UPTOWN — The Flats Chicago apartment brand has acquired Lawrence House, a troubled and dilapidated building catering to low-income residents at 1020 W. Lawrence Ave., which the new owners said will be rehabbed and transformed into Flats' "flagship property."
Cedar Street Co., the company behind Flats, announced Tuesday that it had purchased Lawrence House out of foreclosure for $7.5 million. The 12-story building will now be known as No. 1020. Crain's reported it would undergo a $14 million rehab with construction slated in the next nine to 12 months.
The building will feature 350 modern apartments and include various amenities, such as free Wi-Fi, a 6,000-square-foot fitness center, 2,500-square-foot library and a restored indoor pool that Cedar said hasn’t been used since the 1930s, according to a news release.
Jay Michael, Cedar's co-founder, said in the release that, “No. 1020 is in the epicenter of Uptown’s reemergence as an entertainment, arts, and cultural district."
“We feel the responsibility of not only delivering an exceptional FLATS experience, but one that will help spur economic development in the community while paying homage to the past," Michael said.
The building is expected to lease in fall 2015 and is Flats' fourth Uptown apartment building. It will offer studios starting at $800, and two- and three-bedroom apartments at $2,000 and $3,000, respectively, Crain's reported.
North Side activists and low-income residents have opposed Flats Chicago's purchases of other low-income, distressed properties in Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park, accusing Michael of gentrifying the neighborhood and pricing out poor folk unlikely to afford apartments in the buildings once units are renovated.
The building's at-least 190 tenants, many of them elderly or disabled, will have to move now. Cedar touted its in-house transitions team, which it said has been successful in relocating tenants at other buildings bought by Flats to “better appropriate housing.”
Lawrence House, owned by the Menetti family since 2000, had been in foreclosure since last year and tangled in court proceedings related to building code violations and unpaid utility bills.
The owners were "very negligent," according to Lawrence House tenant James Metzger, 68. Metzger has occupied a studio in the building for about seven years, and said there had been "a lot of security issues," including "drug dealing in the building," in recent years due to lax management and security. The senior sounded pleased that the family was out of the picture — but wasn't thrilled that he would have to move as a result.
"I don't say I'm looking forward to it but, it looks like I won't have a choice," he said.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) who called the purchase a "win for everybody," said in a newsletter to constituents Tuesday that the building had been in and out of housing court for years for more than 100 building code violations, and that "Frequently, the previous owners wouldn't pay their utility bills and residents would come to our office to plead for help to stay warm and to cook food."
Cappleman has hinted for months that a potential buyer was considering buying the building out of foreclosure.
Cappleman said that "while the sale of the Lawrence House will reduce the number of market-rate rental units within the $500-per-month range," Uptown still still has more government subsidized apartment units than other communities in Chicago.
The building is just west of Norh Sheridan Road and West Lawrence Avenue, an Uptown crime hotspot known for gang and drug activity and vagrancy, where local officials have been cracking down on crime this summer in response to a string of gang-related shootings.
Cedar promised video surveillance on the premises, 24-hour door staff “and an inviting and design forward hotel-grade lobby.” Cedar also announced that the commercial tenant on the building’s first floor would be Heritage Outpost, an extension of Lakeview's Heritage Bicycle General Store.
Owner Mike Salvatore, 32, said the smaller "Heritage Outpost" would open in a 1,200-square-foot storefront. The Lawrence House shop would serve Stumptown Coffee and offer a bike share program.
"The idea was conceived along with FLATS, along with Jay Michael," Salvatore said when reached by phone. "We’re bullish on it."
Salvatore said he had been in negotiations with Michael and Cedar Street, which invested in his two-year-old company. They also plan to open another location in Flats' Wilson Street location.
Cedar said that the development supports Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s cultural plan “to help revitalize this cultural and ethnically diverse Chicago neighborhood into a bustling entertainment district.”
"Chicago boasts an incredible arts and cultural scene that strengthens the economic and social vitality of our historic neighborhoods and this new project is a good example of the kind of continued development we’re excited to see under the guidance of our groundbreaking Cultural Plan," Emanuel said in a statement included in the release.