Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Barney's On The Move

Barney's New York was closed today for the first day of it's big move across Rush Street. The long-awaited transition cones after years of demolition, construction and preparation.

Papa Milano's Italian restaurant, a bar, a cupcake joint, a button store, and a Bang & Olufsen outlet either moved or closed to make way for the new department store.

Barney's management had long been unhappy withthe diminutive size of the previous space. Unfortunately, the upgrade cones in the midst of a bad economy where even luxury shoppers are asking shopgirls for plain brown bags to hide their consumption.

Hopefully the new store buying frenzy won't cool off too much and bring a little more life to Rush, Oak, and Walton Streets.

Tourists aren't Barney's usual customer, but these days no store is in a position to turn its nose up at a dollar. Hopefully someone will tell that to the unnecessarily snooty black-clad makeup mob that will now put the "sell" in cellar.

Tuesday Trivia: Baggage edition

Q: The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago is credited with bringing what French luxury brand to America?

A: Louis Vuitton.

It was at the 1893 Columbian Exposition that George Vuitton met John Wanamaker.  Shortly thereafter, Wanamaker's department store in New York became the first store in America to carry Louis Vuitton merchandise.

Bonus trivia: The first Louis Vuitton store in Chicago opened at Water Tower Place in 1982.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Five New Stores For 108 North State

Here's the text of a press release from Joseph Freed announcing new stores at Block 37/108 North State:

Famed Chicago Clothier Bigsby & Kruthers among new tenants

CHICAGO - Block 37 master developer Joseph Freed and Associates LLC announced today that five more leases have been signed with retail tenants for Block 37.

Those signed include the famed Chicago clothier Bigsby & Kruthers, Swarovski, Starfruit, Tahini and Sunglass Hut.

"With the signing of these tenants, we have taken another big step toward bringing this project across the goal line," said Larry Freed, President of Joseph Freed and Associates LLC, the project's developer.

"When it opens this fall, Block 37 will be the source of 2,000 jobs and over $17.5 M in annual tax revenue for the City of Chicago. To date, the project has brought over 2,200 construction jobs to Chicago," Freed said.

Ty Tabing, Executive Director of the Chicago Loop Alliance, commented that "we are extremely excited to see this progress on Block 37. The historic significance of bringing the uniquely Chicago Bigsby & Kruthers brand to the project is very important. It is reminiscent of the high quality retailers who originally were located on the site."

He went on to say that he anticipates that "having the Bigsby store on the second floor of the project will be quite effective in driving foot traffic within the project."

Freed reflected that these five tenants contribute to the new, dynamic, cutting-edge tenant mix that has been the goal for the property since Freed purchased the project in 2007.

Also sensitive to the historic significance of the project, Freed said, "Putting a Bigsby & Kruthers store in the heart of downtown Chicago on this historic block is especially appropriate when you consider the strength and longevity of the Bigsby brand in Chicago," he said.

"We will be able to bring together the best and newest in men's and women's fashion, quality service and attention to the needs of our customers with Joe Silverberg and his partner, Jack Shniderman re-launching the Bigsby & Kruthers brand," Freed continued.

Silverberg opened his first Bigsby & Kruthers store with his brother, Gene Silverberg, in Chicago in 1970. For years, they dressed the nation's CEO's, celebrities and professional athletes at their Bigsby & Kruthers stores. The company received national and international attention and awards including a listing in Esquire Magazine as one of the top ten specialty
retailers in the United States and was featured in Esquire, Forbes, GQ and the Wall Street Journal.

Known for his genial personality and his expertise and experience as a successful merchant, Joe Silverberg is excited to be able to respond positively to the demand for the quality fashion synonymous with the Bigsby & Kruthers brand.

"We believe that we have a terrific opportunity right now — we've had a great response from our manufacturers and a continuing demand from our customers to re-launch Bigsby & Kruthers with both men's and women's clothing. And we have the chance to locate at Block 37 in the heart of downtown Chicago where we can attract business people, tourists and visitors to the theatre district and the financial district."

Jack Shniderman is also a retailer with deep experience in the Chicago market. A native Chicagoan, Shniderman began his career at Eric Salm in Lincoln Village. Recruited by Robert Vance Ltd. in 1979 as a buyer, he worked his way up to president of the company with 3 retail stores and an outlet store. He bought the company in 1985 and still owns it.

Under his leadership, Robert Vance has been featured in Celebrated Living Magazine as one of the best places to shop "off the beaten path" and nominated by MR Magazine as one of the top 25 most interesting stores. The menswear newspaper, Daily News Record has also profiled the company.

Shniderman opened Polo Ralph Lauren stores for a company with licenses for locations in Pittsburgh, Fort Lauderdale and Short Hills, New Jersey. In 1986, Shniderman and his partners bought the Chicago Polo Ralph Lauren store. He sold it back to Ralph Lauren in 1993 as part of Lauren's buy-back of license rights prior to taking his company public.

Shniderman sees the new Bigsby & Kruthers as offering the next generation of service — the "new gentleman's cool" fashion with a diverse men's product offering of approximately 30% suiting and 70% sportswear and a significant custom area. The women's collections will be similarly cutting edge.

Both men emphasize that the store will offer a "special" experience to its customers with excellent service, new, cool clothing along with the more traditional and a mix of diverse price points that provide value at each price.

