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Condos Not DeadYet — Provided They're Green

October 01, 2007 |

The talk in real estate circles is that condos are dead, but don't tell that to three developers who are building green condo high-rises in Chicago: Related Midwest, which recently completed a LEED Silver candidate overlooking Grant Park; Ireland's Chieftain Group, developer of a green condo high-rise near McCormick Place convention center; and Dynaprop Development Corp., a green developer aiming for LEED Gold for its “eco-building.” Let's hear why these developers chose to go condo—and green—in Chicago.

Related Midwest: 340 on the Park

“The whole green movement was just starting,” recalls Kerry Dickson, SVP of Related Midwest, harking back to 2002, when he and colleagues were contemplating plans for a site at 340 East Randolph Street, just east of the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois building.

The property, part of the 28-acre, $2.5 billion Lakeshore East complex being developed by Jim Loewenberg and Joel Carlins, would have views of Grant and Millennium Parks, the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, Lake Michigan, the Loop, and the Magnificent Mile—“a fabulous site,” says Dickson.

The premium value of the location prompted Dickson to demand an “appropriate response” from the design team, headed by Martin Wolf of local architect Solomon Cordwell Buenz. Dickson says that translated into three goals: 1) “push the aesthetics, inside and out”; 2) create a “special amenities space” that would be the “heart” of the building; and 3) be “sustainable, progressive, and forward-thinking.”

Wolf rose to the first challenge with a multifaceted, 62-story structure: rectilinear on the south side facing Grant Park, curved on the north looking toward Michigan Avenue, and prow-shaped on the east looking toward the lake.

The “special” space may be unique in Chicago architecture. Wolf turned the entire 25th floor into what he calls a “village green” and packed it with amenities: a 25-yard lap pool, a fitness room, a sauna, a clubroom, and, best of all, a two-story landscaped interior “winter garden” with a common outdoor terrace. Dickson calls this feature “a great proportioned space, very contemporary but still warm and residential.”

As for sustainable design, Related Midwest's strategic partner, New York-based Related Companies, was already well-versed in the subject, having built Tribeca Green in Battery Park City, one of the first green residential buildings in the U.S. Related Midwest had also completed an Energy Star-rated affordable housing project for the Chicago Housing Authority. Dickson, a University of Illinois-trained architect, made it a point to earn LEED accreditation, as did others in his office. “I didn't want any LEED consultants blowing smoke at us,” he says.

At $170 million, 340 on the Park—currently, the tallest all-residential tower in Chicago—is replete with green features: bamboo flooring; variable-speed exhaust fans in the kitchens, toilets, and laundry rooms; a reflective cool roof on top and a vegetated green roof at the second-floor level; an 11,000-gallon stormwater collection tank; and a bicycle room that can hold 344 bikes. There's even a low-emission I-GO car residents can rent by the hour.

The contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, diverted 82% of construction waste from landfill—2,800 tons, enough to fill 300 city garbage trucks. With its low-e glass curtain wall and building management systems, the building uses 10% less energy than one designed just to meet code. LEED consultant Sieben Energy Associates, Chicago, sourced 27% of the building products locally.

Sales prices start at $325,000 for a one-bedroom unit, up to $2 million for a three-bedroom condo and $2-4 million for a penthouse. The first owners started moving in this past July, and Dickson says they're on track to close on all 344 units by next February.

Dickson says it's unlikely that many buyers are plunking down that kind of money because of 340's greenness. “Very few of our buyers came in asking for it,” he admits. Selling sustainability is “complicated,” even “esoteric.” “It's things you can't see or prove,” says Dickson. “You want to say, 'Your indoor living environment is going to be better,' but the client says, 'How do I know that?'”

So why bother with LEED certification? “It's one of a host of things that make the building special,” says Dickson. “It's delivering a quality product, all the things that make a building operate the right way. They're going to add value.”

Nationally, Related Companies has $6 billion in green residential projects in the works, in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Snowmass Village, Colo. (where it is building an 80-acre LEED for Neighborhood Development mixed-use project), as well as Chicago, where Related Midwest is also building the 67-story Canyon Ranch Living “lifestyle” mixed-use and The Peshtigo condo (57 stories), both of which will be LEED certified.

