Chinese real estate developers Wanda Commercial Properties announced Wednesday plans to build an 89-story mixed-use tower in Chicago’s Lakeshore East neighborhood that would unseat Aon Center as the city’s third tallest building. At approximately 1,150 feet tall, the tower at 375 E. Wacker Dr. would be among the tallest buildings in Chicago. AN reached out to Alderman Brendan Reilly’s office to confirm the announcement, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal and Chicago Architecture Blog Tuesday, but so far our calls have not been returned. A spokesman for Lakeshore East developer Magellan Properties declined to comment. Chinese news agency Sina reported the building will house a five-star hotel and apartments, and is expected to open in 2018. Along with a retail component, that should total 1.4 million square feet of space, according to Chicago Architecture Blog. The designer is still unspecified, but a rendering from Wanda Group shows three staggered volumes constructed from stacked frustums, or cut-off pyramid shapes. If built, it would occupy the lot adjacent to the new GEMS World Academy building, designed by bKL Architecture. The Beijing-based company, commonly called Wanda Group, is known in the U.S. for buying cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, and has amassed dozens of hotels and department stores in China. The $900 million Chicago project would be the first step in what Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin said will be a big move into U.S. real estate. "Investing in Chicago property is just Wanda's first move into the U.S. real estate market," Jianlin said in a statement, "Within a year, Wanda will invest in more five-star hotel projects in major U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. By 2020, Wanda will have Wanda branded five-star hotels in 12–15 major world cities and build an internationally influential Chinese luxury hotel brand." We’ll update this post as more information becomes available.
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Frank Lloyd Wright’s first independent commission, the William Winslow House, is on the market. For $2.4 million, you can net this 5,000-square-foot home in River Forest, Illinois—a critical link in the development of Prairie Style, where Wright's horizontality and dynamic interior spaces began to take shape. The home at 515 Auvergne Place is made of roman brick, white stone and plaster, and features the architect's signature deep overhangs and stout, planar forms. A wide foyer, fireplace and built-in benches in the dining room are among its signature interior elements. Fans of the prairie style progenitor took note in October when the realtors announced their intention to sell the historic building. The family of the home's fifth and longest owners, Bill and June Walker, decided to sell shortly after June Walker died in April. Bill Walker died in 1994. It’s the first time the property has been listed since 1955. It has not been available to the public since it was included in a 1979 home walk. The William Winslow House sports Wright’s distinctive horizontal plan, but ornamented masonry and several large arches are among the elements that bear the influence of Wright’s predecessors, like Louis Sullivan. Its symmetrical approach is also somewhat atypical of the work Wright came to be known for. Winslow, publisher of House Beautiful, was Wright's first client when the architect began his own practice at age 26 in 1893. The home was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
The housing problem in Hong Kong is critical. Studies estimate that the city of seven million will have to house another 600,000 people over the course of the next 30 years. With rapidly increasing urbanization rates, leading Chinese metropolises are speculating on fast and intelligent ways to manage population growth by creating additional housing within their existing borders. While some cities are growing taller and others are mulling developing rare and cherished park space, Hong Kong is taking a different approach. Officials and engineers have thought about something else: developing an extensive underground city. The plan calls for building a cross-harbor pedestrian corridor equipped with residences, shops, retail outlets, sports, and entertainment facilities located under Victoria Harbor. As the government is searching for any and all options that could create space for housing, it has already identified fifteen urban areas that could be used for underground development by the end of 2015. In their 2009-2010 Policy Agenda, the city’s Development Bureau released a new initiative to launch strategic plans to develop Hong Kong’s underground space in a sustainable way. The study, entitled Enhanced Use of Underground Space in Hong Kong, explores different techniques that would employ the city’s underground territory for additional housing and long term demographic and economic enhancement. Despite the ambitious nature of the plan, there remains many drawbacks and obstacles preventing its implementation. Experts argue that the development of Hong Kong's underground would be extremely costly, and much more so than surface projects as the costs of construction would be higher. Moreover, the laying out of such plans is extremely lengthy, and the need for housing in the city is pressing. Therefore, potentials of underground space development might not be the immediate answer to an urgent problem. Still, others continue to push for bulldozing green space in favor of more development. Gordon Wu, chairman developer of Hopewell Holdings Ltd and Vice President of the Real East Developer’s Association, labels people’s attachment to city-parks as “stupid” and not something that Hong Kong should pride itself on. In line with Wu's statement, many city officials find parks to be extremely problematic as over 230,000 residents are on a waiting list for public housing. Another option being explored would be to take over the sea and to create man-made islands which would be in close proximity to the city's center and financial district. The Development Bureau estimates a need to extend the city's built environment by up to ten square miles in order to accommodate residential, commercial, and industrial facilities. This proposal remains opposed by residents who argue that such construction would have a negative impact on the value of water-front apartments, and would hinder the view of the city's famous and breathe-taking panorama. Environmental activists also object to the proposal as they are concerned with the safety and well being of dolphins and other marine animals.
