One of the largest apartment complexes ever built in Evanston is two weeks from occupancy. E2, by Fifield Cos. and Carroll Properties, consists of 344 rentals in 14- and 16-story towers with a parking garage and set of 12 townhouses as connective tissue. It’s at downtown’s northern edge, on Emerson Street between Maple and Oak Avenues—the site of an aborted 165-unit condo project. A project this size outside Chicago has to pander to as many different renters as possible, and E2 goes the distance for the young, old, and middle-aged.
It starts with unit size. There were originally going to be fewer two- and three-beds relative to studios and one-beds, but Fifield read the tea leaves and in the middle of construction moved to combine certain floor plans into larger living spaces. The building’s apartments are priced from $1,555 to $4,500 a month. Junior one-beds of about 600 square feet are available as a stepping stone to a proper one- and two-bed units, and cost less than high floor studios.
“Demand for larger apartments isn’t being met in Evanston,” said developer Steven Fifield. “A lot of the units built 15 or 20 years ago are for single renters and some are basically glorified dormitories.” In fairness, Fifield isn’t the only developer entering Evanston’s luxury rental arena. AMLI Residential has a 214-unit development across town nearing full occupancy, and 1717 Ridge is a handsome 175-unit project opened in June 2013. Fifield claims to be competing directly with condominiums in unit finishes, and quartz counters, Grohe kitchen and bathroom fixtures, expensive backsplashes, and built-in audio systems and routers give evidence.
More in keeping with renter expectations in 2015 are the common amenities. The fourth floor amenity deck straddles the towers and conspires with the townhouses to mask the parking garage. Its indoor treats include a multi-use lounge and game room, a gym, demonstration kitchen, theater, computer room, massage room, event space, and, surprisingly, a full basketball court. Outside you’ll find a pool, sun deck, and mediation and herb gardens.
The important thing, according to Fifield, is to bend to new lifestyles. Bike rooms can’t just be lockers—they need maintenance stations and bike part vending machines. Grocery deliveries can’t be allowed to clutter up the lobby—they need refrigerated storage space with more and more people ordering from work and not getting home in time to receive it. Also, people working from home—some 20 percent of Fifield’s renters across their portfolio—demand workplace considerations like bookable conference rooms, quiet areas, and high-speed Wi-Fi.
“We cobbled all these amenities together because we’re trying to encourage community and longevity,” said Fifield. “With apartment buildings we have to win the hearts, minds, and souls of our tenants year after year.”
One clever wrinkle in the site plan is the rental townhouse. Still novel, it’s an item showing signs of trending in the North and West suburbs: the new Oaks of Vernon Hills development includes 48, and Wheaton 121 has 22 one-story townhouses. The townhouses, according to Fifield, were accommodations to older North Shore residents, typically prior house owners, who desire a house-like option with all the amenities available to tower residents. They have private Emerson Street entrances, and are three shallow levels with 1610 to 1750 square feet.
E2 is pursuing LEED-Silver certification, scoring points through recycled building materials, efficient windows, and a heat pump system. Tenants pay to operate the system’s fans, hopefully reining in wastefulness.
First move-ins are March 1 and full occupancy is projected for Spring 2016. “People are clamoring for spots in the building,” said Fifield, adding that 600 people are on the interest list–more than any of their past projects. “Downtown Evanston has 67 restaurants. If Northwestern grads get a job in Chicago or Evanston, the urbanity and level of transit service here becomes very attractive.”