215 West Washington Street is only the second rental residential high-rise built in the Loop. The first, 200 North Dearborn, was completed in 1989 and later…">

Renting Downtown: A 21-Year Evolution

The new 50-story apartment building opening tomorrow at 215 West Washington Street is only the second rental residential high-rise built in the Loop. The first, 200 North Dearborn, was completed in 1989 and later…


Only the second rental residential high-rise to be built in the Loop, 215West opens tomorrow. Its design catches the eye with an east-side overhang whose giant braces appear to be keeping it from crushing the five-story 19th-century building next door.


215West has won LEED certification thanks to walls and windows with extra insulation and finishes low in volatile organic compounds.


The 47-story 200 North Dearborn—still one of the city’s most unattractive buildings—was completed in 1989 and later converted to condos.

The new 50-story apartment building opening tomorrow at 215 West Washington Street is only the second rental residential high-rise built in the Loop. The first, 200 North Dearborn, was completed in 1989 and later converted to condos. The two buildings bracket the downtown residential building boom; in the 21-year gap between their construction, Loop living has matured from a risky new notion into a widely accepted practical choice. (Technically, both buildings lie just outside the downtown area circumscribed by the CTA’s elevated tracks; but the U.S. Census Bureau and others—Chicago magazine among them—have always had a broader definition of the boundaries of the Loop, especially when it comes to understanding the area as a residential neighborhood.)

The 47-story 200 North Dearborn—still one of the city’s most unattractive buildings—was part of a push by city administrators to bring some 24-hour life into the downtown area by putting hotel, residential, and cultural buildings on five blocks of the North Loop. Its developers later said the idea was chancy, and in fact the building struggled for several years. Still, 200 North Dearborn should be regarded as a pioneer, since it blazed a trail for the many Loop residential buildings—both new condos and reconverted business buildings—that came along afterward.

That would include 215West, as the latest rental building is called. The building arrives at a painful time for condos, but as a rental, it’s in a better position to thrive. It’s packed with extras—its amenity floor contains an outdoor pool, a fitness room, a movie-theatre room, and other spaces—and its design has won LEED certification. The apartments receive lots of daylight, and their walls and windows have extra insulation and their finishes are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 215West received its certificate of occupancy last week; at presstime, only two tenants had moved in. There are 389 apartments (from studios to three bedrooms) on the building’s upper 36 floors; below them are the lobby, parking, and the amenity floor. Monthly rents range from $1,225 to $4,567; parking spaces rent for an additional $250 a month. The developers are offering one or two months rent-free, and new tenants receive a $150 gift certificate to an in-building store stocked with eco-friendly items.

Designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, 215West is a handsome building— unlike 200 North Dearborn, whose flimsy top, odd slit windows, and many balconies make the structure an uneasy fit for its downtown setting. On the other hand, 215West sits easily among the surrounding office buildings; it might even be mistaken for one. At sidewalk level, its design catches the eye with an east-side overhang whose giant braces appear to be keeping it from crushing the five-story 19th-century building next door. “It’s an ideal location,” adds Donna Wagener, a vice-president at Jupiter Communities, the Chicago-based developer and owner of rental buildings nationwide, including 215West. “You’re close to everything—the theaters and restaurants and Michigan Avenue and transportation and all the improvements Mayor Daley has done in the city.” 

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