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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

West Loop Developers Pivot From Apartments To 19-Story Project With $1.3 Million Condos

The lot near Bartelme Park was most recently home to a temporary community garden for West Loop neighbors.

The 80-unit condo tower planned for 37 S. Sangamon St. will rise 19 stories, just west of the recently completed 586-unit Porte rental development.
25th Ward/GREC Architects

WEST LOOP — A long-discussed plan to redevelop a vacant lot near Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop has returned with a shorter design that drops 370 apartments in favor of 80 luxury condos.

Developers Fern Hill and Free Market Ventures revealed their updated vision for 23 S. Sangamon St. to neighbors at a virtual community meeting hosted by Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) on Tuesday evening.

In addition to cutting back the number of units, the latest proposal chops the tower’s height from 330 to 238 feet and abandons plans for a 300-foot “phase two” high-rise that would have replaced the current Merit School of Music building at neighboring 38 S. Peoria St.

“We received some push-back from the Department of Planning and Development due to the scale of the project and the requirement that development rights were transferred across adjacent properties,” said Richard Klawiter, a zoning attorney representing the developers. “We went back to the drawing board and have brought to you now a considerably scaled-back project.” 

Designed by GREC Architects, the revised 19-story structure features a slender profile with large windows and multiple upper-floor setbacks to provide residents with private “outdoor rooms” — or balconies — measuring at least 12 by 12 feet. 

“Coming out of this pandemic, we feel that the market is going to respond to increased outdoor space,” said developer Michael Ellch with Fern Hill. 

Condos will be offered in two-, three-, and four-bedroom floorplans averaging around 2,200 square feet in size. The developers expect prices to be in the range of $600 to $700 per square foot, depending on market conditions. Based on those figures, an average unit would cost roughly $1.3 million.

Credit: 25th Ward/GREC Architects
A rendering of the 23 S. Sangamon tower’s upper facade shows floor-to-ceiling windows and large private balconies the developers touted as “outdoor rooms.”

The city’s affordable housing regulations for the neighborhood require 20 percent affordable units, but the developer will provide the units off-site within a 2-mile radius. When asked by neighbors why the affordable residences are not included on-site, the developer said it was not feasible for a high-end condo project such as 23 S. Sangamon.  

“You’re not allowed to create a separate class of ownership within a condominium building,” Ellch said. “The condominium association fees become too burdensome to support for-sale affordable housing with a building like this.”

The team will contribute $2.1 million to the city’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, a program that allows developers to build denser projects near downtown in exchange for financing economic development in underserved neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

The decision to pursue luxury condos over rental units means the proposal has more parking than a typical transit-oriented West Loop apartment project. The plan calls for a 1:1.4 parking ratio, which works out to about 112 spaces for 80 condos. 

In an unusual move, the development team has already lined-up a retail tenant for the building’s ground-floor commercial space: a half bar/half liquor store “slashie” called Juice. Partnering on the Juice concept is sommelier Derrick Westbrook, who served as cellar manager at Next and beverage director at Elizabeth. Westbrook was also a co-proprietor of nearby 1340 Beer Wine Spirits before it went out of business in January.

Credit: 25th Ward/GREC Architects
The ground floor of 23. S. Sangamon will include a lobby, bike room, dog area, and a half bar/half liquor store “slashie” from sommelier Derrick Westbrook.

Situated just north of Mary Bartelme Park, the site at 23 S. Sangamon has long eluded redevelopment. Despite the rapid growth of the surrounding area, the lot has sat vacant since a two-story industrial building was demolished seven years ago.

In 2013, Quest Realty Group purchased the property and planned a residential building that never got off the ground. In 2018, developer Sangamonroe LLC bought the site and unsuccessfully pursued a  24-story apartment high-rise there. 

For the past three years, the location hosted a temporary community garden organized by West Loop resident Moshe Tamssot. 

“As the first developer to really embrace this type of use for vacant land, I hope we’ve set a strong precedent for other developers,” Ellch said. “We showed how you can partner with the community to activate sites as you work through the entitlement process.”

Tamssot said that he appreciated the developers’ cooperation with the community garden, but he would like to see alternative renderings exploring taller towers to the north end of the lot to allow for potential public green space at its southern end.

“If Monroe is annexed between Peoria and Sangamon — like Loomis was at Skinner Park — we could almost double the size of Mary Bartelme Park,” Tamssot said. “It would be great if the alderman encouraged the developers to come back with alternative renderings showing how they could maximize available green space.”

Credit: 25th Ward/GREC Architects
A diagram showing 23 S. Sangamon’s previous two-tower design that also included the Merit School of Music site (right) and the updated plan that calls for a single shorter tower and Merit to remain.

Fern Hill and Free Market Ventures hope to start marketing condos to buyers this fall. Groundbreaking would occur at the end of 2021 or early 2022 with an estimated construction period of 16 to 18 months.  

Before work can begin, the developers will need to submit a Planned Development application to the city, which will require the blessing of the Chicago Plan Commission, the Committee on Zoning and the City Council.

Ald. Sigcho-Lopez’s office has provided an online feedback form for residents to weigh in on the 23 S. Sangamon St proposal. 

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