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Northwest Tower: Hotel Developers Share Plans for Art Deco Corner Jewel

By Alisa Hauser | October 16, 2013 12:51pm | Updated on October 16, 2013 1:00pm
 Plans are underway to convert the iconic Northwest Tower at 1608 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park into a boutique hotel. 
Northwest Tower's Next Chapter: Boutique Hotel
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WICKER PARK — Plans are underway to convert Wicker Park's Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel with a diner on the ground floor, a prospect that raised excitement at a neighborhood meeting with developers Tuesday.

Work is scheduled to begin in March on the building, which has towered over the northwest corner of the Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues intersection since 1928.

"It will really elevate that corner, thank God," said local resident Claudia Langman at the close of the Wicker Park committee's preservation and development meeting in the park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave.

Langman and the other seven members of the group voted unanimously to support Convexity Properties' plan for 1600-1626 N. Milwaukee Ave. which was scheduled to be introduced in the City Council Wednesday.

 David Nelson, Chris Oakley and Evan Meister from Convexity Properties. The property management division of DRW Holdings, the firm is converting WIcker Park's Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel expected to be complete sometime in 2015.
David Nelson, Chris Oakley and Evan Meister from Convexity Properties. The property management division of DRW Holdings, the firm is converting WIcker Park's Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel expected to be complete sometime in 2015.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

The development seeks to bring a boutique hotel with 75 rooms to the 37,000-square-foot landmark tower at 1608 N. Milwaukee Ave. and a diner to the first floor.

The diner would be operated independently of the hotel and would replace a Sprint shop, which is in negotiations to be relocated elsewhere on the project premises.

"The best restaurants in hotels are the independent ones. We have an affinity for local independent operators," said David Nelson, founder of Convexity Properties, the three-member property management arm of DRW Traders. That venture is led by Don Wilson and AJ Capital, which purchased the tower last November for $12.5 million, according to Crain's.

The second floor of the hotel would house a lounge and meeting space that would connect to a building next store and offer a place for hotel patrons to drink coffee and use Wi-Fi with "nice big windows just above the intersection," Nelson said.

The tower's hotel rooms would average about 300 square feet and have king-sized beds. There are an additional 24 "shared rooms" planned for the 27,000-square-foot Hollander Fireproof Warehouse at 1618 N. Milwaukee Ave, adjacent to the tower.

The shared rooms, each of which would have a private bath and sink and two double-sized beds, would accommodate four people and be geared to traveling families, Nelson said.

Windows would be added to the northern wall of the warehouse to add more light.

The plan also includes the construction of a new one- or two-story building next to the warehouse that would have a retail tenant on the ground floor and provide underground valet parking for 28 to 30 cars. The garage would be dedicated to the hotel, Nelson said.

The neighborhood group's vote came with concerns about a traffic circulation study they'd like to see from Convexity Properties about how the building will impact traffic flow at the busy corner. The group is also concerned that the top of the tower could be obstructed by a planned glass-enclosed solarium on the roof.

Convexity's real estate analyst Evan Meister told DNAinfo Chicago after the meeting that the solarium, which can accommodate 55 people, would not obstruct the views of the tower.

Nelson, who founded Convexity in 2009, said "we're not in it to just flip assets to the highest bidder."

"These are projects we're excited about, passionate about. We are 100 percent funded ourselves. We own everything we do,"  Nelson said.

The group's recent track record of success in the neighborhood includes turning the DRW-owned historic landmark Noel State Building into a Walgreens.

The preservation of the Northwest Tower and Hollander buildings — overseen by the Chicago Landmark Commission — would begin in mid-March "when the weather breaks," Nelson said.

The exterior work would include preserving the brick, concrete and limestone facade of the Northwest Tower and the terra cotta and brick Hollander Fireproof Warehouse.

Meister said if all goes as planned, a zoning change would be needed to convert the warehouse from manufacturing use. The estimated delivery for the entire project would be "sometime in 2015," but he cautioned, "It is difficult to estimate how long this will take."

The work also will include automation of the tower's elevator, which requires a manual hand crank.

At this point it is unclear when the tower's tenants, down to just a handful after several moved out of the tower last spring, would leave the building. 

"The plan is to meet with our existing tenants privately over the coming week" to discuss the matter, Meister said.

Last month, a paralegal from a law firm that's been renting the second floor of the tower since 1986, said the firm's lease expires in March.

In the coming weeks, Convexity Properties plans to also announce a partnership with "an experienced boutique hotel operator," Nelson said.

Though Meister passed around photos of Hotel Jerome in Aspen and photos of other five-star luxury resort hotels owned by Auberge Resorts as examples of what the design of the boutique hotel could look like on the inside, he declined to comment on who the operator will be.

While prices would likely range somewhere around $130 to $170 per night for the tower's rooms, Nelson said the rates of shared rooms are still being worked out as they "continue to study the ideal program mix."