Bigsby & Kruthers will occupy 9,000 square feet on the second floor of the project.
In addition to Bigsby, the other new tenants announced today include Tahini, a 1,500 square-foot fast casual eatery located on the Transit Level that specializes in Mediterranean-style sandwiches, salads, and desserts.

Starfruit Cafe serves a variety of organic frozen yogurt and kefir in fruit flavors and more than 20 toppings. Other treats include parfaits and lowfat smoothie-style kefir drinks. Kefir is a cultured milk product, with more probiotic qualities than yogurt. The cafe occupies a 700 square- foot space on the Transit Level. It is owned by Lifeway Foods, a Morton Grove, Illinois-based company.

Sunglass Hut is a recognized leader of specialty sunglass retailing with nearly 2,000 locations worldwide. Sunglass Hut stores, located in a wide variety of high-traffic shopping and tourist destinations, offer consumers the latest branded products from Oakley, Ray-Ban, Guess, DKNY, and many more. Sunglass Hut at Block 37 is located on Level One in a 1,000 square-foot space.

Swarovski is considered by many to be the finest quality lead crystal made today, featuring precision-cut Austrian crystal in striking prisms of gleaming beauty. Products include figurines, designer table top accessories, art objects and jewelry. The 900 square-foot Swarovski boutique at Block 37 is located on Level One.

Leasing continues at the Block 37 project, with additional announcements expected in the next two to four weeks.

Other tenants announced to date include Chicago's Lettuce Entertain You, bringing a new-concept restaurant and food court to the project; Muvico, a premium movie venue offering reserved seating, restaurant and bar service and first-run movies; PUMA; Zara; Anthropologie; and a store and salon by Aveda.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Good News, Bad News Roundup

Here's a roundup of the good and not-so-good news affecting Chicago retail, development, and more.

Good newsCrain's reports that First Chicago Bancorp is going to move to Chicago.
Bad news: Chicago Community Bank has closed its location on Michigan Avenue and Lake Street.

Good newsCrain's reports that habidasher Bigsby & Kruthers will open a store at 108 North State .
Bad news: There are five vacant storefronts on just the north side of the premier shopping block of Oak Street. Only one has "coming soon" sign for a replacement.
Bad newsCrain's reports that Amira Mediterranean Cuising in the NBC Tower has closed.
Bad news: That's Our Bag, the luggage store that's been having an "everything must go" sale on the corner of Lake and Wabash for years and years looks like it's really going out of business this time, since there are now "Store Closing" and "Fixtures For Sale" signs in the windows.
Good news: The Hotel Felix is open and looks nice.
Bad news: S.A. Peck Jewelers is closing its Michigan Avenue store in the London Guarantee and Accident Building .
Bad newsCrain's reports that Z Gallerie in Lincoln Park has closed.
Bad news: The Mark Shale clothing chain has filed for bankruptcy and will close many of its stores.
Good newsCrain's reports that the Mark Shale location at 900 North Michigan will remain open until a buyer can be found.

Bad news: We received a text message stating that MNG By Mango has closed its Water Tower Place location.
Bad news: We received another text message that a store near Sephora in Water Tower Place has also been papered over.
Bad news: Nuts on Clark has closed its Water Tower Place location.

Good news: Holy Name Cathedral has raised $95,000 to repair its roof after February's fire.
Bad news: Holy Name Cathedral needs probably close to eight million dollars to repair its roof after February's fire.
Good news: Holy Name has received roof repair donations from churches in other states.
Bad news: Holy Name has received roof repair donations from only two churches in its own diocese (We're looking at you, Old Saint Pat's).

Good news: The Sun-Times reports that Roosevelt University is planning a new 32-story tower on South Wabash.
Good news: WBBM-TV reports that new life may be breathed into the Chicago Spire.

Bad news: The Cubs are thinking about hosting 50 night games this season.
Good news: The Cubs are thinking about hosting 50 night games this season.

Good news: We're going to move a lot of this same information on our Twitter feed .
Bad news: We're going to move a lot of this same information on our Twitter feed .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Saving the Cabrini Chapel

With the demolition of Columbus Hospital now complete, all that is left standing is the Cabrini Chapel.

For those of you who don't know, the chapel was originally planned to be demolished along with the 97-year-old hospital and some other nearby buildings to make way for the much-advertised Lincoln Park 2520 condo block.  But now the chapel has received a reprieve.

The hospital was founded by Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini, America's first home-grown saint.  The chapel was the home of the National Shrine of Saint Francis X. Cabrini.  But it no longer serves that function.  When the chapel was threatened with destruction, the chapel's relic, a bone from Mother Cabrini's right arm, was moved to Our Lady of Pompeii in Little Village for safe keeping.

Now LP2520 is being re-drawn to incorporate the holy place in the site plan.

Whether the complex will be built, or not, remains to be seen.  The last peep we heard was back in January when Crain's ran an article talking about how this is going to be one of the most expensive (per square foot) projects in the city and talking about financing troubles.

Either way, we're glad this piece of Chicago's religious history has been spared.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Update: Miglin Stays, So Does Baccarat

Following up to our story from the other day about 112 East Oak Street , I have found out what's going on in that space.

Those of you who are regular Oak Street strollers have noticed that in the last couple of weeks the small Marilyn Miglin sign pledging to return in the Spring has been joined by massive Baccarat posters claiming the same space for June, 2009.

I got in touch with someone at M.M. who explained that Baccarat will be on the first and second floors, while Marilyn Miglin will be on the third.  The opening date still seems fluid, but she offered June as a possibility, which would coincide with Baccarat's planned opening.

