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Chicago’s Decade-Long, New-Construction Condo Bust May Be Over

Viewing all the recent new-development action downtown, it appears that Chicago’s decade-long high-rise condominium bust is finally over.

Over a few days in early September, major developers have launched Chicago’s third tallest skyscraper on a riverfront site in the Lakeshore East neighborhood, and then added a brand new high-rise neighborhood along a weed-filled 14-acre patch of vacant South Loop land on the south branch of the Chicago River.

First came the recent ground breaking of Vista Tower, a 95-story mixed-use hotel and condominium skyscraper on Wacker Drive along the East Branch of Chicago River. Designed by Studio Gang and bKL Architecture, and developed by Magellan Development and Dalian Wanda Group, Vista Tower will rise to a height of 1,186 feet.

The $1-billion tower will feature 194 hotel rooms on the first 11 floors, and 406 ultra-luxury condos on floors 13 through 93. Condo prices range from $1 million to $17.1 million.

What is even more exciting is the ground-breaking of Riverline, a new 3,700-unit residential community bounded by Harrison, Roosevelt, Wells and the South Branch of the river.

Developed by CMK Companies and its joint-venture partner Lendlease, the multi-phase Riverline development would essentially create a new neighborhood on the mostly vacant tract.

Currently, the site only contains River City, an eclectic pair of 13-story and 19-story apartment buildings designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, completed in 1986 and later converted to condominium.

Most of the Riverline site has stood empty since Grand Central Station and its tracks were demolished back in 1971.

Architect Ralph Johnson, global design director at Perkins & Will, has drawn plans for a series of modern residential towers, 5.8 acres of public green spaces and a “soft,” environmentally friendly connection with the river.

Phase I plans call for the construction of two residential high-rise buildings—named “Ancora,” a 29-story apartment tower with 452 units, and “Current,” an 18-story condominium with 282 units—and development of the green space as well as more than a half mile of new riverwalk from Harrison to Roosevelt.

A later phase on the south portion of the site will include a collection of nine 3-story townhomes dubbed “Watershed.” The townhomes will have private yards.

When completed over a period of years, Riverline will feature eight waterfront high-rise buildings. Four of the innovative buildings will feature angled support stilts to cantilever the high-rises over the riverwalk.

Designed by the landscape architecture firm of Hoerr Schaudt, much of the riverwalk will follow a meandering, earthen, planted riverbank, which will provide a naturally marshy transition from land to water. A network of wetlands, wells and green roofs will capture and clean the site’s storm water for use in its sprinkler system and release into the river.

With work underway on nearly 700 new high-rise condos included in both Vista Tower and the early stage of Riverline, it appears that the decade-long high-rise condo-building drought is finally over.

One wonders how long it will take for Related Midwest to unveil plans for the long-dormant Chicago Spire site, and its planned transformation of the 62 vacant riverfront acres along the South Branch of the river, just south of Riverline. Insiders say plans for both projects will be revealed in 2017.

Meanwhile, downtown rents keep rising, and developers keep building more and more rental apartment high-rises. The average rent of a high-end apartment downtown now is $3.03 per square foot, or more than $3,000 a month for a 1,000-square-foot unit, according to Appraisal Research Counselors.

And, developers will complete 8,800 new apartments downtown this year and next, with 3,800 units on tap for 2018, Appraisal Research reports. Some 1,800 new rental units are on schedule to open in River North in 2017.

However, as rents skyrocket, experts say if interest rates remain affordable the pendulum may eventually swing back to condo purchasing because of the built-in tax write offs buyers will pocket for real estate taxes and mortgage interest.

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit

“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”


Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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