Jim Collins and Lewis Korompilas standing in front of the soon-to-be-rehabbed building on West Belmont Avenue
Developer Lewis Korompilas (left) and architect Jim Collins (right)

A five-story building at 2609 West Belmont Avenue that has stood unfinished and exposed to the elements for about three years is on its way to getting a restart later this spring. Lewis Korompilas, the head of the Northbrook-based Premium Builders, said that he will close on his purchase of the former North River Court project from Village Bank & Trust in Arlington Heights at a price that he will only specify as “under $3 million.” He expected the deal to close around June 1st.

The original developers, MC Development, had borrowed more than $9 million toward the project. The lender began foreclosure in early 2009, after construction had stopped for several months.

Last year, when I first wrote about the project, its original architect and a city building official told me that, despite the building’s look of ruin, finishing it might still be possible. Korompilas and his architect, Jim Collins of Criterium Collins Architects & Engineers, agree. With some repairs and revisions, they expect to pick up where the first builder left off three years ago. “This project in every respect is salvageable,” Korompilas said.

Exposed steel beams in the basement and other places have only rusted on their outer surface, Collins said, and that rust can be sandblasted off without risking damage to the steel’s structural strength. Deeper rust “is a slow process over a lot of years,” he added. Collins also opened up masonry walls and checked the exposed ends of concrete floors to inspect their reinforcing steel. He said that it all checked out fine.

“We’re lucky [the original builders] stopped when they did, and not a week or two later,” Collins told me Monday when I visited the site. Because no drywall or other finishes had been installed and most window openings had not been glassed in, any rain or snow that fell into the building “drained out the bottom without leaving mold,” he said. “Everything is so open that it [has been able to] dry itself out.” The lack of drywall also means that “we can see all our problems,” Korompilas said. “Nothing is hidden.”

Work should begin the day the deal closes, Korompilas said. It will include finishing the 46 residential units with hardwood floors, high-end appliances, and cabinetry custom-built by his carpenters. He is finishing the units as if they will be sold off as condos, though they might first go as rentals. “We’ll see what the economy dictates” in spring 2012, he said. That’s when the building should be ready for move-ins.

Korompilas’s 15-year-old company has rescued one other failed condo project, a foreclosed pair of three-flats in Woodlawn that he bought in June 2010. In the past two months, he has sold four of the units there.

Standing outside the locked fence that protects the debris-filled site, Korompilas said that he plans to make one key aesthetic change. The elevator lobbies are positioned for great views across Belmont and treetops to the North Branch of the Chicago River. But as built, they have only a few small windows. He wants to expand those into window bands that better capture the view.

In its present state, the project looks intimidating, with plywood over some window holes, nothing in most others, excess mortar hardened in big lumps on windowsills and doorframes, and construction debris mounded up in the courtyard. But Korompilas is undaunted. “If you’re a developer,” he said, “this is what you like.”