It should be noted that even though the Oak Street location is being renovated, Marilyn Miglin still operates a boutique inside The Claire (55 East Pearson) so you can continue to get the products and services you need.

Update: No Nuts on Chestnut

Just a quick update with a new photo showing the now shuttered Nuts on Clark store in Water Tower Place.  As we mentioned last week , other store owners in Water Tower are telling us that the confectionary shut its doors because of the higher rent being asked of it.

We'll miss the warm smells of the place wafting across the street, welcoming us home after a hard day's slog through the Chicago snow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Barney's New York Opening Date Update

We received an e-mail from a tipster (well, actually a text message -- what's up with that?) nailing down the dates for Barney's New York's big move across Rush Street.

We're told that the current Barney's store on the corner of Oak and Rush will close Sunday, March 29th, and the new store on the corner of Rush and Oak will open Thursday, April 16th.

You'll recall that Barney's was said to have originally planned to make the transition in late March so it could be open in very early April, but was later delayed by construction .

Still, the only official date we've seen yet is "Spring," so if this second proposed set of dates doesn't work out, Barney's is still covered.

Who's Boutique Is It Anyway?

In the last few years, Oak Street has undergone many changes as high-end retail fled the suburbanization of Michigan Avenue retail and filtered into the side streets of the Gold Coast.  Dozens of boutiques have moved in, moved out, or traded spaces jockeying for just the right position on the leafy corridor.

But never before have we seen two businesses claim one space.

Here's a look at 112 East Oak Street last Autumn:
At the time it was home to the Marilyn Miglin boutique.  Then on January 2, 2009 Miglin closed up for what its web site calls "renovations."  A sign on the door promised the boutique would return.  In fact, the sign is still there.  This photo was taken March 21st:

But a wider view shows that tiny Miglin sign has been trumped...

...by giant Baccarat signs.  

Yes, the king of crystal is coming to Oak Street.  And according to the full-window signs, plans to occupy 112 East Oak Street in June of 2009.
Currently, Baccarat only operates a small in-store boutiquelet at Macy's On State .  It will be nice for it to have a showplace of its own, and one in a better location.
Baccarat will nicely complement Harry Winston and Graff Jewelers across the street.  Moreover, it will hopefully keep the once-coveted, but now-pedestrian Swarovsky from opening its one millionth store on Oak Street, and keep the Austrians firmly in Water Tower Place with the legions of bus-tour Iowans in Mom Jeans.
We placed a call to the number on the Marilyn Miglin sign in search of clarity, but got an answering machine.  We'll try for a human again later.

Status Update: Children's Memorial Hospital

Things are moving along quickly at the new Children's Memorial Hospital on Chicago Avenue.  Since the tower crane went up a few weeks ago.  The elevator core is now up to about the fifth floor and the rest of the building can't be too far behind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Best or Worst Roscoe Village Real Estate Ad Ever

It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know that when you want to sell something, you make it appear in its best light in the advertisement.

With that in mind, perhaps this real estate listing for a Roscoe Village apartment could use a revision.
  • Not because of the snarky Roscoe Village is better than Lakeview boosterism ("...like Lakeview, but without all the drunks.")
  • Not because the writer misspelled village "Vilagle."
  • Not because the second sentence makes no sense at all ("Roscoe Vilagle has this, you bright, spacious, updated apartment.")
No, we're talking about the last photo in the listing -- the guy hosing himself down in the bathtub full of empty beer cans.

I thought Lakeview was where all the dunks are?

The question is -- is this ad really a "Fail" (to use the parlance of contemporary internet thugs)?  Probably not.

The one goofy photo, clearly lifted from another web site, does not detract from the listing.  More importantly, it is drawing attention to the listing from web sites and blogs across the internet.  Thousands of people who would otherwise not have looked at the ad are seeing it for the first time.

Sure, the majority of them aren't interested in real estate in Roscoe Village.  But it only takes one person to make a stunt that took virtually no effort all worth while.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What's Up, Chuck?

For the last few months we've been watching this huge sign at 430 North Michigan Avenue promise that a new branch of the Charles Schwab investment house is going to open on the Magnificent Mile.  With the state of the economy right now, all we can say is, "Really, Chuck?  Are you serious?"

It was back in March of 2005 that Schwab's parent bank in Reno, Nevada filed an application with the State of Illinois to open an office at 444 North Michigan Avenue .  A couple of years later, it decided to go all storefront next door in the Realtor Building .

But will the Schwab expansion plans continue in this rough economy?  With a shroud hiding the inside of the store, it's hard to tell.  But considering the amount of advertising Schwab continues to pump out in print, TV, and transit there's still reason to hope that the "Spring 2009" date will pan out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chicago River Tower May Be Scaled Back

Plans for a new skyscraper on one of the last remaining patches of Chicago Riverfront aren't working out.  Crain's Chicago Business reports that Hines, the Houston developer of the project has come to an agreement to terminate the lease of its anchor tenant.

The skyscraper would have been located across from Wolf Point, on the west bank of where the main channel of the Chicago River meets the North and South branches.  Architecture observers were eager to see how the tower would be designed to fit the tight space available, possibly with some suspension over the Amtrak and Metra rail lines running through the site.

