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Holiday Jones, an 'In-Person Social Network' Hotel-Hostel, to Replace SRO

By Alisa Hauser | May 2, 2013 11:31am | Updated on May 2, 2013 1:09pm

WICKER PARK — A single-room-occupancy hotel that went without a name for years in Wicker Park is giving way to a more upscale "corporate housing/hostel hybrid" that its developers liken to "a social network [but] in person."

The three-story SRO at 1659 W. Division St. will be recast as "Holiday Jones," a place to stay with a sense of community, the developers said.

That sense of community will come, in part, from the fact the building has two shared kitchens and 12 shared bathrooms for its 35 units. Only five or six of the rooms will have private bathrooms. Crain's Chicago Business reported that rents will be $70 to $150 per night, with lower rates for longer stays.

That's far higher than the $450 to $500 a month that Mike Liacopoulos was charging his SRO tenants. But the 65-year-old is ready to retire — and he worked hard to help his tenants find replacement housing before closing.

Liacopoulos said the new owners "have an excellent idea that will be good for housing all the yuppies that come here."

"I've worked six or seven days a week for 32 years. I'm ready to retire," Liacopoulos said.

Considered to be an important source of housing for the city's poor, single-room-occupancy hotels are quickly disappearing as developers snap them up in neighborhoods such as Uptown, Lakeview and now Wicker Park.

Crain's reported that Liacopoulos sold his property for $1.6 million to Robert Baum and Michael Downing, who plan to open Holiday Jones late this summer.

While some SRO operators have left their residents with only eviction notices, Liacopoulos said he gave close to six months notice to tenants and provided two months of free rent.

Though a half-dozen former tenants moved in with relatives, the business owner said he personally helped to place others into five apartment buildings, one of which is located above GrandBar at 1600 W. Ashland Ave.

For one elderly resident who lived in the building for 22 years, Liacopoulos arranged for a Salvation Army caseworker to place her into a nursing home.

"I wasn't going to let anybody leave until I knew they had a place to go next," Liacopoulos said.

Located on the southeast corner of Division and Paulina streets, the SRO was once known as the Crown Hotel. It had a bar in its first-floor retail storefront.

Liacopoulos said he bought it for $125,000 in 1980 from a German man who was "behind on his taxes and had run the property into disrepair."

Liacopoulos didn't do any advertising for the building, which also had no signage to indicate its status as a hotel. He said almost all of its 36 rooms were rented, mostly by men of all ages and ethnicities. Many had lived there for years.

On holidays, Liacopoulos would bring meals to the shared kitchen.

And even though all 32 tenants moved out in November, some continue to frequent Rite Liquors, a bar and liquor store a few storefronts east of the hotel that he runs with his son, Ted Liacopoulos.

Meanwhile, as Liacopoulos moves on, Holiday Jones is just around the corner and hoping to open by late summer, according to Baum, who said that since the building was already zoned as an SRO no zoning changes were required.

Baum said he and Downing approached Liacopoulos about buying the building last year because they "saw a need for people coming to Chicago and not wanting to stay Downtown, where it's expensive and there is no community atmosphere."

Holiday Jones will have a design that feels "homey, yet hip and very indigenous to Chicago." It will be marketed to those who need a place to stay for shorter terms, Baum said.

In addition to corporate business travelers, schools and hospitals that have international students here on visas, as well as schools that need housing for people coming to Chicago for internships, will be targeted, Baum said.

Baum said Holiday Jones' mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure will be upgraded with help from Ukrainian Village's Red Architects. Bucktown's Michael Del Piero firm has been tapped to do the interior design and "create the vibe."

Due to the shared kitchens and bathrooms, Baum likened renting in Holiday Jones to being "like a social network in person" that will give renters an opportunity to communicate and network with each other.

The name, Holiday Jones, comes from the mix of people staying there on vacation or holiday and a homey-sounding family name.

Baum said he's secured a tenant for the first-floor retail space, which will be interated into the lobby. 

Though he's keeping the tenant "on the down low for now," Baum said it's a food-coffee-pastry restaurant concept run by a local business that has an existing spot in another neighborhood and will be expanding to Wicker Park.

Bob Palmer, policy director of Housing Action Illinois, a statewide coalition that closely tracks affordable housing trends, said that he was unaware of the fact there was an SRO at 1659 W. Division St. until he read the Crain's Chicago Business story.

Palmer said that "If it didn't have a sign on it, it's a sign that the residents were stable and long term and the building was fully occupied."