Laying Wanda’s foundation

The deepest part of the 98-story Wanda Vista Tower extends more than 100 feet below the banks of the Chicago River. This is where a handful of the skyscraper’s support chambers, called caissons, are drilled into solid rock. Designed to secure the structure and withstand the wind, the massive underground columns are among the many elements that Chicago-based McHugh Construction and dozens of subcontractors will complete before Wanda rises from the ground.

“These caissons are enormous,” explains Joel Kuna, the VP in charge of transforming a set of blueprints into Chicago’s third-tallest building. “Ten-foot diameter tubes that have a bunch of teeth on the bottom. Inside, we put thousands of pounds of rebar and concrete.”

McHugh Construction VP Joel Kuna and Project Manager Chris Tapas

Kuna has been with McHugh for 30 years. He joined the company after graduating from Illinois State, where he spent his days off building homes for a carpenter contracting business that he had launched with a friend. He lists the company’s “family-friendly approach” among his reasons for sticking around.

McHugh Construction was founded in 1897 by James D. McHugh, an Irish bricklayer from Chicago’s South Side. Its current chairwoman, Patricia McHugh, is his great-granddaughter.

When the caisson chambers are completed, a crane with a hoisting capacity of “around 30,000 pounds” will lift the tubes into place. The operator will communicate with workers on the ground through a system of hand signals.

“They go with hand signals because you want to keep your hands free for safety and the radio frequencies open for emergencies and the initial call to the operator,” says Kuna. “There’s swing left, right, bring down, hold that load… All kinds.”

An Iron Worker from Chicago’s Local #1 will send the signals up to the crane. Like all the workers onsite, he or she will wear a specific color helmet — for Iron Workers, brown — to designate his or her specific trade. The color-coding system helps tighten the choreography of the large, busy construction site.

Workers prepare the crane for hoisting

“On an average day, we’re hauling dirt, pumping concrete, assembling a crane, taking cranes apart, setting rebar and removing extra sheeting,” says Kuna. “If someone needs to find an electrician or a pipefitter, they can just look at the helmets.”

The crane that lifts the caisson is one of four dedicated to the project, including two that will be assembled onsite and a “bottom crane” that, Kuna explains, will attach to Wanda’s structure and “push on giant jacks to lift itself up” as high as 1,300 feet.

“You know Marina City?” he asks. “McHugh built that back in the day. We were the first ones to do a self-climbing crane.”

Although Marina City was built before his time, Kuna’s résumé lists a number of notable structures. Many of them — including Amoco/BP gas stations, ABC News headquarters and Russia’s International Monetary Fund — are in Moscow, where he spent his first four years with McHugh as Director of Field Operations during the defunct Communistic motherland’s rush to capitalism in the ‘90s.

Since returning to Chicago, he has expanded his list of achievements to include the Mag Mile’s Waldorf Astoria and New Eastside’s Chandler and Lancaster — “the first building out there,” he boasts. His knowledge of the neighborhood’s terrain is as deep as Wanda’s caissons.

“We’ve done it enough out there where we know the routine,” he says. “We are building on the old Chicago slips, which used to be water on the lakefront. They took the docks out and filled them with debris from the Chicago Fire — urban backfill. The ground is decent below 17 feet.”

Pouring concrete into the mat slab

A German-manufactured BG 39 excavator mounted drill rig helped McHugh reach that depth. It looks like a gigantic yellow screw attached to a bulldozer, weighs 330,000 pounds and extends to a maximum length of 118 feet. Upon striking a layer of rock between 20 and 80 feet, it extracted several soil boring cores — cylindrical samples of the earth — that were sent to geotechnical specialists for strength testing.

“As you go into rock, there’s the weathered layer, which could be anywhere from a foot to five or six feet deep,” explains Kuna. “There could be cracks on it because years ago water was running through it or whatever. The cores will tell you when you hit solid rock.”

The results help McHugh determine the proper depth of the caissons, which are divided into four sections called stems — west, center, east and ballroom. The stems are held together by two large sections of concrete called mat slabs, which the company began pouring in the last week of January.

