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Wicker Parkers Pile Kudos, Applause Onto Developer's Boutique Hotel Plan

By Alisa Hauser | November 8, 2013 12:04pm
 Following a presentation by Convexity Properties, members of the Wicker Park Committee voted 21 to 0 in favor of the developer's plans to bring a luxury boutique hotel to 1600-1626 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park.
Northwest Tower Developers at Wicker Park Committee's November Meeting
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WICKER PARK —  A plan to bring a boutique hotel to Wicker Park actually received applause after it was presented to a community group earlier this week — the first time one longtime resident could ever recall that happening in the past 30 years.

The applause was sparked by developer Convexity Properties' plan to bring a boutique hotel to an art deco skyscraper that's towered over the Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenue intersection since 1928.

For several years there's been talk about a hotel coming to the corner, but lack of community support for previous plans and a downturn in the economy caused the tower to remain undeveloped, said Lynn Varndell, the longtime Wicker Park resident surprised by the applause.

 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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At the meeting, Varndell and 20 other members of the Wicker Park Committee voted unanimously to support Convexity Properties' proposal, which brings a maximum of 120 hotel rooms to an 80,000-square-foot cluster of buildings at 1600-1626 N. Milwaukee Ave. that would also offer a restaurant and retail.

The art deco Northwest tower at 1600 N. Milwaukee Ave. would contain 75 of those rooms, about 300 square-feet each and renting for $159 per night. The other rooms, called "shared rooms," will be inside the 27,000 square-foot Hollander Fireproof Warehouse building at 1618 N. Milwaukee Ave.

David Nelson, founder of Convexity Properties, said developers are working on the price point for the shared rooms, while Evan Meister, a real estate analyst for the firm assured the group that the hotel's shared rooms will be "high end" and "not like a hostel."

Since the parcel of buildings is a "collection of split zoned lots," as Convexity's design director Chris Oakley put it, the developers are seeking the community and City Council's approval of a planned development that will provide "one unified process" to work through all zoning changes at once.

"It's a cleaner, more open process. What's in the planned development is exactly what's being proposed," Oakley said.

Introduced to City Council in October, Convexity Properties' plan is scheduled to go before the city's Zoning Committee next Thursday, but it won't be voted on due to an ordinance that requires all planned developments to be reviewed first by a 22-member Planning Committee.

If the plans are approved, renovation of the Landmark tower is scheduled to begin in the spring, with completion "sometime in 2015," Meister said.

As of Thursday, a hotel operator had not been announced, though Meister said there's been "an exhaustive search to find an operator right for this, who sees hotels as more than hotels, as experiences."

Traffic and "a traffic circulation plan" appeared to be the main concern of neighbors who live near the corner.

Meister said the proximity to the CTA Blue Line Damen "L" station means most hotel guests will be taking public transportation, but they expect about 30 percent of guests to arrive by car. For those guests, there will be an underground valet-only parking garage that can fit 30 cars.

Convexity Properties has worked on other projects in the area, including the renovation of the Noel Bank building into a Walgreen's, which opened last November at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave. across from the Northwest tower.

Gerri Baginski, whose lived in Wicker Park for 46 years, asked Nelson if the hotel considers itself to be in Bucktown or Wicker Park.

"I want to paint over the new Bucktown Athletic Club sign — it's a fungus," Baginski said, shuddering at Chicago Athletic Club's new location, which is under construction at 2040 W. North Ave. in Wicker Park but is marketing its location as being in Bucktown.

"The tower is in Wicker Park," Nelson replied to Baginski.

Nelson said he's been talking with local historian Elaine Coorens and plans to purchase several copies of Coorens' Wicker Park Historic Walking Guide book for the hotel.

After the meeting, Baginski called the plan a "500 percent improvement" over previous presentations delivered by other developers over the years.

"You ask them a question, they give you an answer," she said of Convexity Properties.

Richard Tilley, a Wicker Park resident since 1976, called the presentation, "The best I've ever seen for this neighborhood."

Tilley said there was a time when no one would go to the Milwaukee, Damen and North intersection after dark due to "violence and gangs."

"Now it's jumping," Tilley said of the neighborhood's main hub.