An inside look at Chicago real estate

New Urbanism and the 1225 Old Town Success

Back in the 1980s, city planners began to elevate the concept of new urbanism, which promoted the kind of mixed-use developments that were natural to American cities before the dominance of the automobile. New urbanism suggested neighborhoods should be walkable and jobs and stores should not be separated from residential.

New Urbanism

Although new urbanism arose 30 years ago, the philosophy took a long time to re-root in large American cities where the avenues were rife with new condominium and apartment developments.

Quite often these modern mid- and high-rise towers, especially in regard to condominiums appealing to high-end tenants, were designed to have impressive lobbies totally divorced from anything that was happening on the street, which was not how residential towers were constructed when Midwestern and Eastern big cities were in full bloom during the twentieth century.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the new urbanism concept of neighborhood integration finally took hold in regard to residential tower development, but certainly one would have to go back to the construction of the Time Warner Center in New York, which topped out in 2003.

Time Warner Center’s two residential/hotel towers are bridged by a multi-story atrium containing a shopping mall and a Whole Foods grocery store. It was so successful that the development helped revive the stagnant Columbus Circle area of New York, and even now, 10 years later, other residential developments are still being constructed in the avenues to west of Central Park.

The same kind of secondary neighborhood resurgence is expected after the development of 1225 N. Wells Street in Chicago’s Old Town Neighborhood. The 16-story, rental midrise is the first apartment development in Old Town in over 20 years and will be home to over 250 luxury units.

Equally important, the ground floor of the building will house a Plum Market, creating a meaningful integration of housing with necessary retail.

It was, indeed, a plumb, to attract Plum Market, a privately-owned grocer based in Farmington Hills, Mich. The small chain with only three other stores in Michigan was created by Mathew and Marc Jonna, who cut their retail chops working in the family chain, Merchant of Vino Marketplace, a natural, organic and specialty food and wine store, which was eventually acquired by Whole Foods.

Earlier this year, 1225 N. Wells attracted a new retailer that some tenants of the building might consider the most necessary of all – a caffeinator. Chicago-based coffee company, Intelligentsia, announced it will be taking 1,200 square feet next to Plum Market.

The press reports that 1225 N. Wells has passed 85% leased. Did that happened because the grocery store was an attractive amenity or did the grocery store happen because of the success of leasing?

This is the chicken and the egg question of new urban development – maybe it’s unanswerable but the after-effects are still great for Chicago real estate.