Besides keeping the structure perfectly straight, the caissons also help it deal with the city’s legendary winds. To compensate for the sway that they induce, Canadian engineering and scientific consulting firm RWDI conducted tests on a mini-Wanda before construction began.

The 98-story Wanda Vista Tower, designed by Chicago architecture firm Studio Gang

“They put it on a scale model of Chicago and turn it one degree at a time and simulate wind conditions and run a wind analysis,” Kuna says. “It’s fascinating to watch.”

Combining this level of technological research with basic construction principles is a daily part of Kuna’s job.

The disciplines often meet in a doublewide trailer underneath Lake Shore Drive at the furthest end of Lower Randolph St., about two blocks east of the construction site. The location is an office suite, meeting facility and miniature kitchen with what appears to be Chicago’s blackest coffee. Kuna refers to a large area in the middle as “the war room.”

“This is where all the magic happens,” he explains. “We have a live feed (to the construction site) and we do all of our coordination meetings and 3D modeling here.”

On a recent afternoon, an electrician, a pipefitter and a plumber met with a couple of AutoCAD designers to coordinate the building’s mechanicals — the ducts, pipes and wiring for the electricity, ventilation and water that will bring the structure to life. Virtually walking through a 3D model of the interior displayed on a large computer monitor, they configured Wanda’s “vital organs” within the inches behind the walls “to make sure that they’re not hitting each other,” Kuna explains.

“Architects and owners don’t want to give you tons of room and space for stuff that they don’t want to see,” he continues. “So we’ve established standards over the years — this thick of a wall to put this size pipe.”

Cutting rebar to be placed into the network of reinforcing metal in the the mat slab

Kuna’s appreciation for space planning stems from a mishap that reduced him to tears on his first construction project. “When I was five years old, my grandparents bought me a Lego set and I built a giant airplane,” he recalls. “It was so big, I couldn’t get it out of my bedroom.”

Finishing the walls that will cover portions of the mechanicals adds another challenge to the job. Most buildings are adorned with flat panels, but a handful of Wanda’s lobbies and at least one of its restaurants will feature multifaceted marble.

“It’s got returns on it,” Kuna says. “It’s got beveled angles.”

To determine the best way to proceed, a scaled-down mockup of the tiles hangs on a wall in the war room. “We’re playing around with samples,” Kuna continues. “We want to see installment on three different planes.”

When the building is ready for interior decoration, the number of onsite workers will have expanded from 50 to “around 800, probably in the spring or summer of 2018,” says Kuna.

Several of them will be chosen from a joint initiative between McHugh and Magellan Development to hire more minority tradespeople.

Although Wanda may have achieved her ultimate height of 1,186 feet by then, Kuna’s job will be far from over.

“Not too many guys are crazy enough to do this for a living,” he says. “I love it.”

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Urban Real Estate thanks New Eastsiders

Urban Real Estate continues to lead as the local preeminent brokerage in our community, thanks to residents in New Eastside. According to statistics from Midwest Real Estate Data, which provides the region’s Multiple Listing Service, Urban Real Estate is the neighborhood’s leader in the number of listings it represented for sale in 2016. Data is based on sales north of Grant Park to the Chicago River, and east of Michigan Avenue to Lake Michigan.

Here is a snapshot of Urban’s 2016 successes, by the numbers:

Out of the 242 homes sold in our community last year, Urban represented more listings than any other office, and twice as many as the next.

Urban is the No. 1 office in the New Eastside, representing clients in more than 20 percent of all transactions.

Urban’s listings sold 14 percent faster than the average of other offices and had the shortest market time in our community.

Among the brokerage’s sales, the leading buildings at the time of closing were 400 E. Randolph St. and 155 N. Harbor Drive.

We are equally grateful and proud of Urban’s diverse brokerage and the successes that our dedicated agents have had representing clients’ needs.

The following agents are being recognized for their outstanding performance in 2016:

Most Sales Listings: Chris Vernald

Highest Sales Volume: Matt Silver

Most Rental Listings: Vickie Liu

Highest Rental Volume: Giancarlo Chavez and Fiona Xia

Most New Eastside Transactions: Michael Emery

Urban is honored to continue to bring you high-quality marketing, service and partnership in your buying, selling and rental needs.