After nearly five years at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, Seth Pinsky (pictured) is leaving public life for a position at RXR Realty. As president of the EDC, Pinsky ushered in a number of major real estate deals including Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and the Cornell Tech Campus. He also was charged with the task of heading up the Special Initiative on Resiliency and Rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, which gave birth to “A Stronger, More Resilient New York." Mayor Bloomberg has nominated Kyle E. Kimball, currently the executive director of NYCEDC, to take on the role of President. (Photo: Courtesy NYC EDC)
Dan Gilbert, Quicken Loans founder and perennial champion of Detroit’s downtown real estate market, recently added two skyscrapers to his collection. The two towers are on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. He acquired the 1916 Albert Kahn-designed Vinton Building (left) in December and scooper up the 1001 Woodward tower (right), built in 1965, this month. For more insight on the company’s real estate enterprise, which now totals 2.8 million square feet of commercial and residential space in Detroit, read our Q&A with Gilbert's real estate partner Jim Ketai here.
The story goes like this: In 1949 an engineer named A.K. Chahroudi commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design a home on Petra Island in Lake Mahopac, New York, which Chahroudi owned. But the $50,000 price tag on the 5,000 square foot house was more than Chahroudi could afford, so Wright designed him a smaller, more affordable cottage elsewhere on the island. Fast forward to 1996 when Joseph Massaro, a sheet metal contractor, bought the island for $700,000, a sale that also included Wright's original yet unfinished plans. Though he says he only intended to spruce up the existing cottage and not build anything new, one can hardly fault Massaro for wanting to follow through on a home Wright once said would eclipse Falling Water. In 2000 Massaro sold his business and hired Thomas A. Heinz, an architect and Wright historian, to complete and update the design, a move that incensed the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, who promptly sued him, stating he couldn't claim the house was a true Wright, but was only "inspired" by him. Massaro was able to complete the house in 2004, fending off lawsuits by stating his intent not to sell. Now, however, he's ruffled the Wright Foundation's feathers once again by putting the house on the market for $19.9 million, 11-acre island included. Even though the house is not recognized by the Foundation, that hasn't stopped Massaro from listing it as a true Wright. In a statement to the Los Angeles Times he said, “You hear these purists that talk about how no unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright house should ever be built because Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t here anymore. And then you take a look at this masterpiece of his—I’m sure Frank would rather have it built than not built at all." That may be true, but those purists are an outspoken bunch, citing four details in Massaro's house that Wright would never have approved of had he been alive to see its construction. First, the decorative "rubblestone," a Wright trademark, is not flush in Massaro's home, but protrude from the wall—a major Wright no-no. Second, the home's 26 skylights are domed, not flat, a choice Massaro apparently made citing flat skylights' propensity to leak (sealants, anyone?). Third, an exterior stairway that appears in several of Wright's original drawings was nixed by Massaro, as it would have landed in three feet of water due to the island's changed coastline. Lastly, Wrightians claim that the copper fascia are too shallow, a seemingly petty point of contention, but as Wright house owner Rich Herber pointed out, "It's the small details we'll never know about." To be fair, Massaro seems to have tried to stay as true to Wright's original intentions as possible. When the late Walter Cronkite, who knew Wright personally, visited the property he said, "I feel Frank in this house." Whether or not it's technically authentic and officially condoned by the Foundation, or the result of a Wright/Heinz collaboration, the world is probably a better and more beautiful place for the existence of the Massaro House, which interested buyers can arrange to visit to through Ahahlife.com. All images courtesy Ahahlife.
