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Amber Building Facade Done in East Village; Owners Meet with Restaurateurs

By Emily Morris | April 9, 2014 3:45pm | Updated on April 10, 2014 8:29am
 Developers have been working on a rehabbed facade, shared work spaces, a restaurant and rooftop space.
Amber Building
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EAST VILLAGE — As restoration work is nearly finished on much of East Village's historic Amber Building, site owners are getting ready to lease office space and have met with restaurateurs to discuss plans for a first-floor eatery, a developer said.

Local construction company Building Blocks, which bought the three-story building at 1620 W. Chicago Ave. in May 2012 and started work on it in early 2013, hopes the shared offices on the second and third floors will be ready for 16 small businesses by the end of April.

Month-to-month leases ranging from $1,200 to $2,500 are still up for grabs, developer Kevin Miske said.

Recently finished work included rehab on the nearly 90-year-old building's terracotta facade, which Miske said was completed in mid-March and didn't need any replacement pieces. The rehab also included ornamental cast iron and custom windows.

The facade work was partly financed by the somewhat controversial West Town Chamber of Commerce's Special Service Area No. 29, which levies property taxes to fix up buildings as well as other neighborhood improvements.

The SSA is set to expire in December unless it gets a 15-year renewal. In this case, the tax levy financed $15,000 of the $2.4-million project to help restore the facade to its former glory.

"It was pretty dirty," said Kace Wakem, a representative from the chamber's Special Service Area district. "It needed a lot of love, and they really brightened it up."

Now, builders are working on finishing up more of the renovated interior, Miske said.

Miske acknowledged that with all the "coworking spaces" popping up around Chicago — Downtown's 1871 and Wicker Park's Free Range Office are just a few examples — it might be easy for Building Blocks' shared offices to get lost in the crowd.

But Miske hopes some of the building's features, such 16,000 square feet of office space (roughly 450 to 750 square feet per business), LED lighting and "quality of experience" will help set it apart.

Amenities advertised on the newly launched website include coffee, 100Mbps Internet, mail and phone service, Herman Miller office furniture design, indoor bike parking and Craft Beer Fridays.

The first-floor restaurant area is much further off, however, and Miske said he doesn't expect it to be ready for another six months to a year.

Miske said there have been "very preliminary" talks between the building owners and Chicago food guru Scott Harris, of the Purple Pig, Glazed & Infused and Francesca's chain.

Francesca's spokeswoman Jodi Triest confirmed Harris has been looking at the East Village spot as well as places throughout the city for new restaurant concepts. He has not signed a lease within the Amber Building, Tries said.

There's still quite a bit of work to be done, but Miske said they plan to work fast. And in the meantime, the neighbors have a brighter piece of history to look at.

"It was a pleasure to work with a great building with a great design," Miske said. "And the result, I think, turned out beautiful."