Please stop by our office any time to say hello, or visit us at UrbanRealEstate.com and learn how we can help you, too, succeed in your real estate ventures.

Rate hikes can help homeowners

Last month, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for only the second time since 2008. This federal interest rate is used by lending institutions and banks as a guideline to determine what they will charge consumers to borrow money in all areas, including for auto loans, student loans, credit cards and, of course, mortgages. While the impact of the 0.25 percentage point increase will vary and it may take time for us to feel its ripple effect, there are many factors to consider, especially regarding home loans.

The Fed has suggested that interest rates will continue to rise, and understanding how this will impact homeowners is key to knowing your home buying and selling power.

“Housing affordability and accessibility becomes an issue as interest rates begin to climb,” says Matt Farrell, managing broker at the New Eastside brokerage Urban Real Estate.

“When money costs more for someone to borrow, the price point that they may ultimately be able to afford changes, as well.”

“When we work with clients on either the buy or sell side, we assess what their ultimate goals are,” adds Farrell. “We work to determine if there might be an opportunity to price a home they are selling compellingly, if they are getting a stellar deal on the one they are purchasing. Really being aware of your goals — and working through your big-picture investment planning with a broker — allows you both to make strong, seasoned decisions that can be sound and strategic.”

If you are considering selling, or are a renter considering your options before your spring or summer lease ends, now is the time to help get your “credit house” in order, and maximize the opportunity to make your money go further.

To learn more about how the Urban Real Estate team works with its clients to create the right plan for them, contact Matt Farrell at (312) 528-9299 or email matt.farrell@urbanre.com.

Rada rejuvenates 400 E Randolph

The dome that glows over the southeastern corner of Lake Shore East Park doesn’t just protect the swimming pool on the seventh floor of 400 E. Randolph Condominium. It is a testament to architect and New Eastside resident Rada Doytcheva’s commitment to design with the community in mind.

“How can people live better walking by the swimming pool?” asks the founder of RADA Architects, located in Illinois Center. “I’m not even talking about the microworld of people who live in the building, but the whole neighborhood.”

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Rada Doytcheva (Patton)

By Doytcheva’s design, the dome’s shifting hues illuminate the formerly dark “museum fixture,” reminding us that “there’s life there.” The kinetic light fixtures inside the dome radiate upward and interact with the transparent structure.

“It becomes like a diffusing glass,” she says. “So instead of letting the light go through and disappear in the sky, it glows.”

This was part of the first phase of RADA’s total rejuvenation of 400 E. Randolph, which began in 2005. Over the next decade, her influence extended to the entire complex.

“They hired me to redo, rethink, everything,” she says.

Rada was uniquely qualified for the job long before her firm won the contract, and it’s not just because she was a resident in the building at the time. Born and educated in Sofia, Bulgaria, she grew up in a “dense and muscular city” where a number of buildings were inspired by the same Modernist principals as 400 E. Randolph. She became familiar with the style from her father, a visionary architect who introduced Modernism to Bulgaria and inspired her to enter the field.

“He was one of the premiere healthcare architects in Bulgaria,” she explains.

Doytcheva came to the States by way of the American Planning Association, which recognized her language skills and architectural education. After spending six years working for someone else, she struck out on her own. 

“Architecture should be less of a business, more of an inspiration and of making peoples’ lives different, better,” she asserts. “This is my primary goal.”

Modernism was all the rage when 400 E. Randolph was completed in 1963. Emphasizing practicality over decoration, the democratic style’s basic tenets continue to guide today’s architects. “Don’t do long corridors where you can do compact,” says Doytcheva. “Don’t mix unrelated functions and make peoples’ lives difficult.” But though Modernist theories remain the same many Modernist buildings are ready for a facelift.

Doytcheva convinced the board to reconfigure the seventh floor of 400 E. Randolph — which contained a health club, a swimming pool and several small offices — into a resident-friendly open plan that boasts an environment flooded with nature and sunlight.

