“There’s no new for-sale residential construction here,” says developer Bob Ranquist of the River North area of Chicago, and it’s not a situation he sees changing soon. Ranquist scours the city for great properties to redevelop. “There’s no such thing as a neighborhood where you can’t find an opportunity,” he says. Still, it’s a treasure hunt. “I spend about 30 percent of my time driving around, talking to brokers, and trying to find out if there’s a higher, better use for a particular property."
Case in point: 747 North Clark, a six-story mid-rise in River North with one 2,600-square-foot unit per floor. The units sold within six months, each for $1.2 million. The project was started by another developer five years ago. While the roof was installed, mechanicals and windows weren’t. The bank took the building back and tried to sell it. Although the area was abuzz with tech firms and restaurants, the shell sat unconditioned until the price dropped and Ranquist went for it. He had to convince the city “that we were here to make it right,” he recalls. An excellent track record with the planning commission and neighborhood associations helped reactivate the permits.
Ranquist hit on a particular niche: buyers who want big-city living in a boutiquelike building. His typical buyer has been a successful working couple with no kids that represent an increasing trend: love city living, crave walkability, and see less need for a car. 747 Clark boasts location, curb appeal, and low monthly costs. The secret? No common areas, no gym, no pool, and no full-time staff.
Miller Hull from Seattle redesigned the exterior, and Chicago’s Sullivan Goulette Wilson solved interior code and layout issues. The original developer’s window placements were “atypical,” says Ranquist, but the team got creative and drafted an acceptable plan in the form of enclosed fire shutters to meet city codes.
Thanks to 10-foot sliding glass doors, each unit has clear sightlines front to back. Balconies, railings, charred oak doors, exterior grating, and a brightly colored lobby help turn “a bland, ugly duckling into a building I’m very proud of,” Ranquist says.
Most recently, Ranquist converted a century-old convent into condos. “It wasn’t landmarked, and we could have torn it down,” he says. “If it’s worth keeping, we’d rather save it—but you have to have a big contingency line item. You never know what you’re going to find.”
Where The Action Is
Here’s a quick inventory of new residential construction in Chicago’s buzziest neighborhoods in the past year. (Data courtesy Metrostudy, Hanley Wood's research arm.)