The Loft Ledger

Substation North Lofts

Substation lofts sparking interest from male buyers

Homebuyers react one of two ways when they tour Substation North Lofts, the conversion of a former ComEd substation at 1128 W. Ardmore Ave. in Edgewater.

They’re either shocked or charged up about the prospect of living in buildings still decked out with the trappings of a power station, says Natalie Tarrence, of developer Sufa & Shemesh. When ComEd moved out, the electricity giant left much of the buildings’ wiring intact, so Sufa & Shemesh decided to put the industrial flotsam and jetsam back to work.

Old electrical panels hang like art from the wall, and the power station’s insulators and metal ladders remain mounted on the walls inside some of the units. More traditional loft features include steel beams, 18-foot ceiling heights, exposed brick walls and cement floors.

“It’s so unique,” says Tarrence, who is marketing the project. “Chicago’s huge, yet there’s nothing else like this out there. You either walk in and love it, and have to have it, or you don’t like it at all.”

Male buyers are particularly drawn to the building’s edgy aesthetic, Tarrence says, although a couple of women also have purchased lofts at the development, which is composed of three low-rise brick buildings containing 14 true lofts and two new-construction condos.

Standard features such as large square bathroom sinks and metal light shades highlight the industrial look, but some buyers have opted for softer, more traditional finishes such as honed limestone tiles, Tarrence says.

Currently (pun intended), the one-, two- and three-bedroom lofts are priced from the $280s to the $490s.Â

Old gymnasiums work out as lofts

In a past life, TRU Lofts was a health club where lycra-clad exercisers grapevined and shimmied their way to buff bods. But all good things come to an end – as devotees of the thong leotard will tell you – and the Lincoln Park gym was converted into an apartment building in the 1980s.

These days, it’s hard to believe that people once pumped iron and swilled energy drinks within the exposed brick walls of this lofty building, which went condo in 2006. At press time, units at TRU Lofts, 2525 N. Sheffield Ave., were priced from the $310s to the $430s.

Concrete ceilings and metal beams add to the 28-unit building’s lofty look, and LG Development Group is finishing the units with hardwood floors and woodburning fireplaces, according to Ryan Huyler, of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage’s Matt Garrison Group, which is marketing the development.

Some of the units have mezzanines, creating lofted bedrooms that homeowners reach with ladders or stairs, giving them a little lower-body workout before bedtime.

PNA Development’s College Lofts, 152 W. Haddon Ave., also housed a gym at one time. College Lofts is the conversion of the old St. Stanislaus College, which closed 10 years ago. The ceilings of the school’s cavernous gymnasium were a little too high, even by loft standards, so the developer used the extra space to build a mezzanine level, cutting the gym in half and creating duplex lofts.

Packer’s lofts crowd Soldier Field

Being a board member of the Green Bay Packers hasn’t deterred developer Mike Wier from pursuing real estate opportunities in the shadow of the Wisconsin football team’s archrival, the Chicago Bears.

Wier’s Casablanca Lofts project, 1736 S. Michigan Ave., is a short walk from the Bears’ home turf, Soldier Field.

565 Quincy

At least one Chicagoan has given Wier a hard time about his football loyalties. In the early stages of construction at Casablanca Lofts, one of Wier’s workers “yanked his chain” by writing “Go Bears” in the wet cement, according to a spokesman for Wier.

Perhaps wisely, Wier selected a neutral name for his new loft project. He and wife Bobbi named the South Loop development after one of their favorite films, the epic Casablanca. It’s an apt name for the converted 1920s warehouse, which conveys a sense of drama, with 12- to 18-foot ceiling heights, expansive windows, exposed ductwork and angled concrete columns. The 17 units at Casablanca have two to four bedrooms and two or three baths, with prices from the $330s to the $850s.

Something old, something new

Several Chicago developers are adding elements of modern architecture to traditional loft buildings or, in one case, building a modern high-rise adjacent to an existing loft building. Some loft buildings are too small to be financially viable but adding one or more new floors can turn them into money-spinners.

Some say that adding touches of modern architecture to an older building is the architectural equivalent of a facelift. If it’s done well, unsightly scars are removed and the building looks fresher, sexier, and better equipped to compete with younger buildings. Purists sometimes object when stories are added or other substantive changes are made to classic buildings.

