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Tenants Leaving Northwest Tower in Wicker Park, Future May Be As Hotel

By Alisa Hauser | March 8, 2013 11:55am

WICKER PARK —  If the neighborhood's tallest and most iconic building were a Chicago Public School, by the end of March the 12-story Northwest Tower would be considered "underutilized."

With the departure of two tenants in March, three of the 12 floors of the vintage art deco skyscraper — known by some as the Coyote Building — built in 1929 at the northwest corner of Milwaukee-Damen-North avenues will be empty. Three other floors are partially full.

According to Crain's Chicago Business, investors purchased the tower for $12.5 million in November, and the debt note was taken over by a partnership between investor Don Wilson and Adventurous Journey Capital Partners (AJ Capital).

AJ Capital is a prolific hotel developer which transformed a former Days Inn at 1816 N. Clark St. in Lincoln Park into the Lincoln Hotel.

Wilson and AJ Capital declined to comment on future plans for the building. But AJ Capital's previous hotel work has some wondering if Northwest Tower might end up that way, too.

A black tarp and long-present scaffolding is adding to the speculation.

Property manager Susan Dinko said that the construction is related to routine repairs, which the city "requires of buildings of a certain height."

One current business tenant said he thinks the building would work as a hotel or condos given the appeal of the neighborhood.

Ryan Evans, who recently renewed space for his Bitesize PR and Lift Marketing, said "the views are incredible, the location is great" and he loves walking to work from his Ukrainian Village home.

While clearly a big fan of the art deco building, he said, "condos or a hotel would make so much more money."

"There's so much raw value this real estate has. It's an economic reality that a hotel developer has purchased a [debt] note and they have a track record of doing hotels."

DevMynd, which develops software and applications for clients such as Groupon, Trunk Club and Sleek Style, will be moving from the tower Saturday and leaving the sixth floor empty, said co-founder JC Grubbs, 33.

The fast-growing team of developers added new employees in the past couple of years and will have about triple their current office size in new quarters at 2035 W. Wabansia Ave., in the former Pitchfork headquarters.

Grubbs, who lives in Wicker Park, said that he originally choose to rent space in the tower at 1608 N. Milwaukee Ave. because it was "the right price, right location and it has a lot of character" and fit his start-up company's budget.

But access to a large open room to host training events in the building was not possible and "nothing made sense for our next steps," said Grubbs.

Calling the hand-operated elevator "quaint" and a conversation starter for visiting clients, Grubbs said that his favorite part of working in the tower is the views, which he will miss.

"It could make a lot of money if someone could put money into it and renovated it," Grubbs said.

In addition to DevMynd, by the end of the month, another floor and-a-half will be vacant with the departure of a software company that's rented a space in the building for more than 10 years.

Long in Ald. Scott Waguespack's 32nd Ward,  with the new ward boundaries the Northwest Tower falls in Ald. Bob Fioretti's 2nd Ward.

While Fioretti was unable to be reached for comment, Paul Sajovec. chief of staff for Waguespack, said that no one has contacted him from AJ Capital and he has not seen any new special use permit applications for the building, which would be required since the prior special use permit has expired.

"Nothing has changed. We still think [a boutique hotel] is a good adaptive use of the building," he said.