Developers move forward on constructing new Evanston rental building

Audrey Cheng

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) were among the 20 people who attended a rental building’s groundbreaking celebration Thursday. Focus Development, contractor and developer for the 1720 Oak Ave. building, plans to create 175 new rental units, according to Tim Anderson, Focus Development president and CEO. In a five-minute speech Thursday, Anderson boasted “high-end finishes, 9-foot ceilings, custom wood cabinets, a pool, cyber cafe and an in-house movie theater” to create “high-quality, rental living.” The developer will also rent out nine lower-priced units in compliance with Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2, a federal program established to aid communities with a significant number of foreclosed homes. In addition to providing low-income housing, the new rental building will also include “ultra-eco” attributes. Richard Aaronson, president of Atlantic Realty Partners, said the new structure will be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver-rated, multi-unit rental building on the North Shore. LEED rates buildings on how “green” they are based on structure and design. The groundbreaking occurred several years after the property was originally scheduled to be developed because construction was delayed at the onset of the recession. Dennis Marino, the city assistant director for planning and zoning, said he is satisfied to see the project ultimately come together because the city had to overcome several obstacles to decide on a final plan. “It was a difficult site to deal with for more than five years,” Marino said. “It was vacant. We’re fortunate that the bank … and Focus Development were able to come to terms working with the city.” The site was approved several years ago for the construction of four buildings, Marino said. The developer halted construction after the creation of the first two buildings, Sienna Court Condominiums, because the recession limited its financial ability to complete work, and the remaining lot went into foreclosure. Anderson said starting the project in the current economic environment was not an easy task, but Focus Development was fortunate that its partner, Atlantic Realty Partners, had investors who were interested in the building. “There’s very little vacancy in Evanston,” Anderson said. “It’s a tight market, and (Atlantic Realty) is looking for opportunities for good investments.” Anderson said he is excited Focus Development could finally start building. “The downtown is a really great resource and opportunity,” Anderson said. “It was great to be in a position where something needed to be fixed and we could help fix it.” The groundbreaking celebration took place two weeks before the last landlord licensing committee meeting on May 17. The landlord licensing committee is currently deliberating on allowing the city to inspect properties for building and safety code violations. Tisdahl said there is “not much of a relationship between this project and the licensing committee.” “The licensing committee is not in any way perceived as a problem or else these apartments wouldn’t be going up,” she said. “I always said we need more rental properties in Evanston.” Tisdahl added that the ordinance to license the city’s rental units is not complicated. “There’s only so much discussion you can have of it,” Tisdahl said. “As I have said for a long time, we’re going to get through landlord licensing and then we will engage in a discussion of the three-unrelated law. I would like to come to a resolution that would work for everyone with this three-person rule. I think we can do better than the current rule.” James Hardy, property manager of Sienna Court Condominiums, said none of the property managers he knows have encountered problems with the three-person rule. Hardy added that though Sienna Court Condominiums are situated across from the new building complex, he does not expect competition. “Mine is a condominium building and these are all going to be rentals,” Hardy said. “We see it as a very beneficial development because it’s a lot better than having a hole in the ground. It’ll be a beautiful building and it will add to the neighborhood.” Justin Pelej, Focus Development director of development, said the company will not start leasing until winter or spring of next year when the buidling is nearly completed. He added that he hopes many NU graduate students will be interested in the building, which falls in Braithwaite’s ward. The alderman said although this might be the first time he has to deal with NU students, he is “absolutely not” worried. “I look forward to it,” Braithwaite said. “I think based on what the cost will be, it will be interesting to see if that will attract Northwestern students.” [email protected]