Earlier in the week Crain’s reported that the Merchandise Mart, Chicago's iconic Art Deco design center and the home of the country’s largest design trade show, is up for sale. Vornado, the New York–based real estate company that bought the Mart’s parent company from the Kennedy family in 1998, is reportedly seeking more than $1 billion for 8.9 million square feet held by Merchandise Mart Properties (MMPI). Yesterday, MMPI released a statement disputing elements of the Crain’s story, particularly recent profitability figures. According to MMPI, their properties are 92% occupied, a rate far higher than the 84% occupancy for the rest of the Chicago central business district. The statement implies, thought it does not categorically state, that the Mart is not on the block. Here's the full release.
Allusions and rumors regarding MMPI being offered for sale are erroneous and therefore unhelpful to those involved with our business and to the ongoing, successful relationships which have defined our decades-long history in Chicago and throughout our properties. Specifically, the quote from Chris Kennedy-- “Vornado’s management will look at yield above everything else, and if they can reinvest a higher yield, they will. Always.”--should not be taken as an indication that MMPI or The Mart is “up for sale.” That same statement could and should apply to any entity owned by a publicly traded company. Any asset should be sold at the right price where capital can be redeployed at a higher yield. In MMPI’s case, however, there is no book prepared, no retained counsel, no investment banker, no broker, no process being pursued – all things that would indicate a property described as being “up for sale.” While the characterization of our financial performance in the article is certainly helpful to generate interest in a story, the data presented is far from complete and is not helpful in establishing a fair mood in the market. The article referenced that profitability for MMPI decreased, but that reference was not based on the most recently reported period. MMPI has reported consistent profitability. Operating income and EBITDA in the most recent quarter is higher than all but one of the past 8 quarters. The one quarter that experienced higher operating income and EBITDA was in Q4 2008 when we benefited from a one-time event related to the reversal of a prior period over accrual. For the most recent quarter reported June 30, MMPI profitability, or EBITDA, increased by nearly $1 million versus the same quarter last year. Looking at the last 12 months through June 30, our EBITDA increased more than $2 million compared to the same period last year. As to our ability to retain tenants amid the recession, our property-wide occupancy rate is nearly 92% as of June 30, about the same as a year ago and well above the average of about 84% for the Chicago central business district, according to CoStar. We outperform the real estate occupancy rates for any of the relevant sub-markets in which we operate. Looking forward, we will benefit from the exceptional leasing activity we achieved in 2010, generating leasing velocity of 1.1 million square feet from new and renewing tenants in the first half of the year. In the 12 months ended June 30, we leased more than 2 million square feet, a 39% increase from the average over the past 3 years. Even in one of the most uncertain economic climates of our time, MMPI is strong, and our commitment to our customers, tenants and patrons remains unwavering. We enjoy great leasing velocity and retention rates, a best-in-class management team, an iconic brand in the marketplace, a supportive parent company and a dynamic, entrepreneurial staff committed to the success of our business and our customers.
Philip Johnson's first commissioned work, a house for the Booth family built in 1946, can now be yours for the forgiving price of $2 million. It's not exactly Johnson's first building ever—that distinction goes to his Harvard thesis project, completed two years prior—nor is it exactly his best—according to one first hand report, it's basically a Glass House with cinder block walls. Still, that's about par in price for the area according to Coldwell Banker, and how many other of those homes can boast such history? Just so long as it's not bought for the land and torn down like so many other modernist homes north of the city that have been lost in recent years.