This appears to be an example of a good plan killed by a bad economy.  Hines had two anchors lined up to take space in the 52-story tower, and agreements covering far more space than is usually needed to begin construction.  But the banks, in spite of the TRILLION dollars in taxpayer money they've been given by congress in order to start lending money again, refused to lend money to Hines -- a company with a proven track record in America and abroad for developing winning towers.

So, what's next for the project?  According to Crain's, Hines may downsize the tower which would be a real shame considering its prominent location.  Even at its original planned height, it wasn't all that tall.  52 stories may buy you some cachet down in the Bayou City, but up here it's not even the median height of a Chicago skyscraper.

The location is a rare opportunity to build another terminating tower like the Chicago Board of Trade building  at the end of LaSalle Street.  The Hines building would have capped the Chicago River in an iconic fashion.  Anything less than spectacular is undeserving of the location.

Status Update: The New Barney's New York Store

We haven't heard anything new about an opening date for the new Barney's New York Store at the intersection of Rush and Oak Streets in the Gold Coast in a while.  The last rumor we heard was "late April" and the only official word is "Spring," which can mean anything in Chicago.

But from the outside, things are pretty much done.  The signature awnings went up last week, the sidewalk has been cleared for pedestrian traffic and the windows are papered over as workers frantically try to dress the inside of the store.

Even the old Barney's location is getting into the anticipation with its main curved display window referencing events "across the street."  That curved display window has been copied in the new building, and expanded to five stories, housing a showy staircase that we can't wait to get in to catch views of the Gold Coast below.

The front of the glass cylinder has some Wrightian accents tacked on to it, as does a few other portions of the facade.  These are supposed to pay homage to Chicago's architectural heritage.  Whether they achieve that goal or not is up to your imagination.  Still, the doors of the new store have been revealed and they're quite nice.  Dark and classy, but large and inviting.

And Barney's knows it's not going to be the new kid on the block forever.  Remember that there's multi-story retail planned for the other end of the block where Gino's East used to be.  In anticipation, the Barney's building casts a blank facade in that direction with the exception of a newly added "Barney's New York" sign on the Rush Street edge that should remain visible as long as the Starbucks remains undisturbed.  And considering the time, money, and effort put into renovating that branch of the coffee chain just a couple of years ago, it's unlikely anything taller will sprout on that lot for a while.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No More "Nuts" at Water Tower Place

A Chicago institution is closing up shop at its Water Tower Place branch.

Today employees of Nuts on Clark were seen packing up the merchandise, taking down the shelves, and disassembling machinery as the historic nut, popcorn, and chocolate shop shuttered its Gold Coast outlet.

Employees of other shops in Water Tower Place tell us that Nuts is bailing on its location in the Ritz-Carlton's port cochere just across from the John Hancock Center because its rent was raised.

If anyone reading this lives in the Wrigleyville area, please check on the Nuts on Clark location there and e-mail editor@chicagoarchitecture.info to let us know everything is still OK at the mother ship.  We'll pass it along here.

Homeowners Fall Off A Cliff

Last week while sitting in an airport lounge on the other side of the world, CNN Asia ran a Breaking News banner reading, "Economy 'Falls Off A Cliff.'"  Some homeowners in the Gold Coast might feel the same way.
A couple of Division Street tear-down two-flats went up at the wrong time -- just when the economy went all pear-shaped.  They were completed in the Fall of 2008, but nobody has moved in yet.  And by "completed" we mean not quite completed.  As you can see in the above photo, the necessary finishing touches haven't been put on the upstairs portion of the building, so that it would take an act of levitation to make this home sweet home.

If you're into internet cliches, you could call it a "Fail" photo.  Or if you're a thinking person it's a sad reminder of the state of the real estate market in Chicago.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quickie: LA Using Chicago As A Model For Its New Park

The Los Angeles Times has an article full of praise for Chicago's Millennium Park which encourages Los Angeles to follow Chicago's example.

Hours at Barnes Are Not So Noble

While some businesses are using the recession as an opportunity to expand (Argo Tea ), others are cutting back.  One local example is Barnes and Noble.
The State Street (Viagra Triangle) branch used to be open until 11pm on most days and 10pm on Sundays. Not so anymore.  Now it's shutting its doors at a very early 8pm M-A, and 7pm on U.

Hopefully, this is only a temporary measure until the warmer weather arrives.  If not, it's a missed opportunity.  On warm summer nights there are hundreds of people walking by that store and more than a few get lured in by the window displays.  Hopefully corporate isn't so blind to the local situation that it would actually harm the store by keeping it closed during what is usually a fairly busy period.

Encouraging News from the Near West Side

We received a note from the people at the Fulton River District Association about what's going on on the other side of the Chicago River.  Of course, it's the Association's business to promote the area, but even beyond that it appears that things are moving along nicely just west of the Loop.

Some highlights:
  • The Echelon at K Station is 65% leased.
  • River Point is 66% leased.
  • Construction continues on Metra Market.
  • Alta at K Station plans to start leasing next March.
When we moved to Chicago just six years ago, the Fulton River District wasn't a place we would have considered living.  But an entire neighborhood has sprung up and the area is well on its way to becoming  a vibrant urban district as surface parking lots become condo towers and old warehouses are turned into lofts.

Montgomery Ward Tower Not Gone, Just Hidden

Thanks to Chicago Architecture Blog reader and Chicago Architecture Info Facebook fan Jim Mitch for letting us know about a glaring error in one of our earlier posts, and more importantly -- about a hidden piece of Chicago architectural history.

