New City is the largest construction project in Chicago and the only thoroughly mixed-use, entertainment-driven development, old or new, in Lincoln Park and the Near North Side. Conceived in 2007, the 8.5-acre project pushing south from Clybourn Avenue and Halsted Street has kept the same layout but juggled its balance of uses through the market’s implosion. Structured Development bought the site from the Metropolitan YMCA but had to go shopping for a new partner and lender a short time later. Bucksbaum Retail Properties got involved and a plan for 484 condos became a plan for 199 apartments. Both were lucky not to have sunk real capital into the site until after the Great Recession.

Residential is no longer the focal point, though it is essential for improving the Clybourn Corridor and giving anchor tenant Mariano’s Fresh Market a set of readymade shoppers. More fundamental to the project’s success are the high-value leases going to the 14-screen ArcLight Cinema, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Mariano’s, a bowling alley, and several restaurant tenants. It’s wise development strategy to work leases from the top down. Retail will total 370,000 feet, with another 30,000 square feet of medical office. Four interconnected buildings, including a 1,100-car garage, wrap a 60,000 square foot outdoor plaza reserved for dining, concerts, public markets, and the like.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How do you maximize value while incorporating mixed uses in such a way that doesn’t overpower the site?’” says Structured principal Michael Drew. “That’s how we arrived at needing a focus in the center to draw people in… This is such a successful area that you don’t have to convince retailers on viability, but the amenities have been lacking.” The $260 million development is about 75% complete and retail spaces 80% leased.

When interior build-out of the apartments ramps up in December, the construction workforce will balloon to around 600. The building, targeting May 2015 occupancy, has studios, convertibles, one-, and two-bedroom units above two retail floors, an office level, and an amenity deck with a pool and hot tub. There’s no pricing sheet just yet, but Drew tells me they’re looking at $3.00 to $3.15 a square foot in rent, which will place this project among a handful of the most expensive rental buildings in Chicago. The SoNo East tower across Halsted command just below $3.00 a square foot.

Looking out from the upper floors, there are clear, unobstructed shots to the row of lakefront towers from Edgewater to the Loop and a panorama of low-rise Chicago from the northern units at the rounded edge of the tower. At the foot of the tower, the amenity deck is a concrete mold full of voids where water will go; a green roof is already sodded atop the Dick’s building; the parking structure awaits walls; and theaters are about to take shape inside the ArcLight/Mariano’s building. This will be the expansionist grocer’s flagship store at 80,000 square feet, and will have to vie with the nation’s largest Whole Foods three blocks away.

Ease of parking and the centralized underground loading docks with berths for seven semis will certainly aid retailers, translating to added value for the developers. “Burying the docks was also a popular move with the neighbors,” says Drew. The site abuts two mixed-income town home developments—residents who want amenities and connectivity with the larger district but could do without the noise and visual pollution of deliveries.

Anyone who passes through the North and Clybourn area knows it’s very challenged from auto congestion. While the attractions of New City will definitely add vehicular trips, Drew and Bucksbaum president John Bucksbaum are reestablishing the street grid by pulling Schiller Street through the site as a direct link to the parking structure at the back of the site. This will offset some of the new traffic—by how much I can’t say.

Large as the New City development will be, it’s a natural southern outgrowth of a hyper-developed shopping area. Asked if the site could have supported more residential density, Drew said it probably could have but it's a matter of the balance of uses presented to lenders a few years ago, not what the market signals today. The development's decisive advantage is an entertainment and dining focus—consumer segments that almost vanish along the west edge of Lincoln Park.  

New City’s grand opening is scheduled for September 1, 2015, at which point Drew and Bucksbaum hope to see the apartments leased up.