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With ‘No Demand’ For Big Apartments, Avondale Complex To Offer Tiny Options

By Mina Bloom | July 11, 2017 5:34am
 The total square footage of the residential project, which is just one part of a 21-acre campus at 4000 W. Diversey Ave., won't change — just the number of units
The total square footage of the residential project, which is just one part of a 21-acre campus at 4000 W. Diversey Ave., won't change — just the number of units
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The Fields

AVONDALE — The developer behind "The Fields," a massive mixed-use development at the site of a former Marshall Field's warehouse on the Logan Square/Avondale border, is taking the residential component of the project in a new direction.

Paul Fishbein, of 4K Diversey Partners, has scrapped the original plan, which called for 84 live/work apartments, offering a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedrooms. He's now proposing 125 apartments — mostly studios, convertibles and one-bedrooms — with no live/work requirement.

The total square footage of the residential project, which is just one part of a 21-acre campus at 4000 W. Diversey Ave., won't change — just the number of apartments

Under the new plan, the average apartment will offer 750 square feet of space, down from an average of 1,100 square feet. The smallest apartments will offer 550 square feet of space.

If approved, Fishbein said monthly rents will be lower, but he declined to get into specifics, saying, "We're continuing to discuss the details with the city, as this has not been finalized."

The dark blue area represents the residential part of the project. [The Fields]

The reworked project comes as other developers in the area become increasingly focused on offering small studios in favor of two- and three-bedroom apartments. Savoy Development's "micro-apartments" and the MiCa Towers — both near the California Blue Line — are just a couple of examples.

"There is no demand in the market for two- and three-bedroom units. Whoever is saying that's what they're looking for ... that's not factual," Fishbein said.

When Fishbein and his team started working on the planned development four years ago, they were set on offering exclusively live/work apartments, which would require residents — artist types and entrepreneurs — to hold a business license. But over the last few years, the co-working movement has blossomed, which "greatly diminished" the need for live/work apartments, Fishbein said.

"In the last three years, the world has evolved and co-working has come out of nowhere to be a huge industry, fulfilling the need for small companies and individuals wanting that flexibility," Fishbein said.

That, combined with the fact that there are no other similar projects in the city, made the idea difficult for financial reasons, Fishbein said.

"Lenders can't lend on a project that they don't have a path to show that it's successful," the developer said. "It was hard to quantify in writing that there is a demand for it when it doesn't exist. There very likely could be a demand, but there's no way to prove it."

For all of those reasons, Fishbein turned to smaller, "more efficient" apartments that don't have any requirements. The most attractive reason of them all?  "The monthly rents [are] more in line with what the market can support," he said.

Fishbein said he still intends to set aside 10 percent of the apartments as affordable housing to meet the city's requirement for planned developments, but members of the Hermosa Neighborhood Association said that's not enough.

The neighborhood group wrote a letter to Ald. Milly Santiago (31st), whose ward includes the project, demanding the developer build all of the required affordable housing units on site — rather than paying a fee allowing them to build three of them off-site.

The association "is requesting that the alderman demand that 4K Diversey Partners LLC build all [affordable] units onsite instead of paying the in-lieu fee, which would mean a total of 13 on-site affordable housing units," the letter reads.

It's unclear where Santiago stands — both on the affordable housing issue and the reworked proposal as a whole. Her office didn't respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The original proposal was already approved by the city's Plan Commission, which means Fishbein and his team will likely have to go back to the city for approval.

Typically, amended planned developments require both Plan Commission and City Council approval, according to city spokesman Peter Strazzabosco, who declined to comment on the specific project, citing a lack of information.

4K Diversey Partners, a contributor to Santiago's campaign, bought the massive, 1.5-million-square-foot site from Macy's in 2008, when the retailer moved out of the building. The six buildings were previously occupied by Olson Rug & Carpet (1928-1963) and Marshall Field's (1964-2004).

Parts of the development are finished, including the 70,000-square-foot Cermak Fresh Market grocery store.

Plans also include a host of new retail, including Newly Weds Foods, Studio41, Climate Guard and Deal Genius, as well as 700 indoor heated parking spaces on the second and third floors.