In February we posted a note talking about the completion of the renovation of 6 North Michigan Avenue . This was one of the old Montgomery Ward buildings and used to have a 10-story tower on top of it capped by a huge pyramid.

In our post, we stated that the tower was taken down and that in the most recent renovation it was not restored.  That's not correct.

Jim points out that the tower IS still there.  It's just hidden.

What happened is that when Montgomery Ward added four floors to the top of the building in the 1940's they partially swallowed up the tower.  Check out the sequence of images posted on Jim's blog, Design Slinger :

Even though there isn't a magnificent tower like before, at least the building's not all that much shorter than before, as we'd originally assumed.

Sadly, the great pyramid cap is still missing from the current building, but what's there is nice and certainly better than lopping off the remaining few stories to even the building out.

Again, thanks Jim!

(Moreover, this is a lesson to all you internet surfers out there -- blogging is not journalism.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Double Trouble for 108 North State

Crain's Chicago Business reports that one important store isn't going to open at 108 North State (Block 37) after all, and that means a second wants out.

The report cites a lawsuit stating that Apple has decided not to open an Apple Store at the Loop mall.  Upon hearing that, potential retail neighbor Lululemon decided it doesn't want to open its shop at Block 37, either.  The lawsuit says Lululemon has a co-tenancy agreement, so that if there's no Apple, there's no Lululemon.

Lululemon claims it was told by the mall that Apple never signed a lease.

Save Grant Park Update

I received this e-mail today from Save Grant Park.  I'm passing it along for those who are interested.

Dear Supporters,

As many of you know, there are currently two lawsuits in progress that were filed
in response to the Chicago Children's Museum's plans to build their new museum in
protected Grant Park.

The first lawsuit, and Administrative Review calls for a review of the Chicago Plan
Commission's decision and the entire process of the Museum's application to the
Plan Commission.

A hearing for this first lawsuit will be Tuesday, March 31st with Judge Martin Agran.

If Judge Agran rules in our favor, the Chicago Children's Museum (CCM) must go back
to the drawing board and resubmit new plans to the Chicago Plan Commission.  We
anticipate they would appeal this decision.  If the judge does not rule in our favor
we will have 30 days to appeal.

The second lawsuit, a Denovo Review, asks the court to take a fresh look at the
entire process of the Musuem's application including the Plan Commission, Zoning
Committee and the City Council.

A hearing on this second lawsuit will be Thursday, April 9th with Judge Sophia Hall.

If Judge Hall rules in our favor, the CCM will have to repeat the entire process
over again:  Plan Commission, Zoning Committee and City Council.  Any appeal must
be made within 30 days.

We will send out updates after each hearing detailing the decisions.

The Chicago Park District and the Chicago Children's Museum thought the citizens
of Chicago wouldn't notice their plot to takeover public green space for private
interests.  They were wrong.  Indeed, they thought they would have construction
well underway by now.  They did not understand how hard Chicagoans would fight to
preserve it's most important public green space.  We will continue to file appropriate
lawsuits based on the Montgomery Ward decisions that have protected Grant Park for
more than 172 years.  Save Grant Park has led this community effort for more than
three years now, and we are in it for as long as it takes.  Thank you for all your
support.  We know you will stay with us to Save Grant Park.

Please support Save Grant Park by donating online at www.savegrantpark.org

or by mailing your check made out to "Save Grant Park" directly to our bank:

5th/3rd Bank
400 E. South Water Street
Chicago, IL 60601
Attn:  Save Grant Park


Peggy Figiel
Save Grant Park

P.S.  Every dollar makes a difference!

Quickie: Chicago Riverwalk to be Completed in June

The Chicago Tribune has a progress update on the riverwalk, including a mention that it could be completed in June.

Chicago river walk extension keeps rolling along

Holy Name Cathedral Closed Until At Least August

Parishioners at Holy Name Cathedral got more bad news over the weekend.  Their beloved church will be closed, "until August at the earliest" according to pastor Dan Mayall.

The archdiocese's flagship place of worship was damaged by fire in February, almost exactly a year after it was closed for months when a chunk of woodwork fell from the ceiling.

In the weekend bulletin, Mayall explains that it has not yet been determined if insurance will cover this year's fire damage.  He explains that the parish is already struggling to come up with $4 to $8 million to pay for the 2008 roof repairs.  An exact total is still being determined as the repairs were ongoing at the time of the 2009 fire.

The incidents at Holy Name give outsiders an interesting glimpse into some of the inner workings of a Catholic parish.  Many cynics assume that a church like Holy Name merely has to ask the Vatican to write a check to fix up the building.  But those involved in parish communities know the truth is far different.

In the case of Holy Name, the parish had to take out a loan from the Archdiocese to pay for the pre-fire roof repairs.  Holy Name pays more than $20,000 a month in interest alone to the Archdiocese.  This is a huge burden for a church that only brings in about $120,000 a month from the collection plate (based on $30,000 brought in last week multiplied by four weeks in a month).  Imagine paying almost 20% of your income in credit card interest.

The church is holding a series of fundraisers under the wordy banner "All Join Hands to Raise the Roof."  One will happen at the Palmer House Hilton on March 30th.  The Palmer House is picking up the tab for the event so that all of the money raised will go to Holy Name, not just an after-expenses portion.  Also, Devon Grill is donating 10% of the money it brings in on Easter Sunday to the cathedral.

