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Chicago Leads Nation In Adaptive-Reuse Housing Development

Chicago, the city of big shoulders, has done a remarkable job of preserving many of its vintage buildings and utilizing a concept called “adaptive reuse” to recycle the properties for residential use.

That is the finding of a new nationwide study by RENT Café, which reports that since the 1950s, more than 14,000 new rental and condominium units were created in the Windy City through the restoration vintage buildings.

The survey noted that Chicago leads the nation with 91 buildings undergoing adaptive-reuse conversions creating 14,167 residential units. Philadelphia is second with 85 adaptive-reuse buildings totaling 11,266 housing units, followed by Los Angeles with 74 buildings and 10,569 units.

However, the city of New York with 18,488 housing units created in 73 adaptive-reuse projects leads the nation in total units created. Apparently, recycled units in the expensive Big Apple market feature less square footage of living area, so more units were created.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, thousands of apartment high-rises along the North Side, the Gold Coast, the Loop, the South Loop and the South Side were converted to condominium ownership. Since 1969, condo-conversion king Nicholas S. Gouletas of American Invsco successfully converted thousands of rental apartments in dozens of buildings to condos.

Ironically, condo “deconversions” now are in vogue in Chicago. A 2019 survey by The Home Front column revealed that more than 2,500 condo units in more than 20 existing condo buildings have been “deconverted” and rehabbed into rental apartments since 2016.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, vintage loft, warehouse and former hotel buildings were targeted for adaptive-reuse by developers originally as gritty, affordable rental living spaces for artists and young urban residents.

Early loft buildings such as Cobblers Square in Old Town featured low rents, exposed brick walls, wood-beamed ceilings and posts, open floor plans, wood floors and industrial elevators. Later, in the 1990s and early 2000s, the luxury-loft trend became a boom.

Pioneering loft developers, such as Hal Lichterman, Michael Lerner, Keith Giles and Paul Dincin purchased vintage and often vacant former warehouses and manufacturing buildings near the city’s core and transformed them into thousands of affordable condo conversions.

Today, the pinnacle of the luxury loft movement can be found at The Ronsley, a 41-unit former 5-story florist’s brick and wood-beamed loft that is the Windy City’s first high-end, high-tech loft condominium. This spring, glassy contemporary-style penthouses on the 6th through 8th floors were priced at $1.495 million to $4.995 million. Units feature soaring 13-foot to 15-foot ceilings and up to 5,500 square feet of space of living area.

With few Chicago loft buildings left to convert and enhance, The Ronsley likely is one of the city’s last great ultra-luxury loft—truly an “endangered species,” according to LG Development Group, the developer.

Here are other highlights of the RENT Café survey which studied Yardi Matrix data to delve into the adaptive-reuse market in Chicago:

  • Since 1950, 81% of Chicago’s adaptive-reuse apartment conversions were aimed towards lower and middle-income renters.

  • Adaptive-reuse of hotels into rental apartments is big business in Chicago. Since 1950s, 46 hotels were converted to rental apartments.

Experts say this trend may continue because of the impact of the covid-19 virus on the hospitality industry.

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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