In a signature victory for preservationists and independent 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly, both Crain's Chicago Business and the Sun-Times David Roeder are reporting that Northwestern University has struck a deal for Integrated Development Group LLC to acquire the former Lake Shore Athletic Club, a 1927 work of architect Jarvis Hunt.
Back in April, the University had filed for a permit to demolish the building, in order to sell the cleared site, for a reported $40 million, to Fifield Companies, for the construction of a Lucien Lagrange highrise. The proposal drew the opposition of local community groups SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) and the Lake Shore Preservation Group. The Athletic Club had been named by Preservation Illinois to its 2007 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places list. Grass-roots group Preservation Chicago made saving the building the focal point of several initiatives, including a June 3rd rally, attended by the newly elected Reilly, where many participants dressed in athletic gear.
That same month, Fifield SVP Alan Schachtman, seeing a threat to developers' accustomed unchallenged status in the city, sent a letter to his compatriots urging them to pressure Reilly not to get in Fifield's way, because it would guarantee the property "will not be redeveloped due to the economic unfeasibility to do so . . . the building would remain empty and unused." Reilly was unmoved, and in July announced his opposition to the demolition.
Preservation Chicago's Michael Moran relates how the group helped turn back another pro-demolition lobbying effort. "After Northwestern sent out an ill-conceived postage-paid postcard directed to Alderman Reilly, we encouraged residents to send this postcard to Alderman Reilly but with a twist. We encouraged residents to scratch out that they supported Northwestern's plan and to write in that they OPPOSED Northwestern's plan. Northwestern unwittingly paid the postage for these anti-demolition postcards!"
Integrated Development Group was formed only last year, and the Lake Shore Athletic Club would appear to be its first major project. With a projected $80 million cost for renovating the property into 150 residences for seniors, plus a purchase price that may not be much less than the $40 mil Fifield was offering, a lot of money would appear to be at stake for such a new company. However, company president Matthew Phillips is a former executive at Hyatt Classic Residences, the lodging behemoth's senior housing arm, so it could happen. David Roeder reports Integrated is expected to close on the property by the end of next January.
Reilly told Crain's that "we have found a way to preserve almost all of the exterior and much of the interior, historic components of the building." Exactly how that will play out is still to be determined. The Lake Shore Athletic Club is not a city landmark, and enjoys none of the protections of designation.
"We are hopeful," said Preservation Chicago's Moran, "that the new proposal will include preservation of as much of the interior spaces as is possible. The beautiful staircases and dining rooms, the elegant lobby, and the great original woodwork are all important. The reuse of the building as a senior residences seems like a great option for this property."
Booth Hansen has been named architects for the renovation.