Word arrived in December that a developer had purchased DePaul University’s vacant Theater School on Kenmore Avenue south of Webster Avenue with the intent to demolish and rebuild with custom homes. The facility was rendered obsolete by construction of a new theater school at Racine and Fullerton. At the time, four mansions were in discussion, one of the most opulent undertakings anywhere west of Halsted. The school has been razed and now the target is six. Environs Development is at the helm, but insatiable demand from wealthy Chicagoans is applying pressure on a new set of blocks in Lincoln Park.
One house has sold and another is being built on spec as a sales model. They are the bookends to what gets built in the middle of the site, have their foundations in place, and will deliver in under a year. Should all six be built as advertised, their lot widths may range from 25’ to 46’, their square footage from 5,700 to 9,500, and attached garages will hold two to four cars. Starting price is posted at $3.6 million, no frills. Custom finishes are obviously on a sliding scale, and basketball courts and indoor lap pools are the more extreme add-ons. At press time, four active six- and seven-bedroom listings are priced from $3.6 to $6.2 million–eclipsing the block’s standard range by at least $2 million.
Dan Sullivan, a founding member of Conlon Real Estate, shared his thoughts on the westward migration of Lincoln Park mansions and ever-larger teardowns: “New home construction in the area is feeding off of the commercial development of Halsted and North (New City), but besides that [residential] developers are going to go where lots are available. If they’re attentive to tastes, in terms of style and amenity, they’ll find the market…. A builder like Environs knows how to manage risk. They would’ve enlisted brokers early in the process to guide them to the right location and product. And you don’t build several $4 million homes without the comps; in the last year-and-a-half we’ve seen them.”
Several large teardowns greeted the block in those rambunctious years prefacing recession, but they weren’t quite the scale of the new product. Five thousand square feet was the sweet spot, now valued on resale market between $2.5 and $3 million. There are exceptions. A 9,500-square-footer on an oversized lot one block south was built in 2004 and resold in October for $4.5 million.
Directly opposite the Environs site, at 2122 North Kenmore Avenue, another limestone behemoth has topped out, this one by design/build firm Platinum Homes. A banner draped across the construction fence reads “we buy teardowns,” and indeed, a two-story multi-family was razed in May to make way. One block west on Seminary Avenue, Environs has a standalone single-family on a double lot priced at $6 million with 7,200 square feet. They have at least one more in the area, a few short blocks east on Dayton Avenue, on the smaller side (for them) at 5,200 square feet with an asking price of $3.5 million. Both are under contract and under construction.
New luxury condo construction is trickling up Halsted, too. A few dated townhomes were razed near Halsted and Willow, a half-mile southeast of our hot block, and four full-floor condos are moving in. “The penthouse unit sold off-market for around $2 million,” recalls Sullivan, a price I was unable to confirm. “High-end boutique condos are undersupplied here and in other prime neighborhoods. Eventually developers respond.”
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