Other groups are also chipping in.  A few churches around the archdiocese have forwarded money donated by their members to the cathedral.  And even the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Minnesota took up a collection for Holy Name.  If you've never been to the cathedral in Saint Paul, it's worth going.  It's an architecturally magnificent structure inside and out and recently underwent its own lengthy and costly renovation.  The University of Saint Mary of the Lake and a couple of private individuals are lending Holy Name small organs for use in the makeshift sanctuaries.

Our take: Holy Name parish and its cathedral have been the victims of some unfortunate luck.  Through no fault of its own the church has been hit repeatedly by very costly repair bills while continuing to meet its laundry list of charitable works in the community.  The Vatican has repeatedly pressured Western governments, including the United States, into a series of debt forgiveness packages for impoverished nations.  Holy Name should also get a forgiveness package from the archdiocese.  To be fair to the archdiocese, which is having its own financial problems, it doesn't have to forgive Holy Name's debt; merely drop the interest charges.  It's a small measure that would likely be an immense relief to the parish and the people who wonder if Holy Name will remain standing for another generation.

Did a New Argo Tea Cafe Open in Streeterville?

On a recent trip to the American Express office to once again turn play money into real money, I stumbled across this:
Yeah, it's a bad photo.  But what I'm trying to show you is an Argo Tea Cafe inside 550 North Saint Claire .  I'm a big Argo guy, and a semi-regular at the Chestnut Street outlet.  So when a new one opens in my own backyard and I don't know about it, I feel a little confused.

Is this Argo really new, say in the last two or three months, or am I just having a senior moment?  I know there's the one inside Northwestern Hospital a couple of blocks away, but this one surprised me.

More importantly, it's an indication that Argo is doing well.  It's a local company (formerly headquartered on Armitage, but has since moved to The Loop) that went from one shop five years ago to almost a dozen today.

It's said that any company that can expand during a recession is going to be a winner when things get better.  Let's hope that's true.  For a couple of examples of companies that got their start during bad economic times, look no further than S.O.M., and Procter and Gamble.


I got an e-mail from Argo Tea stating that this location opened in November, 2008.  I guess I need to stop looking at my feet when I'm walking.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wamu Vamooses from The Fordham

We're Washington Mutual customers, so imagine our surprise when we found this the other day:
The Wamu branch on the ground floor of The Fordham is closed.  We knew all along that the merger with Chase would mean some Wamu branches would be closed.  We were prepared for that.  In fact, Chase helped us prepare by sending us a letter listing which branches would be closed in our neighborhood.  This one was not on the list.

The sad part is that it's another empty hole in an already hard to fill retail corridor.  The gravitational pull of nearby North Michigan Avenue is so great that it's hard to get any businesses to move onto Wabash that aren't specifically catering to neighborhood residents.  And there's already a deli, a nail salon, and a dry cleaner on the block.

For those of you who are also Washington Mutual clients, the next nearest locations are up near Viagra Triangle, or on Michigan Avenue south of the Chicago River.

Who Loses With The Willis Tower?

With The Willis Group moving hundreds of its employees into the Sears Tower and changing the name to Willis Tower, there are a lot of people shaking their heads.  Not just because of the name change, but because it's going to leave a bunch of buildings with hundreds fewer people in them at a time when it's tough to lease office space.

The big losers are:

and two suburban locations.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Willis Tower Official Release

Here's the text of the official press release about the Sears Tower becoming Willis Tower.

Willis Group Holdings to Move Chicago Area Offices to Sears Tower;
Building to Be Renamed Willis Tower

Global Insurance Broker Will Occupy Multiple Floors in Iconic Building This Summer

