Gary Deutsch wanted to live in a neighborhood with the cosmopolitan flair and pulsating pace that his digs in
lacked. He found that in River North, a once-derelict district being transformed by new development into one of the city's most vibrant places to live and work.
"River North has the urban beat," said Deutsch, 55. "Suburban San Diego has a dead beat." This fall, he will move into a new 2,500-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath condominium at 110 W. Superior St., within walking distance of his furniture store, Ligneroset, at 208 W. Hubbard St.
His new $1.5 million condo "is convenient to good restaurants, bars, galleries and
," he said.
Deutsch has joined about 25,000 new residents occupying some of the 10,000 new housing units built in the neighborhood since 2000. Along with them have come offices,
, eateries, clubs, art galleries and shops. The central location makes whatever isn't there an easy walk or cab ride away. Meanwhile, the Chicago River that borders it on two sides offers a respite from the frantic city pace.
When Brian Hudok opened Cambium Furniture on Hubbard Street 12 years ago, the area left a lot to be desired. "After 9 p.m., Hubbard Street was sketchy with dirty-book stores, prostitutes and a busy drug trade," he said.
"The new residents and restaurants have driven away much of that element," said Hudok, 43, who bought a live-in loft near his shop in 2002. "Now, River North is more of a neighborhood but still gritty."
Like much of downtown Chicago,
was rebuilt after the
. It quickly filled with municipal buildings, worker housing, warehouses and shipping facilities to serve the Port of Chicago.
But from the 1920s through 1960s, the port relocated, the economy staggered and the neighborhood that is part of the Near North lost its industrial purpose. "It became a sleazy red light district," said Benet Haller, urban design and planning director for the City of Chicago.
The first stirrings of change came in 1964 when the two Marina City condominium towers opened at 300 N. State St. on the river. But rebirth was still years away.
In 1974, Albert Friedman, chief executive of Friedman Properties Ltd., started to buy, restore and build commercial property in the southeast sector.
"I couldn't find tenants," he recalled. "It was skid row."
Within a few years, he found photographers, ad agencies and art galleries willing to rent the low cost space and coalesce into a Gallery District.
To give "skid row" a new identity, Friedman started to call it River North.
While the boundaries are still informal, the city considers them to be the Chicago River on the south and west, Michigan Avenue on the east and Chicago Avenue on the north.
In 1980, when the East Bank Club opened at 500 N. Kingsbury St. along the river, the pricey health club encouraged professionals to stay in River North after work.
Yet even in 1987, when
, chef/owner of
, opened his restaurant at 445 N. Clark St, "River North was super raunchy," he recalled. "We had to move the people sleeping in the entrance so we could open the doors for customers."
Nevertheless, Bayless' business flourished as did many other fine restaurants. "River North became a gourmet ghetto," he said.
Growth takes off
In the 1990s, continued commercial growth encouraged housing development. During the decade, more than 2,500 condominium and rental units were built, from industrial conversions in the central and western sections to the construction of high rises in the east.
But since 2000, residential growth has exploded. Nearly 9,000 units, mostly condominiums, have been built or will be completed this year, according to Appraisal Research Counselors, a housing consultancy.
Meanwhile, new hotels are appearing on the southeast side of the neighborhood, such as the Springhill Suites and Residence Inn, which opened in March, and the Dana Hotel & Spa, which opened in June.
Also, two top tier office buildings are under construction. One at 353 N. Clark St, is being developed by Mesirow Financial Real Estate Inc. and Friedman, who now owns or has invested in 4 million square feet of River North offices, eight hotels and 36 restaurants.
Houston-based Hines Interests LP is building the $400 million tower at 300 N. La Salle St. "Tenants are attracted to the views, the river and the mixed-use neighborhood with hotels, restaurants and easy transportation access," said Greg Van Schaack, the Hines senior vice president directing the project.
Much of the new glass and steel mid- and high-rise housing is interspersed with River North's old low-rise red brick commercial structures.
New condominium buildings are tallest and most costly in the east, also dubbed the Cathedral District by developers.
The residences at Trump International Hotel & Tower, at 401 N. Wabash St. due for completion later this year, top the list with an average sale price of $1097 per square foot.
Prices come down in the central and western sections to a low of $395 a square foot, Appraisal Research said.
Although new housing sales fell last year by about 50 percent, prices have held steady.
Meanwhile, the prices of new and existing homes sold through the Multiple Listing Service rose about 10 percent since 2006, said Jim Kinney, president of Rubloff Residential Properties.
Cody Harper, 29, a
graduate student, bought a two-bedroom, two-bath condominium at Two River Place for $417,000.
"I knew it would be a good location because more restaurants were opening and Cabrini Green was going away," he said of the once crime-ridden public housing project being rebuilt as mixed-income housing.
In the past several years, parts of Cabrini Green have been redeveloped.
Last fall, some residents started to move into one of the larger parcels being developed with public and private funds, the $250 million Parkside at
with its 391 new rental apartments, townhouses and condominiums.
Also appealing, said Harper, in River North "you aren't at the mercy of the
." Much is within walking distance, and there's an entrance onto Interstate 90/94 on Ohio Street.
On Friday evenings, the scores of galleries clustered just east of Orleans Street and south of Chicago Avenue and the
often host exhibits and opening receptions.
A few years ago, the riverwalk was extended from
to just south of Division streets to become the longest stretch downtown, said Haller, the city planning director.
"This is why I moved here from Lincoln Park," said Heather Williams, 27, as she lounged in Erie Park on a recent sunny day. The lobbyist for Farmers Insurance Co. who rented a neighborhood apartment added, "River North is happening, and it's not just people right out of college. It's a mix of young professionals and families."