides rental parking.

The lofty units have oak floors in living areas, 10-foot ceiling heights, exposed ductwork, track lighting and exposed concrete ceilings. Other features include master baths with maple or oak vanities, granite counters, GE appliances and wiring for cable television, high-speed data lines and Internet access.

Because of Blue Island’s sight lines and the location on the edge of downtown, the building offers dramatic skyline and city views, Settich said. Architects

Pappageorge Haymes made the most of this feature by designing recessed terraces that overlook downtown on the north facade and balconies on the south side of the structure. Twelve penthouses on the 12th floor also have expansive private terraces, which wrap around for both downtown and cityscape views on corner units.

A sales center featuring a scale model of the building and virtual tours of units is open on site, at 1500 South Blue Island.

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