New York, March 12, 2009 – Willis Group Holdings (NYSE: WSH), the global insurance broker, today announced that Willis will become a new tenant of Sears Tower, and under an agreement with the building’s owners, the Chicago icon and tallest building in the Western Hemisphere will be renamed Willis Tower.
Willis plans to consolidate five area offices and move nearly 500 Associates into Willis Tower, initially occupying more than 140,000 square feet on multiple floors. Willis said its move to the new space, at $14.50 per square foot, will result in significant real estate cost savings, and that there is no additional cost to the company associated with renaming the building.
“Having our name associated with Chicago’s most iconic structure underscores our commitment to this great city, and recognizes Chicago’s importance as a major financial hub and international business center,” said Joseph J. Plumeri, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Willis Group Holdings. “We are delighted to be making this bold move and firmly establishing our leading presence in one of the nation’s biggest insurance markets, and it will be wonderful for all our Associates to work under one roof.”
The building, first opened in 1973, is recognized worldwide as a center for business, and an architectural signature of Chicago’s skyline. “We are proud to add the Willis name to the tower, and welcome the company and its 500 Associates to this premier Chicago address,” said John Huston, Executive Vice President of American Landmark Properties, Ltd., part of the real estate investment group that owns the building. “This key new tenant underscores the importance of the building as a destination for successful businesses.”
“We are thrilled that Willis Group will be consolidating their Midwest operations in Chicago, demonstrating their commitment to this city by retaining almost 500 jobs here in addition to planning for future job growth. Their decision speaks to the quality of Chicago’s workforce, and our vibrant and supportive business community. We welcome this strong global corporation and look forward to working with Willis in the years to come,” said Rita Athas, Executive Director of World Business Chicago.
Relocating to Willis Tower will be three current Willis HRH offices in Chicago, located at 10 South LaSalle Street, One East Wacker Drive and 222 North Riverside Plaza, along with two suburban locations – in Oak Brook and Lombard. The move is expected to be completed by late summer. The company’s North American business is now known as Willis HRH following Willis’ October 2008 acquisition of insurance intermediary Hilb Rogal & Hobbs (HRH). Chicago is the headquarters of Willis HRH’s Midwest Region.
“This move will be a huge benefit to our Associates,” said Don Bailey, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Willis HRH. “Working even more collaboratively and closely together as a ‘One Flag’ team, we will be able to provide even better service and offer more innovative solutions to our clients. As we seek new growth opportunities, we’ll also benefit from having greater brand recognition in this market. Willis Tower will make us a household name among our clients, prospective clients and in the larger business community.”
Willis HRH is the leading retail insurance broker in the Chicago market, arranging property and casualty and other insurance coverage for businesses of all sizes – from large corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises.
The majority of Willis HRH Associates moving to Willis Tower work in the company’s retail brokerage business, which is supported by Willis’ key specialist capabilities in such areas as construction, executive risk, healthcare, property, real estate and employee benefits.
Willis Tower also will be home to Willis Commercial, a business unit dedicated to serving the insurance needs of small and medium-sized enterprises. Willis Commercial utilizes the technology platform and capabilities of the company’s Chicago-based InsuranceNoodle™ unit, a web-enabled wholesaler of commercial property and casualty products that Willis acquired in 2007. In addition, Willis’ Innotech business, a high-tech service center for healthcare benefits clients, will be housed in the Willis Tower offices.
The building is owned by 233 S. Wacker Drive LLC, a real estate investment group formed in 2004 to purchase the tower. Ownership includes New York City-based partners Joseph Chetrit; and Joseph Moinian and Steve Bederman of The Moinian Group; and Yisroel Gluck and John Huston, of American Landmark Properties, Ltd., based in Skokie, Illinois. U.S. Equities Asset Management LLC, headquartered in Chicago, provides management and leasing services to the property. Michael Kazmierczak, Senior Vice President, U.S. Equities, represented the building in negotiations. Josh Kuriloff, Vice Chairman, and Kent Ilhardt, Executive Vice President, Cushman & Wakefield, represented Willis.
Willis HRH is the North American retail brokerage business of Willis Group Holdings. The unit has more than 200 local offices across the United States and Canada, offering a full range of insurance and risk management services, specialist expertise and global resources to large corporate, middle-market and small business clients.
Willis Group Holdings Limited is a leading global insurance broker, developing and delivering professional insurance, reinsurance, risk management, financial and human resource consulting and actuarial services to corporations, public entities and institutions around the world. Willis has more than 400 offices in nearly 120 countries, with a global team of approximately 20,000 Associates serving clients in some 190 countries. Additional information on Willis may be found atwww.willis.com.

It's Official: Sears Tower to become Willis Tower

Yesterday we told you about the article in the Wall Street Journal that stated if The Willis Group decided to consolidate its regional offices in the Sears Tower instead of the Citigroup Center that the building would be renamed Willis Tower.  Well, it actually happened.

The Willis Group is moving 500 employees from a several other buildings into the Sears Tower and it got the naming rights in the process.

Willis is paying $14.50/square foot for 140,000 square feet of office space in the Sears Willis Tower.  The owners of the building threw in the name for free.

It remains to be seen wether there will be an outcry over the name change, but considering all the corporate identities and other bits of Chicago history that have been lost over the last decade, there's little chance this won't go through.

Watch out, Wrigley Field .

For Sale: Ambassador East Hotel

The Old Gray Lady of Gold Coast hotels is for sale.

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the Ambassador East Hotel is available for purchase.  In 2005 it sold for $44,500,000.  We'll see how much it gets this time around.  One disadvantage for any potential buyer, Crain's notes, is a badly needed renovation which could run $50 million or more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WhatChooTalkinBoutWillis? Chicago May Lose Another Iconic Name

Insurance giant The Willis Group is looking for a home in Chicago.  The Wall Street Journal reports that  it could land in the Sears Tower , and if it does -- Sears Tower could be renamed The Willis Tower !

This would be the latest in a long line of indignities Chicago's historic icons have suffered in the last decade or so.  But this is bigger than even Marshall Field's becoming Macy's because while the Marshall Field chain was cherished in the Midwest, it did not have the global recognition of the Sears Tower.

It turns out this isn't the first time the owners of the supertower have tried to change the name.  Crain's Chicago Business notes that the name was offered to both CDW (Computer Discount Warehouse) and the United States Olympic Committee.

The other building in Chicago that Willis is considering is the Citigroup Center , which obviously already has a big name on it that isn't going to change soon.

Quickie: Mambo Grill Taking A Break

Crain's Chicago Business reports that Mambo Grill is going to close temporary while it moves into new digs.

For Sale: 190 South LaSalle

If you're in the market for a skyscraper that epitomizes the 90's aesthetic, then look no further than 190 South LaSalle .

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the skyscraper is for sale.  In 2006 it went for $137,000,000.  We'll see what happens this time around.

Store No One Could Spell Closes on Michigan Avenue

There aren't many high-end perfume boutiques in Chicago.  In fact, there may not be any anymore.

The L'Artisan Parfumeur store in the Shops at 900 North Michigan Avenue has closed.  Employees were given no notice, other than that they should report to work the next day to pack up the inventory for shipping back to the American headquarters in a tacky graffiti-covered back alley in New York.