“They were thinking, like, a few weight rooms and that was it,” she says. “Now we have winter gardens, we have children’s rooms, we have a pizza place, we have party rooms…I mean, we have all kinds of things going.”

The easy access to everything on the 7th floor reflects Doytcheva’s enthusiasm for egalitarian design. She employed the same philosophy as architect and developer of Clybourn Point, a mixed-use facility in Old Town that combines residential units with office spaces and a club. “Everybody had access to the rooftop green garden,” she says. “It was my vision of giving people an opportunity to live equally well, to enjoy the amenities.”

The revitalization of the main lobby at 400 East, completed in 2014, includes large lights that Doytcheva calls “lanterns.” Besides drawing the attention of residents and passersby to the “beautiful new front desk area,” they complement the panorama of Maggie Daley Park and the row of modern high-rises along Randolph Street.

“If I go to the Chicago Jazz Festival,” says RADA Senior Architect Doug Boldt, “that whole wall of residential buildings, when it turns dark, is one of the most beautiful sights in all of the city.”

Making such a contribution to Chicago’s skyline has been a dream of Doytcheva’s since her school days.

“Being a student in Bulgaria in architecture means that you study a lot of history,” she explains. “Chicago was really central to this, with the first skyscraper, the Frank Lloyd Wright ideas about organic architecture and all the innovation…To me, it was like a God-given, almost, gift to [come] here and to explore Chicago architecture.”

— Daniel Patton

Make your home improvement worth it

As homeowners look to spruce up their homes, residential experts at the New Eastside’s Urban Real Estate find that the easiest repairs can have the greatest impact. Whether you are considering selling or not, maintaining your home’s value is key to your own asset, as well as to keeping your home beautiful.

“Routine repairs can be golden,” explains Chris Vernald, a partner with Urban who works with investors and residents looking to rehab properties and guides their improvement efforts. “Owners often overlook the simplest maintenance. Settling marks, cracking in paint and discoloration from a leak are all easy repairs that should come first.”

logo-ureThe kitchen is key to a buyer shopping for a new home. “Many condos have galley kitchens with walls that can easily be opened.  A seller looking to list their home should consider taking down a wall and removing a few cabinets.  It takes the guesswork out of what a home might look like, and makes a condo more valuable,” Chris notes.

“Removing drywall and creating an open space is more affordable than most realize. If your cabinets are older, don’t swap out cabinets. Simply change the hardware, hinges and add a fresh coat of paint, and your kitchen can look incredible.”

Carpet, another hot topic Urban’s brokers are asked about, is a perfect component to negotiate smartly in a sale. “If you are removing carpet to put in hardwood floors for your own enjoyment, do it,” Chris advises. “However, if you are looking to sell, get your carpet cleaned, then let your broker price your home with a potential credit for flooring. This way, you maintain your value and leave the flooring out of pricing, but as a credit to the buyer.”

For more on this and other improvement tips from Chris, visit his blog at UrbanRealEstate.com and look for Chris Vernald Talks Home Improvement.

www.urbanrealestate.com

New Eastside joins Open House Chicago

Open House Chicago — the weekend when the city’s most beautiful buildings are literally open to the public — will include six New Eastside locations on the weekend of October 15 and 16.

img_0619aDesigned to allow the public an opportunity to explore great spaces that are generally  off- limits throughout the year, the event hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation includes more than 200 locations, “from mansions to sacred spaces, theaters to private clubs, hotels to secret rooms.”

Participating neighborhood properties include the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building of Illinois (300 E. Randolph St.), the offices of bKL Architecture (225 N. Columbus Dr.), the facilities of GEMS World Academy (350 E. S. Water St.), the towering AON Center (200 E. Randolph St.), the spire-topped Prudential Plaza (130 E. Randolph St.), and the former icebreaking vessel Abegweit that houses the floating Columbia Yacht Club in Lake Michigan near Randolph St..

The times of public access vary on each day, but most offer at least four hours of viewing on Saturday and several will also be open Sunday.

www.openhousechicago.org/about.

