A Bridgeport Surprise: Buyers Fill Up Phase One

I was skeptical last March when a developer showed me around a rubble-strewn site on the north side of Bridgeport where he was planning to unveil a development of 29 new homes. The area around the site, sandwiched between the Stevenson Expressway and the South Branch of the Chicago River, is a somewhat isolated patch three blocks wide that is filled with small industrial buildings and modest, dowdy older houses…

I was skeptical last March when a developer showed me around a rubble-strewn site on the north side of Bridgeport where he was planning to unveil a development of 29 new homes. The area around the site, sandwiched between the Stevenson Expressway and the South Branch of the Chicago River, is a somewhat isolated patch three blocks wide that is filled with small industrial buildings and modest, dowdy older houses. I left thinking, “Yeah, right.”

Less than five months later, buyers have committed to the entire first phase of six houses, and the developer is waiting for the City Hall permitting process to green light construction.

“We’re amazed, too,” says Mike Hulett, the Jameson agent who, with partner Jennifer Liu, is representing the Riverbend Estates development at South Lock Street and South Hillock Avenue. “It all happened in the last 30 to 45 days.”

All the houses—three-bedrooms with 2,000 square feet of living space, brick exteriors, and alley garages—were priced at $399,000. Hulett says final sale prices have not been determined because finishes won’t be selected until closer to the completion date—about eight months after construction starts—and because some of the buyers are considering having the builder finish their basements, at an additional $20,000.

The key to the relatively low price is that, as is often the case these days, the builder paid a bankruptcy discount for the land. Formerly the site of a Holsum bakery plant, the land was recently owned by the now-bankrupt developers of Bridgeport Village, a few blocks south on the other side of the Stevenson. Mike Tadin, Jr., president of Morgan Street Development, says his River Bend Real Estate Investment LLC paid $4.5 million for the parcel and spent about $1.5 million to demolish the structures on it. (Tadin’s father, a key figure in the 1990s Hired Truck scandal is involved in the development.)

The site is in the oldest part of Bridgeport, an area that was known as Hardscrabble in the mid-19th century. Cut off from the heart of Bridgeport by the Stevenson, it’s “kinda the edge of Bridgeport and kinda the edge of Chinatown,” Hulett says.

My earlier skepticism came from the idea that, with a sizable inventory of unsold new homes in Bridgeport and other neighborhoods, I couldn’t see buyers choosing this marginal location when they could buy closer to the epicenter. But this week, Amy Mei, an agent with Landmark & Property Group whose client recently signed a contract for one of the Riverbend Estates houses, says “price is foremost. We looked all over Bridgeport. These are the lowest-priced [new-construction] single-family homes around, but they will have a high quality of construction and materials.”

Tadin’s plan calls for three phases with a total of 26 single-family homes and three units of affordable housing as required by the city. With the first phase committed, Tadin expects to start construction in the fall, if the permit process allows, and then see how many houses in the next phase of ten sell.

Tadin, Hulett, and Liu are enthusiastic about the location. There are nice views up the South Branch to the skyline and immediately west of the site are another developer’s early phases of new homes, with more planned. Those houses are priced as much as $100,000 more than the ones at Riverbend Estates, Mei says. One sold at $715,000 at the peak of the market, according to Tadin. He says the neighborhood’s sale prices (as opposed to asking prices) for single-family homes peaked at $300 a square foot; his prices are at about $200 a foot. Public transportation (the orange line and the Archer Avenue bus) and some major expressways (the Stevenson and the Dan Ryan) are also within easy reach of the Riverbend site.

“Eventually, I think this area will be one of the best neighborhoods in Bridgeport,” Tadin told me back in March. “You’ll turn in off Archer to your own little enclave.”

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