Chicago leads nation in adaptive-reuse housing development
Loop North News

The Home Front

(Above) Penthouse terrace of The Ronsley in River North. Photo by B.R. Lillie. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

A new nationwide study reports that since the 1950s, more than 14,000 new rental and condo units were created in Chicago through the restoration of vintage buildings.

11-Oct-20 – Chicago, the city of big shoulders, has done a remarkable job of preserving many of its vintage buildings and utilizing a concept called adaptive reuse to recycle the properties for residential use.

That is the finding of a new nationwide study by RENT Café, which reports that since the 1950s, more than 14,000 new rental and condominium units were created in Chicago through the restoration of vintage buildings.

The survey noted that Chicago leads the nation with 91 buildings undergoing adaptive-reuse conversions creating 14,167 residential units. Philadelphia is second with 85 adaptive-reuse buildings totaling 11,266 housing units, followed by Los Angeles with 74 buildings and 10,569 units.

New York, however, leads the nation in total units created with 18,488 housing units in 73 adaptive-reuse projects. Apparently, recycled units in the expensive Big Apple market feature less square footage of living area, so more units were created.

Morris Adjmi Architects

(Left) Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn. Built in 1901 as a textile factory and converted to a boutique hotel in 2012. Image obtained from Morris Adjmi Architects.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, thousands of apartment high-rises along the North Side, Gold Coast, Loop, South Loop, and South Side were converted to condominium ownership. Since 1969, condo-conversion king Nicholas Gouletas of American Invsco successfully converted to condos thousands of rental apartments in dozens of buildings.

Ironically, condo deconversions now are in vogue in Chicago. A 2019 survey by The Home Front revealed that more than 2,500 condo units in more than 20 existing condo buildings have been deconverted and rehabbed into rental apartments since 2016.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, vintage loft, warehouse, and former hotel buildings were targeted for adaptive-reuse by developers originally as gritty, affordable rental living spaces for artists and young urban residents.

Early loft buildings such as Cobbler Square Lofts in Old Town featured low rents, exposed brick walls, wood-beamed ceilings and posts, open floor plans, wood floors, and industrial elevators. Later, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the luxury loft trend became a boom.

(Right) Bedroom at Cobbler Square Lofts at 1350 North Wells Street. Image obtained from Cobbler Square Lofts.

Cobbler Square Lofts

Pioneering loft developers, such as Hal Lichterman, Michael Lerner, Keith Giles, and Paul Dincin, purchased vintage and often vacant former warehouses and manufacturing buildings near the city’s core and transformed them into thousands of affordable condo conversions.

City’s first high-end, high-tech loft condo

Today, the pinnacle of the luxury loft movement can be found at The Ronsley, a 41-unit, five-story brick and wood-beamed loft – formerly belonging to a florist – that is Chicago’s first high-end, high-tech loft condominium. This spring, glassy contemporary-style penthouses on the 6th through 8th floors were priced at $1.495 million to $4.995 million. Units feature soaring 13-to-15-foot ceilings and up to 5,500 square feet of living area.

Photo by B.R. Lillie

(Left) Kitchen of penthouse at The Ronsley. Photo by B.R. Lillie.

With few Chicago loft buildings left to convert and enhance, The Ronsley likely is one of the city’s last great ultra-luxury lofts – truly an “endangered species,” according to LG Development Group, the developer.

Here are other highlights of the RENT Café survey which studied Yardi Matrix data to delve into the adaptive-reuse market in Chicago...

• Since 1950, 81 percent of Chicago’s adaptive-reuse apartment conversions were aimed toward lower and middle-income renters.

• Adaptive-reuse of hotels into rental apartments is big business in Chicago. Since the 1950s, 46 hotels were converted to rental apartments.

Experts say this trend may continue because of the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the hospitality industry.

 More info: Yesterday’s Factories, Today’s Apartments: Conversions at All-Time High in the U.S.

By Don DeBat | Loop North News | debatnet@aol.com

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