New 15-story condo/retail tower planned in Elliot Park

Share this:
September 1, 2003 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 30, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Trimmed from 25 stories; several hurdles remain for 200-plus-unit development

Chopping 10 stories off a proposed high-rise condo tower helped win a Chicago developer the backing of Elliot Park's neighborhood leaders.

Chicago-based Tandem Developers plan to build a 15-story structure near another high-rise condominium complex, Grant Park, in Downtown's southeast corner.

In July, Tandem approached staff members of Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI) with a proposed 25-story tower along Portland Avenue between 9th and 10th streets. However, EPNI staffers turned thumbs down, saying the design didn't square with the neighborhood's new master plan, which calls for maximum building heights of four stories in that area.

At an Aug. 21 follow-up meeting with neighborhood leaders, Tandem pitched a new 15-story proposal with 200 to 300 units. The developers pledged to keep an average price for a condo around $200,000.

"I think that it can be fine-tuned to be something good," said Millie Schafer, chair of the neighborhood's Building, Housing and Land Use committee. "It's more height than most of us ever wanted, yet we're kind of realizing at least some of these projects are not going to work given their costs if we stay at our four-to-six-story plan."

EPNI leaders gave the developers a green light to proceed with the project on the condition they continue consulting with residents on the design.

Preliminary sketches show a 15-story high-rise set back behind a four-story building at street level. The front part of the complex would feature a mixture of retail space and condominiums.

The plan calls for 15,000 square feet of retail space.

Bob Bistry, the project designer, said the street level faade would be designed to blend in with the neighborhood's historic brownstones. "We would not be replicating history, but blending into it," he said.

The developers must still clear a number of logistical hurdles before the plan becomes reality. For instance, they need to finalize the land purchase by Sept. 8, talk to the city about possible variances and secure construction financing by preselling units -- a process that could take months.

Nexus of affordability, density Elliot Park's master plan, developed through the city, intends to keep new development compatible with its signature historic brownstones that top out at five stories. EPNI leaders said parallel priorities include avoiding gentrification and attracting affordable housing for residents at lower- to moderate-income levels.

The neighborhood's borders are roughly 5th Avenue, South 7th Street, I-35W and I-94. Its 6,476 residents are largely low-income renters.

David Fields, the neighborhood's community development coordinator, said the five-story height restriction achieves the area's aesthetic goals -- but drives up housing costs.

"There appears to be a direct correlation between density and price," he said. "If we keep shorter units, the price is going to go up."

What's affordable remains debatable, but most agree that the 27-story-tall Grant Park condos, which range from $200,000 to $1 million, are out of reach for most Elliot Park residents. (Height was not an issue in that project because the master plan had not yet been developed, EPNI staffers say.)

EPNI leaders supported Grant Park in part because wealthier condo owners increased income diversity in the neighborhood. "We have always wanted to get some higher-income homeowners," said Shafer. "We want to have a mix of people. We want something for everybody here. So some high-end housing is good. It will help us bring more services and income into the area."

Paul Dincin, a Tandem managing member, said his company intends to target people at the other end of the income bracket, including folks who already live in Elliot Park.

"Our core market is the first-time home buyer, folks who want to live in the city," he said, adding Tandem wants to create a residential community that is diverse by race, lifestyle and occupation.

Fields said the neighborhood shouldn't feel hamstrung by the master plan when it can achieve another important goal: providing more affordable housing.

"I see it as an opportunity," he said. "It's been one of our goals to demonstrate how neighborhoods can do affordable housing."

Building housing for 'real' neighborhoods Brian Columbus, a Tandem project development manager, said the developer had looked at potential sites in Minneapolis for some time before it set its sights on the Elliot Park parcel.

The roughly one-acre parcel -- occupied by two vacant buildings -- had been on the market for a year, said Katie Hatt, the neighborhood's economic development coordinator. Tandem has a Sept. 8 deadline to finalize the purchase agreement.

"It's a great potential site," Columbus told the neighborhood's Land Use Committee Aug. 21. "We're here because you all created a neighborhood with a real fabric. We go into real neighborhoods."

He said Tandem intends to keep the building's identity "congruent with the context of the neighborhood" while not "reinventing the past."

Bistry, the project's designer, told Elliot Park leaders the design process remains fluid.

The flexibility received kudos from Minneapolis City Planner Jack Byers, who helped complete Elliot Park's master plan. "The devil is in the details," he said. "Tandem has shown it's capable of responding to the community."

Byers said the design process is critical to ensure the building fits in with other neighborhood structures. "A good building on the landscape will be an example for the future. Bad buildings breed more bad buildings," he said.

This would be Tandem's first project in Minneapolis.

In Milwaukee, the developer turned an old shoe factory into condos. The Shoeworks Lofts opened a year ago in the city's historic Brewer's Mill district a mile north of downtown.

Prices there range from $130,000 to about $300,000 per unit.

The developer is also working on a housing development in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, home to U.S. Cellular Field, formerly New Comiskey Park.