WATERVIEW TOWER – 111 W. Wacker Might be Apartments?

Photo by Stephen J. Serio - Crain's Chicago Business

All those who know downtown Chicago know the above building. The site that was once to be a 90 story luxury tower comprised of luxurious residents and the ever so sought after Shangri-la Hotel has been left only partially started. It has been an eyesore in the downtown landscape for more than 2 years. Several attempts to convert the building to a hotel and office space have failed and there is a new developer that is trying to step up to the plate to see if they can turn their plan for the building into Reality.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Related Midwest has signed a LOI (Letter of Intent) to enter into a joint venture agreement with the current owners of the property (the original developer’s creditors). Related has a plan for the 111 W. Wacker site that is now “all the rage.” Related would like to turn this site into apartments. The location is fantastic for such a building that it would appear to be a no brainer right? What is holding them back?

Two basic items: Financing and Construction. Converting any existing structure away from its original use can be very expensive. Related may look at the costs to convert this half started structure to apartments and simply walk away. Only research will tell. Secondly, financing can be a concern. While financing has opened up in the past 18 months, and especially so for apartment developers, it is still difficult to come by. Related, however, has an excellent track record and should have no problem obtaining financing. But, we have all heard that before.

What is shocking to me, are the amount of developers moving into apartments. Do you remember the boom times when every developer started building condos? Thousands were coming on-line…well we are seeing something similar here. Crain’s reports that three apartment buildings in the greater downtown area are currently under construction with another 11 in the planning stages. If all 14 projects are able to obtain financing and come to fruition, these buildings would mean that more than 5100 new apartments will hit the market. That is a relatively large number I think. I wonder if the current demand will be sustainable in order to absorb the massive influx of supply.

Since the beginning of 2009 more than 4000 units have alrady hit the market and demand has still outpaced supply. However, what is the tipping point and when will it tip? The big money doesn’t appear to see any end in site. 1 W. Superior place just sold for $320 Million, which equates to $396,000 per unit. The property was last sold in 2007 for $218 Million. Not a bad return in only 4 years huh?

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