The flourishing Far North

Rogers Park

A year ago, just about any Chicago neighborhood outside of the downtown area was described as “up and coming” in real-estate listings. New condo and townhouse construction in some of the city’s outlying regions has since slowed, but one neighborhood that still appears to be developing at a fierce pace is Rogers Park, the lakeside neighborhood on the Far North Side of Chicago that has long been known as a rental community.

Condo conversions in Rogers Park started in 1993 with Paul Goguen and Capstone Partners’ first project on Eastlake Terrace, says RE/MAX NorthCoast Realty broker Connie Abels.

“What Goguen started was the ‘lily pad’ theory: Lily pads reproduce and double themselves every day, and that’s kind of what’s happening here in Rogers Park,” Abels says.

Gut rehabs are indeed multiplying in Rogers Park. The neighborhood is now flush with courtyard and loft conversions. Some infill new construction also can be seen on a few of the neighborhood’s more developed commercial and retail corridors.

BeachAbels’ RE/MAX office is located on the ground floor of North Beach Lofts, Markle Development’s innovative 43-unit adaptive reuse project at the corner of Morse and Sheridan avenues. The original building was a two-story garage and storage facility before Markle renovated the base and added three stories of new construction, says Edie Swedlow, a Jameson Realty Group sales associate who is marketing the property. Only a couple of units were left at North Beach Lofts in June.

Scaffolding lines much of Morse Avenue between Sheridan Road and Ashland Avenue, as local developers and business owners try to shake the street’s reputation as a crime-ridden skid row. The Glenwood Arts District is central to the street’s rebirth, as evidenced by the bright new mural on the side of the Morse CTA Red Line platform that showcases artists and musicians of different stripes.

Morse Avenue isn’t the only street in Rogers Park that’s seeing new life, though. Abels points to the 7600 block of North Greenview Avenue as one of her favorite success stories.

“This particular block of Greenview in 1999 had 16 shootings in that summer,” she says. Now, almost the entire street has been converted to condos, and violent crime is way down. “I bought three six-flats here, the first one in 2000 and the other two a couple of years ago, from the same owner, and did the first condo conversion on this block in 2002.”

Abels says some of the available two-bedroom condos on Greenview are listed in the low $300s, and duplexes are priced a bit higher, in the $390s and low $400s.

Howard Street, which forms part of the dividing line between Rogers Park and the neighboring city of Evanston, is also seeing steady growth and development. Evanston has long been characterized by its puritanical social policies (prohibition started in Evanston, and alcohol wasn’t sold there until the early 1970s), and as a result, Howard Street developed into something of a “sin strip,” a place where Evanston residents could go to buy liquor.

Rogers ParkEvanston residents no longer have to cross Howard to get their booze, but it has taken time, money and the cooperation of business owners and developers to turn the seedy, rundown street around. DevCorp North, a local business organization that promotes development, has been involved in several recent projects on Howard Street in Rogers Park. At the center of DevCorp North’s efforts is the Gateway Centre, a transit-oriented shopping center near the Howard Street CTA station at the corner of Clark and Howard streets.

The genesis of Gateway Centre offers insight into some of the obstacles developers face on Howard Street. It took more than a decade for Gateway Centre plans to be realized, and although it’s now anchored by a Dominick’s grocery store and Marshalls department store, vacant storefronts still remain.

Exactly how long did it take to get Gateway Centre off the ground? “Forever,” says DevCorp executive director Kimberly Bares.

“The project involved the city and the CTA – we moved roads and we built new roads,” she says. Despite the hurdles, the shopping center is now home to the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store, and residential development on Howard Street is on the rise.

One of the biggest challenges that Rogers Park merchants face is leakage to Evanston, as store and restaurant owners have to compete with those of Evanston for the spending dollars of local residents. The key to limiting leakage from Rogers Park is convincing business owners that people want to shop in the neighborhood, Bares says, and that it makes sense to open businesses that appeal to Rogers Park’s growing population of families and young professionals.

Next door to the Gateway Centre, the Kopley Group took a 1920s-era commercial building that was set for demolition and converted it into a 37-unit development called Renaissance Lofts.

“The area there on Howard has always sort of lagged behind, and it’s always been our feeling that if someone came in and did some residential development it could turn around,” says Kopley Group President K. Nicholas Kopley.

Kopley owns a number of rental apartment buildings in Rogers Park, but he made a name for himself as a car salesman in Alabama, with one of the most successful dealerships in that state. With the Renaissance Lofts, he’s applying an innovative marketing technique that worked for him in the auto industry: offering to buy back units in the Renaissance Lofts from buyers who are unsatisfied with their homes within two years of purchase.

“When I first spoke to my attorney, he thought I had lost my mind,” Kopley says. “So I had to explain to him that this is a novel concept and something that I want to try.”

At the corner of Ashland Avenue and Howard Street, Single Site Solutions is building a large residential development with 33 two- and three-bedroom townhouses and 10 condos at the former Lerner Newspapers site. The site has been vacant since Lerner left in 1994 but is finally beginning to take shape. Developers have also proposed a five-story condo development further west, at the corner of Howard Street and Damen Avenue.

A couple of things will continue to set Rogers Park apart from other residential areas on Chicago’s North Side, even as word spreads about the neighborhood’s changing image: competitive prices and lakefront access. Rogers Park real-estate professionals say that a lot of homebuyers who are moving to Rogers Park are doing so because they’ve been priced out of Bucktown, Lake View and even Edgewater.

Unlike most of those neighborhoods, Rogers Park still has spacious one- or two-bedroom condos priced at less than $200,000, and many residents live within walking distance of the beach.

“It’s one of the few neighborhoods where you don’t have to go under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts to get to the beach,” says Bares. That’s something that could make even a Gold Coast resident jealous.

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