A bedroom in an Aqua condominium provides a pristine lake view.
Lakeshore East features a dog park.
A condominium at 225 North Columbus.
Kitchen at 225 North Columbus.
The maxim “Rome wasn’t built in a day” reminds us that all great communities evolve over time. But Lakeshore East, the impressive 28-acre luxury enclave on Chicago’s Near East Side anchored by Aqua, the Jeanne Gang–designed skyscraper of undulating balcony fame, seemed to go up overnight. “All of a sudden, I turned around and there it was—a miraculous creation out of a dead zone,” marvels Chicago realtor Margie Smigel of Luxe Marketing and Sales (312-953-1466). “It happened in pieces, so you didn’t really feel the depth and scope of the project until a few years ago.”
In truth, six huge high-rises with condominiums and rental units ranging from 29 to 87 stories each were on the drawing board in 2002 and completed on the site—a former Illinois Central Railroad yard bounded by Wacker Drive, Lake Shore Drive, Randolph Street, and Columbus Drive. And Benton Place Parkhomes, a street of 25 townhouses ranging from 3,500 to 4,100 square feet, delivered in 2009, along with Aqua, the mixed-use 87-story tower that really put Lakeshore East on the map.
All of Aqua’s siblings are solidly designed towers. “We didn’t want [Lakeshore East] to look like a sterile subdivision of all identical buildings. So we worked with a range of acclaimed firms, including Solomon Cordwell Buenz, SOM, DeStefano Partners, BKL Architecture, and more,” says Magellan Development Group head Joel Carlins (312-642-8869). But none come close to Aqua, the development’s proverbial jewel in the crown. It’s ambitious and impressive in size, scope, and architectural cachet. Not only 26 stories higher than its next largest sibling, the building gained national attention for its dazzling design by Studio Gang’s Jeanne Gang—the first woman in the world to be the lead on a skyscraper of that magnitude. It is home to 233 hotel rooms, 474 rental units, 262 condos, and nine townhomes, which are 3,200 square feet.
Suddenly, everyone was talking about the place. Then, in 2011, the hotel space became a Radisson Blu as the hospitality company launched its brand of modern design-destination hotels in the US. With it came an outstanding restaurant, Filini Bar and Restaurant, and perhaps the city’s most stunning modern ballroom, with floor-to-ceiling window walls, offering up glittery cityscape views.
With Radisson Blu Aqua, a host of other notable retailers, restaurants, and amenities came to “town,” including destination-worthy restaurants like Dallas’s famed III Forks Prime Steakhouse and Mariano’s Fresh Market—complete with chandeliers, live music from a classy grand piano, and gourmet food stations for every edible imaginable. “It pulls a lot of lunchtime traffic from the 25,000 or so workers at Illinois Center,” notes Carlins—a point not lost on Bob Mariano, who says, “business has been great because we’re part restaurant and part supermarket.”
Of course, a heavenly six-acre park, akin to a baby Central Park in layout, program, and its relationship to the buildings around it, helps pull people. The brainchild of acclaimed Houston landscape architect James Burnett, the park has a huge fan in Ted Wolff, a Chicago landscape architect and the designer behind Aqua’s 80,000-square-foot rooftop garden. “[It’s] genius,” says Wolff. It offers so many activity areas and amenities for people and pets that “people say it’s the best park in the city,” he adds.
Good development begets good growth, and good growth begets good amenities. Lakeshore East weathered the 2009 downturn well. “Sales velocity went down from eight or nine a month to one to two, but picked up at the end of 2011. And these last three months have been our best ever. You can’t beat this location,” crows Carlins.
Indeed, the unique nature of the development itself, its location along the lake, and all these fabulous amenities attract just about everyone, says Baird & Warner broker Ginger Menne (312-927-0852), who has specialized in Lakeshore East since it was on the drawing boards in 2002 and moved there in 2005.
Menne’s favorite sales tale involves a retired Lakeview couple who checked out Mariano’s and were so dazzled by the entire development that she sold them a place there two months later. The story is not atypical. “We have so many empty-nesters who bought pieds-à-terre here but now are selling their suburban homes and trading up to larger, permanent places. And our numbers of young families are really growing because we have an excellent preschool and are getting an elementary school next year,” says Magellan Realty President Leila Zammatta (312-493-8200). Chalk Preschool opened this past fall to a full house, and GEMS Education will debut a pre-K to 12th grade IB school in 2014.
Of course, eight buildings, a handful of restaurants, and two schools don’t make a city. But consider this: With an estimated 7,000 residents in 3,100 homes, Lakeshore East is already bigger than suburbs like Northfield and Kenilworth. “My goal was to develop a village in the center of the city, and we’re getting there,” says Carlins. He’s not stopping anytime soon; the Coast building is currently under construction and will add another 515 units to the mix, “and there’s room for eight more buildings according to our master plan,” Carlins notes. Which begs the obvious question in this architecture-crazy town: Will Jeanne Gang be back? “I certainly hope so,” Carlins says.
photography courtesy of Lawrence okrent (aerial)
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