Just in time for apartment-hunting weather, another shiny new Chicago apartment tower is now open for business.
K2 (365 North Halsted Street) is the final piece of the K Station development in the city’s Fulton River District. It offers 496 apartments in a 34-story skyscraper connected to both North Halsted Street, and to the new Jewel supermarket on North DesPlaines Street.
The building is designed for the new set of urban residents. We’ve heard from a number of developers working in Chicago that a wave of 20- and 30-something professionals is expected to arrive in the city in the near future once the economy recovers.
It’s one of the demographics that K Station developer Randy Fifield has been catering since the first building went up in 2006. She thinks this new building, and the rest of K Station, fits the new real estate reality that has developed since the onset of the recession in 2008.
“We take the shame out of apartment living,” she says. “We built Left Bank, then put Echelon up. Alta was the fastest-leasing apartment building, because we presented her in the recession. People couldn’t afford to hold on to their houses, and a lot of people moved back to the city. What that allowed us to do is to show our lenders that we’re leasing so quickly that they need to have confidence in us in order to let us finish K Station.”
Now the mega-project is completed, just as a lot of developers are predicting a bright future for apartment living in downtown Chicago.
“I think America has been trained to think ‘Own own own.’ We came here ten years ago and people said, ‘Nobody’s going to come to your building. It’s a BUYER’s market.’ And I said, ‘They’re coming.’ Why? Because people pay a million dollars for a townhouse in this neighborhood — and it’s not [fully] developed, and they pay $500,000 for a condo.
“But their friends can’t afford those things. They don’t have the the money. They might not have the right job at this time. So we’re going to build apartments with all the amenities, and they’re going to come to my apartments, and they’re going to be able to live right next door to their friends. And so they came.”
In addition to people who are downsizing, there is an entire new generation of professionals and entrepreneurs coming of age who have never been exposed to the stereotypical American real estate dream. For them, apartment living isn’t just a nice alternative — it’s the norm.
Mrs. Fifield says, “You have privacy here, even though you’re sharing. Today’s people — Millennials, or Gen-X, or Gen-Y — they think of themselves as communal people. They like the fact that they have all these areas. We have places to sit. We have a lobby where they talk. We have a boardroom. If you’re a consultant living in this building and you have to make a presentation, we can give you the space. [The clients] don’t have to go to your home. And we supply 12 computers that they can print from, collate, and they leave. They know that you live here, but they don’t know whether you have an office in your apartment, or if you live in a studio. It doesn’t really matter.”
Fifield contends that services are essential in a modern apartment building, and a big selling point for busy professionals who choose to live downtown.
“So we designed this building kind of like a hotel. When you come in there’s 18-foot ceilings, and marble floors.” As she points out the building’s massage room she notes, “Today’s people live in smaller units. So you might not feel comfortable having your massage therapist or your trainer up in your apartment, so your trainer can come here free of charge, and you can do all of your training here. We provide a gym. We provide a pool. We have a bike kitchen in the building so you can repair your bikes. You have to know how to repair your own bike, but we sell you the tire patches, and you’re not out in the cold or in the street, or storing your bike in your apartment.”
The era of “no pets allowed” seems to be coming to a close in Chicago, and developers like Mrs. Fifield are adjusting with the times.
“We have a half-acre dog park, and dog walkers that come in. If you want them to let you know when Fido goes out, they’ll provide that service — notify you when he goes out. They can even take pictures. If your dog makes a friend — say Fido meets Lucy — they can organize puppy play dates and video it for you.”
K2 is also equipped with a half-court basketball court; something becoming more common in new Chicago apartment buildings. When asked why that is, she says simple, “Because [the residents] like them. And people come here as empty nesters, too, and their grandchildren love to play. And so they can play [on the basketball court], play in the pool, be in the gym. We have birthday parties where people ride their tricycles and do all sorts of fun things. And when the tricycles aren’t there, the pilates is there, or the meditation is there. So people can live, work, and play in one building.” And by “play” she may be referring to the building’s Xbox and Wii machines.
All of that activity happens in the building’s common areas. The Pappageorge/Haymes-designed building is constructed in the same fashion as almost every Chicago building these days — a tower on a podium. But because both North Halsted and North Des Plaines Street are elevate, the common area, on the roof of the podium, is actually at street level, as you enter the lobby from Halsted.
It has the affect of making the common space feel more a part of the neighborhood. It also feels far less claustrophobic than other buildings’ outdoor spaces, perhaps because there isn’t the constant notion of an “edge” surrounding you.
“We have an outside fireplace set up almost every evening, and people can just come down and bring their beers with them. And we have private cabanas just like in Las Vegas,” notes Mrs. Fifield. The cabanas have electric outlets with USB charging ports, grills, and sinks.
In the apartments, the views are grand. Floor-to-ceiling windows make a statement, even on foggy days. There are currently no bad views, and if you get a high enough floor you might even catch a glimpse of Lake Michigan behind the downtown Chicago skyline. Those views are tenuous, however. There is plenty of nearby land ripe for redevelopment. But it’s an apartment building, so if someone blocks your view and it’s that important to you, you just move.