Developer Gary Solomon is retaining the neoclassical marble façade at the Melrose Street entrance to Citizens State Bank Lofts – complete with reliefs of banknotes – but is replacing the patchwork of old brick along the Lincoln Avenue side of the building. “We wanted it to look as pleasing as possible to match the new construction in the neighborhood,” says Jill Solomon, vice president of Gary Solomon & Company. Fred Frank Architects has designed a triangular-shaped glass tower, which will rise up out of one corner of the building. Solomon likens the tower to the addition of the large modern “spaceship” atop the classical columns of Soldier Field. “The glass tower brings the building up to date,” she says.

Pastiche architecture is bold, and often controversial (Soldier Field is a good example), but loft lovers aren’t known for being conventional. Developers hope that their innovative architecture will appeal to forward-looking buyers.

That’s the type of buyer Belgravia hopes to attract to 565 Quincy, where architect Pappageorge / Haymes is topping a seven-story brick and concrete warehouse with 11 – yes, 11 – stories of metal and glass, creating an eclectic 18-story high-rise of lofts and new condos. The shape of the addition follows the grid of the original building, but the balconies are deliberately staggered to create a stark counterpoint to the loft building.
“It gives off a playful, perhaps even a bit of a funky appearance,” says David Haymes, a principal in Pappageorge / Haymes.

Convertible industrial buildings are hard to find in the South Loop these days, and high-rises are all the rage, so Rokas International decided to cater to both markets at 2100, its new development at 2100 S. Indiana Ave. The developer converted an existing brick building into lofts and is building an adjacent 27-story contemporary glass high-rise. Balconies jut out from the new tower and align with the roof of the loft building.

“The juxtaposition of old and new is intrinsically more interesting than a building that tries to look old or a building that’s all new,” says Pat FitzGerald, of FitzGerald Associates Architects, which designed the project.

Downer Place Lofts

It’s easy being green

In recent years, some developers of brand new construction have incorporated “green” features into their buildings, but the trend hasn’t surfaced in the loft conversion market. It’s easier to install green technologies in new buildings than to retrofit older ones, experts say, and it can be difficult for developers of smaller loft projects to recoup the costs of installing high-tech green features.

But a couple of developers are marketing new-construction projects with “lofty” characteristics and green features.

The lush rooftop botanical garden at Bluestone Development’s Lakeside Lofts, 2025 S. Indiana Ave., provides a peaceful oasis in the bustling South Loop. The 96-unit new-construction building, which has 10-foot-ceiling heights, also boasts solar-powered lights, water filters, hardwood floors with water-based finishes, insulated windows and water-efficient toilets. Buyers can upgrade to bamboo and mesquite wood floors, and the carpet in the common areas is made from recycled fibers.

The common areas of the new-construction Living Green Lofts, 1501 E. 65th St., are solar heated and garages have green roofs. The units have energy-efficient windows, “sustainably harvested” bamboo floors and exposed ductwork.

“Our tagline is ‘sustainability with style,'” says Pamela Holt, sales director of “reChgo,” the real estate agency representing developer, Woodlawn Partners, LLC. “We want to suggest that building green doesn’t have to mean you live in some strange, futuristic environment.” Holt says the building’s energy efficient features should translate into lower utility bills for homeowners.

Aurora’s first lofts reach 50% sold mark

Loft living is usually considered an urban phenomenon, but Jack Berger, manager of Chicago-based Citta Development, has found a market for the loft about 40 miles outside of the city. Sales at Downer Place Lofts, located at 220 E. Downer Place in suburban Aurora, had reached 50 percent by press time, according to Berger.

Berger applied the same modern design principles used in his numerous Chicago loft projects to a circa-1920s warehouse in the middle of Aurora’s gradually rejuvenating downtown. “The lofts are very dramatic and very exciting from an architectural standpoint,” Berger says.

The 44 units have 10- to 14-foot ceiling heights, floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed spiral ductwork, features not commonly found in suburban condos. The two-story lobby, outfitted in charcoal-toned Terrazzo tile, has bold glass-backed elevators. Buyers between the ages of 25 and 35, many of whom work in Chicago, have been attracted to the development not just for the hipness factor, but also for the location and prices, Berger said. The building is located four blocks from a Metra station and 45 minutes by rail from downtown Chicago.

Price separates this suburban development from its city competition as much as location. The one- and two-bedroom lofts range from the $140s to the $190s.

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