The fates of two controversial Chicago real-estate projects were decided over the past week—and both decisions involved freshmen aldermen. The first bit of news concerned X/O, the pair of sinuous towers, designed by Lucien Lagrange, slated to go up in the South Loop at 18th Street and Prairie Avenue. Reacting to residents’ fears that the tall buildings would overwhelm the landmark Glessner House and other historic residences nearby, Robert Fioretti, the newly elected alderman of the 2nd Ward, had proposed an ordinance that would have cut the site’s allowable building height in half, from 450 to 225 feet. Fioretti’s proposal would have essentially repealed the Planned Development Ordinance for the property that the Chicago City Council had approved in October 2006, before Fioretti was elected.
But then came the report late last week that Fioretti had withdrawn his ordinance, thus giving the $300-million project the green light. According to Keith Giles, who is developing X/O with his partner, Jerry Karlik, the project will now break ground in the second quarter of 2008. “Our zoning had been reaffirmed by everyone at city hall, and I think the alderman realized that he had to comply with that,” says Giles, adding that more than 200 of the planned 480 units in the towers have already been sold. And was Fioretti’s proposal—which, if approved, would have represented an unprecedented reversal of approved zoning—a freshman mistake? “I don’t want to comment on that,” says Giles, “but he withdrew the ordinance, so I think that speaks for itself.”
Then, on December 3rd, came news that the Lakeshore Athletic Club, at 850 North Lake Shore Drive, has been saved from demolition, in large part because of Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd). Reilly had made it clear to Northwestern University, the building’s owners, that he opposed its deal to sell the onetime athletic club to Fifield Companies, which planned to demolish the 1924 structure and put up a condo tower.
“I arrived at the 11th hour,” admits Reilly, who took office in May after Northwestern had already obtained a demolition permit for the athletic club from the city, sparking outcries from preservationists and nearby residents. The permit took effect in July, but Reilly got all parties to agree to hold off on demolition until September so he could research the issue. Ultimately, he says, he decided that he “could not support their plan to demolish that historic building”—even though Northwestern and Fifield insisted that there was no economically feasible way to reuse the building. “They said I was asking them to do the impossible,” Reilly says. The alderman then drafted a zoning amendment that would have mandated preservation of the property, a move, he says, designed to let the university know he was “serious.”
In September, Northwestern took demolition off the table and began looking for another buyer, which turned out to be Integrated Development, a Northbrook developer of luxury-class senior housing. The deal, reportedly for a few million dollars less than the original $41-million contract with Fifield, was announced Monday by Reilly’s office—though the alderman and his staff both emphasized that Reilly played no part in the contract negotiations. “I’m glad for Northwestern that this buyer came along who can do it and preserve the building,” Reilly says. Integrated—whose president, Matthew Phillips, is a former executive at Classic Residence by Hyatt—plans to put 139 upscale senior housing units (including 11 assisted-living units) in the 17-story building.
Update: Last week, two homes formerly featured in “On the Market” at Deal Estate: The Blog were sold simultaneously. A converted Lake View factory that was listed for $2,499,000 sold on November 30th for $2,250,000. That same day, a Lake Forest house with a swimming pool—and a price tag that was reduced from $4,575,000 to $4,195,000—went for $3,650,000.