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4 East Elm Breaks Ground in the Near North Side

The 35-unit development at State and Elm Streets is the first condo start in the area since 2007, and it’s only the beginning of construction there.

4 East Elm, designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, will fill in a gap at State and Elm created by the demolition of a vintage low-rise.   Image Courtesy of Convexity Properties

One day after the upcoming ultra-luxury condo project 4 East Elm scored a building permit for foundation work, officials gathered Tuesday for a groundbreaking ceremony. Every sizable construction project stages a groundbreaking, but with the spin on this being the first substantial condo development to launch on the Near North Side in years, the press and politicos turned out.

What this building lacks in unit count—35 condos—it makes up for in stature: The development of Convexity Properties/DRW Holdings will rise 24 stories in a cantilevered, modular glass form designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, with plans at 3,100 and 3,500 square feet for half-floor units and 6,600 square feet for combined full-floor spreads. Prices begin at $2.2 million, and there will of course be an upper floor penthouse, for $7.2 million.

‘Exclusivity’ was a word being bandied about at the ceremony, and it comes in the form of private elevator access to each condo; such building amenities as a podium-topping pool and spa, clubhouse, movie screening room, and fitness center; and the opportunity to further customize interior finishes and audio-visual systems in residences. It’s true that condo towers aren’t always equipped with a battery of common elements, but 4 East Elm is entering a modern world of new luxury apartment towers like AMLI River North and 1225 Old Town setting the bar ever higher for amenities.

Convexity wouldn’t name any businesses being courted for ground floor retail spaces at 4 East Elm since no leases have been struck. Things are much further along in the pre-sales department. Thaddeus Wong, the co-founder of @properties, tells me almost half of the building’s units are under contract in two months. Macro marketing in print and on the multiple listing service (MLS) just began in September.

This is the first condo project for this developer, following other nearby projects including a repositioning of the old Esquire Theater on Oak Street as a retail mini mall and the recently topped-out Loews Hotel tower in Streeterville, blending several hundred apartments and hotel rooms. A rebuild of the old Cedar Hotel opposite the 4 East Elm site at State Street and Cedar Street is next on the agenda. The downtrodden former hotel would be replaced by an exclusive 160-room hotel property rising as many as 18 stories.

An unaffiliated condo project is being eyed for the vacant southeast corner of State and Walton Streets, four blocks south. There are few specifics at present, but the parcel’s zoning allows up to 261 units. And in River North, at 400 W. Huron Street, Crain’s broke the news Tuesday on a 15-story, 46-unit condo proposal.

In prepared statements, Don Wilson, chairman of Convexity and DRW, spoke of the pleasure in working with Gold Coast neighborhood groups on a project that “we feel is indicative of a recovery in the high end of real estate development.” Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) added “The [DRW] team understands more than any other I’ve worked with what it means to have community input and participation and to listen and address concerns in a favorable way.” And Deputy Mayor Steve Koch thinks “this is a mark of how the economy of Chicago is really clicking right now…. three years ago there were 11 high-rise cranes active in the city; right now there are 24 and each represents about 1,000 jobs.”

Beyond the boilerplate is an important observation in these improving but frail economic times: that buyers able and willing to spend a minimum of $2.2 million on a condo don’t represent the typical buyer at the mushy middle of the market. Every economic class lost wealth in the recession but it’s a lot easier to insulate yourself from real damage at the top.

This project is a confident step toward a renewed real estate development industry, but it is still ‘boutique’ in product and scale. “I don’t think the immediate neighborhoods will see 300- or 400-unit condo projects anytime soon,” says @properties Senior Broker Associate Lisa Madonia, explaining that huge buildings would be out of character with the community. Another interpretation is the question of whether the market is ready for a condo boom serving a broad demographic, despite recent momentum at the medium scale.

4 East Elm is expected to be completed in early 2016.


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