Chieftain Group: Lexington Park

Ger O'Rourke, CEO and managing director of Ireland's Chieftain Group, is based more than 3,600 miles from Chicago, in Limerick, but he likes his chances in the Midwest condo market. “We looked at New York, Boston, and Miami, and felt they had peaked from their price points,” says O'Rourke. “If you look at the Midwest, it was the one place that didn't get hit as bad on turnover on condos, maybe a 1% drop instead of 10%.”

So, when O'Rourke decided to establish a beachhead in the U.S., he landed his troops in Chicago, just north of the McCormick Place convention complex, along Michigan Avenue's historic “Motor Row,” where the city's automobile dealers were located in the '20s and '30s. On the site once stood the Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone held court.

Here, Chieftain Group is building a 336-unit mixed-use project that encompasses a 37-story high-rise, a seven-story loft structure, and retail commercial in between. The planned development will seek LEED certification.

“We looked at sites north of the river, but they were at premium costs,” says O'Rourke, whose firm has projects in London and South Africa, as well as Ireland. In the South Loop, the museum complex was becoming a catalyst for residential development, and O'Rourke felt that activity would start moving south.

For Chieftain's chief, green development was only natural. “If we can conserve energy, why not?” he says. “It doesn't cost a lot more to do it, and I'd have a more saleable product.”

To gain enough LEED points, the Building Team—Chicago's VOA Associates (architect) and Environmental Systems Design (commissioning agent); Kenny Construction, Wheeling, Ill. (GC); and The Cullie Group, Barrington, Ill. (owner's representative)—is utilizing low-VOC paints and sealants; bamboo floors; cabinets made from “parawood,” a fast-growth wood product; Energy Star appliances; low-flow toilets and faucet restrictors; and a low-e glass curtain wall. A functional green roof garden, complete with dog run, plus a park space at grade (available for public use) are also in the works.

Daylighting has been designed into all appropriate residential spaces, says VOA's Marino Panos, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP. The project's energy efficiency should beat ASHRAE 90.1-2004 by 18%. The team is also developing a green housekeeping manual for tenants. “If people can get some emotional attachment, they'll feel good about living in a green building,” says Panos.

O'Rourke hopes to repeat his green building success elsewhere in Chicago. “With the exchange rate being what it is, it's a good time to invest in the States,” he says.

Dynaprop Development: Eco18

It's no wonder that eco18, a 93-unit project at 1818 South Wabash, was the first project to reach “Tier Three,” the highest status in the City of Chicago Department of Construction and Permits' green permit program, thus saving the developer about $50,000 in consultant review fees. The 12-story, 185,000-sf project, designed by the Chicago office Wight & Co., based in Darien, Ill., will aim for LEED Gold, the first residential project in the city to do so.

“About two years ago, we started looking at green building as a distinguishing factor in the condo market,” says Rick Turner, president of Dynaprop, which he founded 20 years ago. “There's a lot of new technology out there, but as of yet it hasn't been accepted in the mainstream marketplace. But everything's moving in that direction. When we started our sales program this summer, I'd say two-thirds of the people who came in said green is important to them.”

Dynaprop, which will act as its own contractor, is finishing up construction documents with Wight & Co. and The Engineering Studio, Park Ridge, Ill., and plans to break ground in early 2008. Among the anticipated green features: an on-site renewable energy system powered by 75 compound parabolic solar collectors mounted on the roof, capable of producing 310 million BTUs a year and providing over 40% of the building's domestic hot water; a vertical geothermal ground loop system (with bore holes 400 feet below ground) to feed water source heat pumps that should meet 75% of the heating and cooling load for the residential and retail occupants; a 12,000-sf green roof garden; and low-flow showers and other plumbing fixtures that will reduce water consumption by 30%.

“We estimate our energy savings will be 40-45% lower than a comparable building, such as one we completed a year ago,” says Turner. A good part of that will come from the use of insulated precast concrete panels for the exterior walls.

“With the price of energy going up, and global warming and depleting resources, this is something that's starting to grow and will continue to grow,” says Turner.

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