Optima City Center is one of the city’s new ultra-luxe high-rises.
In a year when the most eternal of all real estate debates—to buy or rent—has raged thanks to rising rents and the lowest mortgage rates in decades, Chicago developers have made leasing hard to resist by delivering a series of dazzling luxury rental high-rises. Last spring saw the arrival of Coast at Lakeshore East (345 East Wacker Drive), K2 in the Fulton River District (365 North Halsted Street), and 500 North Lake Shore Drive in Streeterville to much-deserved fanfare and reportedly brisk leasing. Now we have a second wave: AMLI River North (71 West Hubbard Street) and Habitat’s Hubbard Place (360 West Hubbard Street), both in River North, and Optima’s Chicago City Center (200 East Illinois Street) in Streeterville have opened their doors to renters.
While all six buildings are impressive in their own right for their thoughtful design and cosseting amenities, the three newest sites “take luxury to a new level,” notes James “J.R.” Berger, president of Chicago Signature Properties. We’re talking exquisitely executed architectural details, sumptuous stone surfaces, and gourmet-quality kitchens in the apartments, plus every amenity imaginable. Berger foresaw the luxury rental market boom back in 2009, founding his firm when he realized “the financial crisis created a perfect confluence of events for luxury rentals.” At that time, “all the condo projects that broke ground in 2007 were delivering and couldn’t sell.” So they turned rental, and made condo-level finishes the new norm for renters. Flash-forward to today, and “people are still willing to pay a premium for luxury, but they expect that same high level of condo quality. It’s superior product and superior prices,” says Berger. And the developers of AMLI River North, Hubbard Place, and City Center—all exceptional market leaders in their own right—are not only sensitive to this, they made the marketplace gestalt central to their strategy and have turned out incredibly compelling products.
An outdoor fireplace at AMLI.
Determining which one is best is akin to picking your favorite child. Each sports the finest of everything, from spa-quality bathrooms to alluring amenities. “But they all have their own personality, and different things going for them,” says Berger. City Center, with its gleaming silvery blue window wall that mirrors the sky and surrounding high-rises, reflects the Modernist bent of architect David Hovey, Optima’s founder. Hovey cites features such as the “truly floor-to-ceiling windows and high-level finishes” as major attractions; Berger says its stunning Modern demeanor is a key differentiator in the luxury market, not a bad thing given Chicago’s enduring love affair with the style and role in its birth.
AMLI River North and Hubbard Place were both designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz, another world-class Chicago firm. Both are solid entries architecturally and stellar entries as amenities go, notes Berger. “AMLI is getting kudos for its spectacular roof deck and pool area, while Hubbard Place went all-out on the units.” Habitat Chairman Daniel Levin waxes poetic about the building sporting “better everything,” from Snaidero kitchens to real hardwood floors. AMLI Senior VP of Development Jennifer Wolf touts the remarkable rooftop, and rightly so: The 22,000-square-foot expanse boasts a pool, fountain, private cabanas, outdoor kitchen, fire pit, lawn area, and dog run, setting a new gold standard for decks. And for sustainable types, the building is also on track to earn a LEED Gold designation from the US Green Building Council (USGBC)—the highest designation of all three properties.
A kitchen in K2.
For today, these three new entries to the luxury market set the bar higher—rents, too, which don’t come cheap. “They’re taking the rental market to a new high of about $3.15 per square foot,” says Berger, “though they would have likely been higher if they delivered last year.” Prices are actually dropping a bit, and leveling, thanks to the 3,000 units these six buildings delivered this year. But there are about 6,000 units in progress and due to deliver over the next two years, points out Berger, so “it will be interesting to see how high rents can go,” he says. Or whether people still want to rent, or buy.