CRAIN’S – Evanston poised for another apartment development wave
By: Alby Gallun, Crain’s
A Wilmette real estate investor plans to convert a shuttered assisted-living facility in downtown Evanston into about 90 apartments, joining a herd of developers pushing multifamily projects in the north suburb.
A venture led by Cameel Halim has acquired a big parcel including the King Home, at 1555 Oak Ave., which closed recently. The building is directly across the street from the Halim Time & Glass Museum, a clock and stained-glass museum owned by the Halim family.
At 2.1 acres, much of it used for parking, the property has high development potential in a suburb that’s added several new apartment buildings in recent years, with many more on the drawing board.
Including Halim’s project, six big multifamily projects totaling more than 1,100 units are in the works in downtown Evanston. The proposals include what could be the tallest building in the city, a 37-story tower with 152 apartments and 153 hotel rooms on the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue.
Halim has more modest plans for the King Home property, which covers more than half of a city block. Initially, he said he wants to convert the six-story building into 80 to 90 apartments, leaving the parking in place. He said he wanted the extra parking to accommodate visitors to his museum.
“Later, we or somebody else could develop the land,” said Halim, whose firm, Wilmette Real Estate & Management, owns about 4,000 apartments in the Chicago area.
With city approval, a developer could theoretically build as many as 615 apartments on the property, according to a marketing brochure from Monarch Realty Partners, the Chicago-based brokerage that sold the property. But a project of that size could face some stiff resistance from Evanston residents and city officials, who have already spoken out against some of the other proposed apartment developments.
The Halim venture bought the property from Westminster Place, a nonprofit senior housing provider, for about $20 million, according to a person familiar with the transaction. Asked about the $20 million price, Halim said he paid “something like that.”
Bill Baumann, principal and managing broker at Monarch, brokered the sale for Westminster.
Amid high occupancies and rising rents, multifamily developers have been busy throughout the Chicago area over the past several years. With its proximity to Chicago, good transit links and bustling downtown, Evanston has been a hot spot. Fancy new buildings like E2 charge rents that rival the high-priced towers that have popped up all over downtown Chicago.
Now, more developers are joining the party in Evanston. Chicago-based Centrum Partners is wrapping up a 101-unit development at 1571 Maple Ave., about two blocks from the King Home site. Proposed projects include a 16-story, 286-unit tower at 1450-1508 Sherman Ave., also a couple blocks from King Home, and a 27-story high-rise at 601 Davis St. with 217 units.
Developers still must receive the city’s blessing for all the projects before breaking ground. That includes Halim, who is at the very beginning of that process.
“We’re working on the plans,” he said, stressing the importance of maintaining enough parking for the neighborhood. “We’ll work with everybody, and work to make it for everyone.”
Though the Evanston apartment market is “really strong,” it may not be strong enough to support an additional 1,100 units, at least not all at once, said Ron DeVries, senior managing director at Integra Realty Resources Chicago, an appraisal and consulting firm.
“That’s a lot of units,” he said. “I expect that some of those deals won’t get financed, but some will happen.”
Halim, who owns about 300 units in Evanston, isn’t worried about overbuilding, saying that the King Home project won’t compete with the new luxury buildings in Evanston.
“We’ll be different,” he said. “Our rent will be much lower than new construction.”
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