GRAND BOULEVARD — After more than a decade of ideas for redeveloping the vacant Rosenwald Courts apartment building, a developer has come forward with a plan and the money to back it up, but some residents still aren’t sold.
“There were lots of false starts,” Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said of the building that dominates a full city block at 47th Street and Michigan Avenue.
Since the building, which was once home to Nat “King” Cole, Quincy Jones and Gwendolyn Brooks, became vacant in 1999, Dowell said she’s heard ideas for veterans housing, a reform school for boys, student housing and other ideas.
“None of these were financially feasible — no one came in with any money,” Dowell said.
Last week, the City Council gave its vote of confidence to Landwhite Developers of Indiana to revive the building as 239 apartments for seniors and working families, and backed it up with a sizable package of tax incentives.
The Council backed its approval with an $84 million package of tax incentives to complete the $109 million project. If the Chicago Housing Authority approves a $17.4 million funding package, the project will move forward.
Dowell said rehabbing the long-vacant building is worth the cost.
“It’s been a drag on the community,” Dowell said.
Some residents who live near the building do not think they are getting their money’s worth.
“When you mix the lethal combination of getting something done at any cost as displayed by Ald. Dowell, and the city with the greedy mindset of making money at any cost as displayed by [the developers], the community will lose out every time,” said Byron Williams, a member of Rosenwald4All, a community group pushing for the redevelopment of the property. “This is pure lunacy.”
Williams and Rosenwald4All object to the lack of community involvement in the planning process, noting that a community task force organized by Dowell was disbanded in late 2012, and said the projected $353,000 construction cost per unit is excessively high.
Dowell said the cost is so high because the building is in such bad shape.
“The building is old, it’s a historic building,” Dowell said. “Once you add in the requirements of restoring a historic building, you add in the plumbing, water, heating, add elevators, expand the apartments, add rehab costs, plus amenities like washers and dryers, it can get up there.”
According to a budget submitted to the city, the developers expect to finance $7.6 million of the project, with the remaining $101.5 coming from city and CHA funds.
The redevelopment agreement submitted to the city shows the cocktail of public subsidies is expensive to mix. From the bonds to TIFs, every subsidy has a line in the budget for a lawyer or consultant.
A $58.6 million tax-exempt bond from the city will cost more than $1 million in administrative costs to get to the bond market, according to the redevelopment agreement. The attorney fees are expected to top $1 million according to the document. The budget says the developers expect to pay $50,000 just to speed up the building permit process.
According to the budget, the developer expects to collect a $7.2 million fee for rehabbing the Rosenwald.
Landwhite Developers Partner David Roos did not return repeated calls for comment.