New York’s High Line proved two things: every city wants a centrally located rail trail, and a whole lot of people want to live near one. The ceiling for gains in home value related to this one-of-a-kind fixed asset is high and, in the case of the west side of lower Manhattan, may never be reached. Studies have shown the impact of the High Line on housing prices within one-third mile was most apparent in the year following the opening of the trail’s first phase, when the price paid for condos in this radius climbed 10 percent. There were also anticipatory gains tied to the park over two-plus years of initial construction.
Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail (or “the 606") will open June 6. It’s fair to expect a similarly jarring effect on neighboring blocks.
The High Line’s impact on unbuilt housing was the real spectacle. Demand for units was immediate, but it took time to meet that demand. Now, practically every developable lot adjacent to the High Line has been or will soon be filled with architecturally flashy luxury mid-rises. And it's a known fact new construction rents and sells at higher prices than even the finest vintage dwellings. Within a two-third mile radius of the High Line, average sales price for condos and co-ops just about doubled between 2004 and 2012, according to Michael Levere at the UC San Diego economics department. The trail didn’t open until 2009, but a sharp spike was evinced starting in 2007, coinciding with the start of construction.
Even if the tourists and builders don’t latch onto the Bloomingdale Trail with the same fervor, there is going to be at least an echo of this ecosystem in Chicago. Logan Square and Humboldt Park, the neighborhoods hosting the trail’s western two-thirds, are not A+ locations, but they’re feeling real estate pressure from a saturated Wicker Park and Bucktown. The advent of a signature park and green corridor gives that pressure a path of least resistance.
Numbers bear out the change. The median sale price for Logan Square houses between January 15 and April 15 climbed 7.1 percent over the previous three months, according to Trulia, compared with a 1 percent citywide increase. A 2014 Redfin analysis of all listings two to four blocks from the trail, cited by DNAinfo last summer, showed a price jump from $186 per square foot to $234 per square foot since 2012. Within one block of the trail, the change is even more pronounced. “The farther west you go, especially past California Avenue, the more new construction and price hikes are attributable solely to the trail,” says Nikki Dumas of Dumas & Associates Realty. She sold a modern house one block north of the trail and two blocks east of California Avenue for $770,000 in August. “Three months later, with the trail’s pending opening all over the news, I watched a close comp sell around the corner for $850,000.”
Humboldt Park doesn’t have the same universal price gains—most of the neighborhood is far from jobs or a train line—but there are observable changes to the quarter-mile band on either side of the trail. Dumas has been marketing a six townhomes by Denmax Corp. at Wabansia and Central Park Avenues. The 2,100-square-foot three beds are priced from $389,000 to $409,000. One sold and two are under contract. Trulia shows the median sale price for the two square blocks surrounding this site at $160,000. Interest is coming from Lake View, says Dumas, not Wicker Park or Logan Square—a phenomenon I’ve run into before. “Anyone doing development who has forward-thinking tendencies wants to build along the western leg of the trail.”
By my own tally, scanning two blocks north and south of the trail over the two miles between Milwaukee and Ridgeway Avenues, there are five multi-unit projects going up with 90 apartments, condos, and attached townhouses. On several blocks, developers are building single-family infill one, two, or three at a time. If this seems underwhelming, remember that the rail bed cuts mid-block through solidly residential turf. In Bucktown and Logan Square, adjacent industrial stock and prime vacant parcels were developed with luxury housing 10 to 15 years ago. Remaining lots are small and scattered or large and clustered at the western end of the trail. The biggest tracts of land are along Central Park Avenue, and factory buildings near the Ridgeway trailhead are ripe for larger developments.
Close to Milwaukee Avenue, 24 townhomes are rising at Wabansia and Winnebago Avenues where the Blue Line flies over the Bloomingdale. Dubbed The Row Bucktown, MCZ Development’s project claimed the largest vacant plot left in Bucktown-Wicker Park. Sales of the three- and four-beds started last July, priced between $599,000 and $700,000, and all but one have sold at press time. “Seventy-five percent of buyers bought sight unseen,” says Landon Harper, the @properties agent for the development. “Now that the trail is coming to fruition, it’s a conversation piece for everyone involved with The Row and has definitely driven interest.” The new homes join wall-to-wall loft buildings cradling the trail from Winnebago to Western.
As the Tribune’s Mary Ellen Podmolik pointed out in a November article, new residential construction is coming on strong but commercial development—the cafes, bistros, and boutiques that trail users will try to scout from their perch—are arriving in a cautious trickle west of Western. Prospects are being felt out, for sure, but the boom is waiting on the confirmed hordes. Dumas is part owner in two buildings near the trail—one at California and Armitage Avenues and the other on the 1800 block of Milwaukee. She has open retail space to let at the Milwaukee building and rents of $30-$45 a square foot seem attainable. “Two years ago $20 a square foot was the going rate on this stretch.”
It’s instructive to think of the Bloomingdale Trail and High Line as having effects on residential density and home value similar to that of a subway line. A co-founder of Friends of the High Line made this observation to the New York Times in 2011. Five years before, no one thought 10th Avenue would attract a who’s who of architects and chefs. The Blue Line, paralleling Milwaukee Avenue, has assisted in the hyperdevelopment of Noble Square, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and now Logan Square. The Bloomingdale Trail is beginning to do the same along an east-west axis. And, unlike the High Line, it will also be a valued piece of transportation infrastructure for the area’s many cyclists.