Is it really possible to make your house too green? California may not think so, but a Harlem brownstone is finding that to be the case. Last week, Curbed spotted 151 West 122nd Street, which the realtors declare to be the "greenest house in Manhattan." While there are a few others that might argue for that throne, this one holds the title by apparently being the first standalone townhouse in the borough to achieve a LEED rating, Silver to be exact, courtesy a Better Homes and Gardens makeover. But all that green cred is not translating into green credit, as the building's price has fallen from $4.05 million some 17 months ago to $2.79 million. At least one critic, gadabout blogger Harlem Bespoke, has complained that the problem is the project has forgone its charm for slick environmentalism—there's no brownstone left in this brownstone!. Could this be the case, as ArchNewsNow turned up more green backlash today? Or is it simply the fact that no one is willing to spend this kind of money, no matter how nice a house, in Harlem?
According to Crain's Chicago Business, major construction unions will not be loaning funds to restart the Chicago Spire, as many had speculated. The union pension funds are feeling cautious, much like other lenders, so the Spire, which was always an ambitious project, remains a high risk bet. Who will the developers turn to next?
First reported in the Chicago Tribune, and today in the Wall Street Journal, officials at a group of union pension funds are vetting a plan to lend $170 million to restart construction on the stalled Chicago Spire. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the 150 story residential tower would be the tallest building in the US. The Journal piece points out that with a drastic drop off in condo construction downtown predicted for 2010 and 2011, the completion of the Spire could actually come at a time when there is pent up demand for housing. Blair Kamin previously pointed out that unions have made similar loans in previous downturns, notably providing loans for the construction of Marina City. According to the Journal, Chicago's failure to win the 2016 Olympics may have been the key to giving the Spire new life. The pensions had previously been looking to lend funds for the construction of the planned Olympic Village.
The mood was decidedly anti-Wall Street among the crowd who gathered on April 28 for the final lecture in Access Restricted, a series sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council exploring the relationship between finance and city design. We were packed into one of the Street’s oldest strongholds: 48 Wall St., the site where Alexander Hamilton established the country’s first bank in 1789, though the current building dates from 1928. As the sun set, we were told we would be taken up to the cupola for a rare view of “twilight on Wall Street,” prompting one audience member to call out, “Is that metaphorical?” to widespread titters. Delivering the culminating lecture was Tom Angotti, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College and author of the recent book New York for Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate. He opened with harsh words for the financial sector bonuses that inflate New York’s real estate market, not only because of the macroeconomic instability that creates, he said, but also because it drives poorer residents out of their neighborhoods. The result is a city divided by race and class, and what he jokingly referred to as the real three principles of real estate: “Dislocation, dislocation, dislocation.” Angotti was only slightly easier on the city government, whom he indicted for their passive approach to planning. “The city planning department doesn’t believe in planning. Right now, as far as I can tell, they believe in zoning,” he said. “But zoning is mostly a reactive tool. It reacts to development.” Communities themselves have tried to fill that void There have been over 70 plans submitted by New York City communities, and they tend to come from neighborhoods with two features, a strong real estate market and a large poor and minority population. Despite the stereotype of community members as knee-jerk NIMBYs, the plans don’t all follow the narrative of Community vs. High-Rises. One of the most well-planned proposals, according to Angotti, was drafted by residents of the “blighted” South Bronx in 1993 when the city announced its intention to fill their neighborhood with plots for one- and two-family homes. Apartment buildings were more familiar and in character with the neighborhood, the community argued. But out of those 70-plus community plans, only 10 have successfully emerged from the wringer of the community boards, borough president, City Planning Commission, and City Council. And even making it through that lengthy process of approvals is far from a victory, Angotti said. The city council frequently ignores or even undermines the community plans that they officially approve. “I think there’s a lawsuit in the works,” he warned.