— Daniel Patton

Urban Real Estate’s Matt Silver appointed to association President

Chicago-based Urban Real Estate salutes partner Matt Silver for being installed as the 133rd president of the Chicago Association of Realtors (C.A.R.), the local board of the National Association of Realtors.

Before a crowd of more than 700 attendees at its annual gala held at the Radisson Blu, Silver’s message to realtors and industry leaders was that Chicago matters, and that we cannot afford to lose any of our 77 neigh- borhoods due to lack of service and economic prosperity.

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Matt Silver

“We are unable to ignore these communities which need us. Every home, street, and neighborhood matters,” Silver said. “It is our responsibility as real- tors to explore ways to build our underserved communities. Home ownership, community involvement and commer- cial offerings have a lasting impact on these neighborhoods.”

C.A.R. represents more than 13,000 members in the residential and commercial sectors.

Matt Silver has a long-time national reputation as one of the premier real estate brokers in Chicago for his in-depth market knowledge and persistence to close the most prudent deal for his buyers and sellers. With his team at Urban, Matt takes pride in offering clients a concierge, one-on-one service, that is unparalleled in the industry.

Silver’s installation is a dual-honor for Urban, with this being the second president to hail from the New Eastside brokerage. Matt Farrell, managing partner, held the office in 2013.

“It’s an honor to have Matt represent us as a leading voice, shaping and informing legislative, policy, taxation, and practical matters that impact our business, our communities, and our clients,” says Farrell. “Urban continues to grow with some of the brightest, smartest, and most talented individuals in this business. He is the right leader to tackle the issues our market is facing today and we couldn’t be more proud to support him.”

Wanda Vista construction plan

There were no questions allowed at a July 19 community presentation regarding construction plans for the supertall Vista skyscraper because Alderman Brendan Riley requested that all questions must be submitted in writing.

Hundreds of New Eastside neighbors who may be directly impacted by the construction zone attended the meeting at the Radisson Blu hoping to speak. Instead, the event — which was hosted by Magellan Development Group, McHugh Construction, and Alderman Riley’s office — featured a presentation of the construction schedule.

The Alderman did not attend and several neighbors expressed frustration at not being able to ask questions in person. “It should be important enough for the Alderman to have shown up. We should have an opportunity to ask questions at the end,” said one guest.

“We’re honoring the Alderman’s request to have all questions in writing. This is not a normal part of the process,” said Magellan President David Carlins. “This is a three-and-a-half to four year construction period so things will come up along the way and we want to make sure that we’re meeting everyone’s concerns. It’s good that so many of our neighbors are here,” he said.

The 93-story building at 375 E. Wacker Drive includes a 192-room, five star hotel; 406 luxury condominium residences; and 345 parking spaces. The development team is Chicago-based Magellan Development in a joint venture with Dalian Wanda Development, the largest real estate developer in China. James McHugh Construction Company is the general contractor.

Carlins indicated that Magellan and McHugh representatives are available to present to properties in the New Eastside, stating, “We’re happy to meet with each building and take as much time as needed.” Work will take place from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm each day and “neighbors can expect a clean and safe job site,” said David Alexander, a senior vice president at McHugh.

The project is expected to start “in earnest” this August with foundation work, according to Alexander. Structure construction is scheduled for April 2017 to January 2019. Construction will culminate in three condos at the top of the building in April 2020.

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Traffic impact (click to enlarge).

The megaproject will result in various traffic impacts and street closures in the years ahead. The left turning lane at the intersection of Columbus Drive and Upper Wacker Drive will be closed for the project’s duration.

Additionally, plans call for the demolition and reconstruction of a portion of the bridge on Wacker Drive beginning in August and ending around summer 2019.

Roadways and walkways on Waterside Drive will stay open, except for the area directly south of the Vista Tower and between the Tides and Shoreham. “When the project is finished, there will be a roadway where you can get from Water Street and Wacker Drive directly to Waterside Drive,” said Alexander.

The section of Lower Field Boulevard that currently connects to Lower Wacker Drive will be closed to traffic. The Tides and Shoreham garages will remain open, with a U-turn on Lower Field Boulevard for traffic to enter and exit the garages.

