Have you noticed the signs around the construction site at 805 North LaSalle Street? They’re not so much signs as giant ransom notes spelling out “Location” like a 1980’s art director who’s just fired up MacWrite for the first time.
San Francisco font aside, what developer Smithfield Properties is trying to accomplish here is a great idea. It calls the concept “affordable luxury.” We call it common sense.
You see, River North, the Gold Coast, the Near North Side, and Streeterville are so crammed full of apartments with hyper-inflated prices dictated by something other than reality that it’s getting very very hard for someone on a middle class wage to live there anymore. I saw rent for one apartment jump from $1,750/month to $2,410 in The Loop. And another building down the street raised a friend’s rent from $1,795/month to $2,100. For a studio. A small studio. With a view of a brick wall.
Sure, not everyone is suited to living downtown. That’s what we have Albany Park and Ravenswood and North Center and London Towne for. (I bet you didn’t know there’s a Chicago neighborhood called “London Towne.”) But here’s the problem: If you have all those upper-class people living downtown, who’s going to froth their lattes? Who’s going to man their doors? Who’s going to staff their boutiques? And who’s going to raise their children while they’re at sweatbox yoga? Even at union wages, it doesn’t pay to drag one’s butt all the way in to River North from Golden Gate (another Chicago neighborhood you’ve probably never heard of) five days a week.
So that’s why developer Bill Smith of Smithfield has pledged to keep rents at this new 34-story tower—designed by Berkelhamer Architects out of Palo Alto, California—reasonable. How is he going to do that? First, by going easy on parking, and using those floors to cram in more apartments. Second, the whole building will be almost entirely studios and convertibles.
It’s a trade off, but Smith sees a huge untapped market for… ordinary people. Regular folks who just want to lead normal lives and not spend 30 hours a week commuting. According to his research, in order for Joe Lunchbucket and Susie Cardigan to afford a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Chicago, they’d need an average combined income of $90,000. The actual average family income in Chicago is $47,408 according to the Census Bureau.
On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out, he can just knock down some walls and go condo.