Streeter Place’s name change to Atwater Apartments a few months back heralded big things for this six-year-old, 480-unit luxury apartment building at 355 East Ohio Street. The name is little more than an acknowledgment that you are, in fact, at the water, but the full plan was to make the tower’s shared and private spaces comfortable and competitive in this apartment boomtown. Three months into the four-year wholesale interior renovation, most of the work on common spaces is complete. I dropped by Tuesday for a look.

Apartment towers get updates and makeovers all the time, but it is awfully rare for a luxury building less than 10 years old to undergo an identity reassignment. Vintage buildings get modernized and dated hotels sometimes enter the rental market, capitalizing on neighborhood change and the massive millennial renter pool now at its peak. In these cases, developers are either creating supply or dramatically altering value. The Streeter Place-to-Atwater switcheroo is appeasing current residents and pandering to the informed (some would say spoiled) renter weighing a plethora of good options.

Even Streeterville is changing. It has gotten younger and livelier with the introduction of several new luxury apartment towers in the last decade (e.g. 500 Lake Shore Drive, EnV Tower, and North Water) to say nothing of nearby River North and The Loop. The trend toward amenity-first buildings is universal in downtown Chicago, and it's lighting a fire under buildings that just missed the boat. “There has been a lot of evolution in amenities in the last couple years,” says Atwater leasing supervisor Emily Carnes. “What was top of the line in 2009 is no longer.” Another reason for the big redo was to separate Atwater from its sister building Streeter Apartments, since the two are now under different ownership.

The renovation will also translate to higher prices. The going rate for units at Atwater is around $2.75 per square foot per month. Carnes expects renovated units will draw at least $3 per square foot, putting the building in the same class as top new construction such as 73 East Lake and 500 Lake Shore Drive.

The original common spaces were far from shabby. Actually, they were exact in their form and function—and probably too stiff for most renters. Designer Loren Stanton felt it. “When I came in the ambiance was very corporate, which didn’t bode well for a residential building,” he says. “I brought in new lighting and warmed up the colors.” The interior designer for several condo and apartment buildings, including Trump Tower and The Madison at Racine, brought in the amber glow of old fashioned Edison fixtures in starburst chandeliers instead of fluorescent lighting to help humanize the lobby (funny that incandescence is a novelty item today). 

Just off the main lobby, a business center was made into a cyber café. It’s not as private, but it’s definitely less rigid. An inner lobby out of view of the main entrance is now a resident lounge and gallery with new lighting, furniture, bookshelves, and fireplace. On the 12th floor amenity level, or “club room,” a lounge, billiards room, media room, and kitchen are loosely assembled. These are flexible gathering spaces with the option for subdivision courtesy of a soundproof curtain. The kitchen is more open than before and better equipped for catered parties; the media room has staggered seating of different heights to simulate a theater’s gradation; and the billiard room’s floor is Italian mosaic tile that Stanton thinks is a first in Chicago. The pool deck and fitness center will get their makeovers this year or the next.

Then there are the unit changes. Stanton designed model one- and two-beds as bait for 20- and 30-somethings: white quartz counters, stained hardwoods, bar carts, plush headboards, glass tables. Don’t get too excited—only the finishes will be applied to units as they open up. Greystar, the management company, hopes to revamp 110 apartments by the end of the year.

Atwater’s timing is good. New luxury apartments continue to arrive in Streeterville, and it’s anyone’s guess when the neighborhood will be saturated. Directly east, another Solomon Cordwell Buenz–designed rental is under construction: the 45-story 545 North McClurg Court; Related Midwest will build a Robert A.M. Stern-designed 67-story condo/apartment project right beside its 500 Lake Shore Drive; and 444 luxury units are proposed at 465 North Park. And when plans for the Spire site materialize, look out.