For those of you who don't know it (and if people did, it wouldn't have had to close), L'Artisan is a French company that makes its perfumes from entirely natural ingredients.  Mostly wildflowers harvested from the hillsides of the French countryside.

There are a number of L'Artisan outlets in Europe.  In the Americas, there's a handful in New York City, plus one in Montreal and the former Chicago boutique.

So, why did it fail in Chicago?  Probably for a lot of reasons.  While well-heeled Midwesterners are willing to splash out on a bottle of good perfume once a year or so, the business at the Chicago shop was miniscule compared to what moves in New York.  Image-conscious Gothamites have been known to splash out thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in L'Artisan boutiques in one purchase.  In Chicago, the clientele treated the store more as a museum piece than a place to spend money.  "That's very nice, but it's not for us."

It didn't help that virtually nobody knew there was a L'Artisan boutique in Chicago.  We once inquired about why there was no advertising for a retailer that was probably unique in the region.  We were told that advertising was beneath L'Artisan.  When we countered that Coca-Cola and McDonald's didn't get where they are today without an ad or two we got a dismissive, "it [advertising] is not really our thing."

So in light of recent events I have to pose the rhetorical question, "Hey, L'Artisan -- how's that 'no advertising' thing working out for ya?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quickie: Blue Chip Casino review

The Tribune has posted an architectural review of the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana.

Barney's Opening Date Rubble

As construction has progressed on the new Barney's New York store at the corner of Oak Street and Rush Street, it's been surprisingly hard to find out when the new 90,000 square-foot shopping mecca will open.
Many stores would put up big "Grand Opening" banners with dates to generate anticipation.  The best we've gotten out of Barney's is "Spring" -- and quite possibly for good reason.

As we reported a little over a month ago , the plan was to close the existing Barney's New York on March 15th and open the new store April 2nd.  That's not exactly how it's going to be.

Construction delays have Barney's pushing the whole thing back so that the new tentative opening we're hearing is "late April."

Considering that "Spring" in Chicago can mean anything from March 1 to June 30th, having a vague date on the signs makes the planners at Barney's look like the smartest kids in the class, rather than ones who blew an opening date.

+1 for foresight.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Three Styles, Two Sins, No Waiting

I have to admit it -- I've eaten in Beef and Brandy.  For those of you who have managed to avert your eyes all these years, here's the low-down:  It's a hard-core old-school Chicago lounge in the heart of State Street (127 South). It's a throw back to the days when classy businessmen in fedoras would down cocktails with their compatriots after work before catching the train home, and not just sip a beer from a paper bag on the L while snuggled in their hoodies and baseball caps ( I'm taking to you, Wrigleyville.)

The days of martini lunches are long gone, and while the food is still fine at Beef and Brandy, the place has a serious layer of funk that makes the Marquettes seem like white tablecloth establishments.

But in the six years I've been in Chicago, for some reason I only just recently looked "up" at the building that houses Beef and Bird.  Let me tell you -- I was surprised and annoyed.

The bottom of Beef and Brandy's facade is done up in something that resembles a suburban white clapboard home that the office workers of yore were intentionally avoiding.

Above that is a layer of white panels -- the kind that get slapped on buildings in the 1950's to make them look modern when all original thought is lost.

But the top three floors survive in what I can only hope is their original condition.  Delicate, elegant Chicago architecture emerges from the horrors bolted to the facade below.

The AIA Guide to Chicago skips this building entirely, but from what I can find elsewhere, it was built in 1920 and those upper floors actually have a handful of offices in them.  Let's hope that the ongoing renovation of State Street (including the Palmer House right next door) preserves this building and restores it to its 1920's look.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Slice of Life: The Golden Garlic Bulb

Back in medieval times, shopkeepers would make elaborate and iconic signs to give the illiterate masses an idea of what wares lay inside their stores.  In a sense, this golden garlic bulb is an apropos icon for a Middle Eastern restaurant.

The Sultan's Market has a corner space a block away from the Blue Line in Wicker Park.  The menu features the usual fare you'd expect from a Midwestern-ized version of Middle Eastern food (satay, baba ghanoush, etc...), but the decor harkens back to a lost era when traveling across the Middle East was exotic and young European women disillusioned with modern life wandered into the desert in search of Arab princes.

Of course, if you've traveled in the Middle East these days you know things are very different.  If it weren't for the calls to prayer echoing from minarets around the city you could very easily forget that the mall Starbucks you're sitting in isn't in Houston or Los Angeles, but a suburb of Istanbul that is virtually indistinguishable from Schaumburg.

(By the way, if you've got a thing for Middle Eastern architecture, then you might enjoy our sister site: Middle Eastern Architecture .  It's a little heavy on Turkey and Dubai, but it's coming along nicely.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Slice of Life: Chicago's Tirlet Building

Chicago's most unfortunately-named building is only made worse when used in a sentence with a thick Chicago accent: "Where's da Teeeerlet?"

The Terlet Building is at 2153 West North Avenue, just west of the Damen Blue Line station in Wicker Park.  The mixed use residential and commercial building isn't much to look at, though it is faced with some older white bricks and cornices that some people like.  We suspect that historically it was much better looking.

The people who occupy the ground floor business seem pretty proud of their location, declaring "Happy Terlet Day" and "Terlet Bldg 100 years Same Location," as if they expect the building to pick up and move at some time.

While the people inside are celebrating their 100 years, the Cook County Assessor's records actually show this building to be somewhere between 113 and 116 years old.  But we won't begrudge them a party.