Nine-foot ceilings add to the sense of spaciousness, as does the plank wood flooring. Mrs. Fifield explains that even the doors have a role to play.
“This is a trick I learned about 20 years ago. I put in higher doors. So you walk in and subliminally you’re overwhelmed because these are so high. But then we use regular sized doors for the closets and the bathrooms, which really don’t matter.”
Other things that matter include large bathrooms, deep bathtubs, and showers with tile all the way up to the ceiling. The homes come with washers and dryers, and the closets seem to be of a good size, though they are outfitted with the dreaded wire shelving.
If you really hate wires, you’ll love the living rooms. The maintenance staff will hang your flat screen television on the wall for you, and the walls have built-in surround sound speakers. The speakers are also hooked up to an iPod docking port so you can listen to your music. It’s a nice touch, but possibly quite useless if you don’t have the right gear. I forgot to get a look at the dock, but chances are it’s the standard iPod 30-pin port used on older iPhones. The current iPhone uses a different type of port, and if you don’t have any Apple gadgets at all you might be out of luck.
Eighty percent of the apartments in the building are studios and one-bedroom units. The remaining 20% are two- and three-bedroom units. The second bedrooms run a little small, so Mrs. Fifield encourages people to use them as offices, and have murphy beds installed for when guests visit. She demonstrated a unit that costs about $5,000 to install. It’s sleek and classy, and not anything like what we’ve come to expect from Laverne and Shirley reruns. Fifield is doing it in other cities where space is at more of a premium than Chicago. And it’s not just for beds. She’s also doing murphy-style dining tables. If you watch HGTV very much, you’ve probably noticed that the whole concept of a “dining room” is falling by the wayside.
For those who need extra space, and for whom money is less of a restriction, there are the building penthouses.
With huge balconies, the penthouses blur the line between indoor and outdoor living. Mrs. Fifield says, “The balconies are deep. You can get a couch or a grill or whatever you want out there. They’re very luxurious. The balcony on the top unit is as as big as the apartment, and then you get the fireplace and the grills for free. We even furnish [the balcony].”
Fifield recently got permission from the city to remove one of the penthouses from the building’s inventory so it can be rented out to residents or outside companies as an event space.
But from the massive penthouse balconies, you can see the competition’s cranes surrounding Fifield’s building, but she says she’s not afraid.
“AMLI has always been here. They’ve been my god for a long time. Related — We’re different because we’re family owned. I’m not ruled by somebody else. If I see a trend, or I see a way the consciousness is moving, I can make that change right here right now. I don’t have to go to New York and ask.”
A big part of that trendspotting is acknowledging that there is no longer a “typical” apartment dweller. She says, “The story is different for everybody. Some people are relocating. Some people are getting divorced.”
“We travel across the country. I’ve worked in California, I’ve worked in Florida, Washington, Las Vegas, Colorado… It used to be people would talk about urbanization kind of as a nod. Kind of as a category that they had to touch. Well, 2008 affected every single person, whether it was consciously, financially, or socially.
“Now taxes, prices, healthcare, all these things are going up… We’re paying 40% more for gas than we were. I had a man come up to me and say, ‘I’m going to give up my car and save a thousand dollars a month from my car payment, my insurance, and my parking spot, and I’m going to walk to work.’ I never had a man say that to me.
“A girl walked up to me at the store and said, ‘Mrs. Fifield, I know who you are from your pictures, and I have to thank you.’ And I said, ‘For what?’ And she said, ‘You keep girls like me safe.’ And I said, ‘Can you tell me a little bit more about what you’re thinking?’ And she said, ‘I live in your building. I lived in Lincoln Park. I never knew who I was going to come home to. I didn’t feel safe walking in my street. And [now] I come home to a concierge every night. I’m dropped off at my door. There’s always somebody there to help me if I have a problem in my unit. You keep girls like me safe.’
“I’ve developed 2,100 of these units. I never even thought about a young girl walking in Lincoln Park. I lived in Lincoln Park, and I never felt threatened there, but that’s my experience. This was somebody who came here looking for something that never even entered my mind.”
It’s a story that fits well with something she says emphatically while discussing another topic: “I’m in the people business.”
- Epic views in every direction.
- Supermarket next door.
- Close to the #8, #56, and #65 buses; plus the CTA Blue Line.
- The occasional scent of chocolate roasting at the nearby Blommer’s Chocolate factory.
- Can’t really hear the Metra trains.
- Like the rest of K Station, it’s still kind of not close enough to downtown to be an easily car-free lifestyle. If you’re dumping the car, think about two-wheeled transportation. Though the hardier urban pioneers will be OK.
- Neighborhood is still very much in transition.
- Neighborhood, like much of Chicago, lacks adequate green space.
- We could smell the diesel exhaust from the passing Metra trains.
- No doorman.
- Group utility billing.
- A tiny little shelf by the front door for you to put your keycard on when you come home. There is a power outlet just below with two USB ports for charging your phone.
- Most power outlets through the apartments have USB charging ports.
- If you can afford the penthouse, it comes with a fireplace on the balcony.