Beginning in August, pedestrian access to the Riverwalk via Lower Field Boulevard will be closed. During the closure, neighbors will have two other options to reach the Riverwalk and the lakefront, said Alexander.

The first option is ADA accessible and involves taking the service drive, a pathway underneath Lake Shore Drive, either to the harbor or to the Riverfront. “A sidewalk will be added to the service drive for additional safety,” he said. The second option is to take the elevator in the northwest corner of the Park to the upper level, cross Wacker, and go back down the stairs.

Occasional lane closures will occur on Middle Wacker Drive to “facilitate the bridge overhead when we’re doing demolition and erecting steel,” he said. The closures are mandated by the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Presentation slides detailing the planned street closures are posted on McHugh’s web site.

Direct any questions to Magellan at questions@magellandevelopment.com. Questions and answers will be posted on McHugh’s web site at McHughconstruction.com/projects.

— Shanti Nagarkatti

New Eastside realtor making a splash

Long-time New Eastside resident Michael Emery, senior partner with Urban Real Estate, is no stranger to the industry – which is why his expertise was tapped in January 2015 to serve on the local Multiple Listing Service’s (MLS) board of managers, Midwest Real Estate Data.

A twelve-year seasoned broker, with years in client relations prior, Michael’s role on the board has several responsibilities.  Among them, ensuring real estate brokers are effective in representing and marketing their clients’ listings, as well as creating guidelines for mandatory information collected, to help accurately price homes presented for sale.

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Michael Emery

In addition, Michael and his board peers are equally engaged in the very best way to serve the consumer – and specifically, how to present information that is accurate, updated as frequently as technology allows, offering a user-friendly interface regardless of which brokerage’s website you are searching.

“It is imperative that consumers across Chicago and the suburbs we serve have the very best data in their hands to help inform their choices.  We know the vast majority of homebuyers begin their search online before connecting with a REALTOR®, and therefore they should have as much accurate information as possible,” Emery adds.  “We, as brokers, know the stories of neighborhoods and buildings that professionals learn over time; It is immensely gratifying to be able to help clients be as informed as possible when they are making one of the largest investments in their lifetime.”

This year, Michael was also again recognized as “Who’s Who” by trade magazine Chicago Agent.  Michael couldn’t be prouder to have his home and Urban’s office in the New Eastside (and in the same building at 400 E. Randolph, to be exact!) With his wife Amanda, the couple has made our community home for years to come.

To connect with Michael, email him at Michael@urbanre.com or call (312) 528-9288.

First-time homebuyer education

Chicago’s diversity in culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic background brings opportunity for new business ventures to our great city. Knowing the nuance of the American process, especially as an expatriate, however, has a prevalent learning curve, as Urban Real Estate broker Justin Oliver, an expatriate himself, discovered.

Oliver sold real estate in London before moving to Chicago in 2008. In his quest to make new friends and connect with fellow expatriates, he noticed that many of his newly-transitioned peers were daunted by the American homebuying and lending process. “A flat in London, for example, is different to a condo here.

In London. you buy the right to live in the unit for a given length of time, up to 999 years, but not the deeded ownership,” Oliver notes. “An American condo offers that deeded ownership. There are many differences in terminology used between the two systems; knowing the jargon used is critical for clients.”

house-for-sale-clip-artSpearheading this initiative, Oliver, along with Urban, offers an informative program for British expatriates, and other audiences across the city, taking apart every component of homebuying, helping foreign nationals and locals, alike, understand what they are buying, and how to determine the property right for them.

The program has been so well-received, that Oliver and the Urban team now bring this, and other homebuyer and financing education as part of a series it hosts at venues across the city including homeowner associations who wish to offer real estate-related education for its residents. “It’s a tremendous responsibility to own a home – our goal is to offer quality consumer education to help make prospective buyers, sellers and investors as aware of the marketplace as possible,” says Oliver. “It’s what being Urban is all about.”

To attend a session, or to schedule one for your group, email Justin at Justin@urbanre.com or phone Urban at (312) 528-9200 or visit www.UrbanRealEstate.com.

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