GEMS upper school building height reduced

By Nicole VandeBoom | Staff Writer

Dog house days are over

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

October 18, 2017

Following years of complaints, the unsightly “dog house covers” on inactive pedestrian tunnel entrances are being removed from the Magnificent Mile.

In an Oct. 4th report, Ald. Reilly (42nd) announced that the wooden covers on the intersection  of Michigan and Oak, an area with high foot traffic, will be replaced with concrete slabs.

Ald. Reilly said he is funding the improvements through an allocation of aldermanic menu funds, but did not disclose the amount.

In his report, the alderman said that he was “extremely pleased” to announce the Gold Coast infrastructure improvement, which will not only improve appearances, but add increased sidewalk space. He said he is working with Chicago Department of Transportation to cover them in a “more innovative and aesthetically pleasing way.”

CDOT is starting to install the concrete covers on the southeast side of Oak and Michigan in the city’s 2nd Ward, and then will move to the northwest corner in the 42nd Ward.

Ald. Hopkins (2nd) also committed menu funds to the project, paying for the southeast replacement.

The project is expected to take several weeks.


Alderman announces new high-rise developments in Lakeshore East

Lakeshore East is growing up, and growing up fast. Just as the first few floors take shape of what will be Chicago’s third-tallest tower, the Wanda Vista, plans for more Lakeshore East high-rises are ready to be unveiled.

Proposed plans will be revealed at a public presentation hosted by Alderman Brendan Reilly and the New Eastside Association of Residents. Chicago-based Magellan Development Group, in association with Australian company Lendlease Development Inc., will present building renderings and proposals at the community meeting, which will take place July 10 at 6 p.m., at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (151 E. Upper Wacker Dr.).

The proposed developments are located at “Site O” (195 N. Columbus Dr.) and four sites near Lake Shore Drive that will add over 2,000 residential units and 900 hotel rooms to New Eastside.

Magellan Development, the developer of Lakeshore East since 2001, has completed nine buildings in the New Eastside neighborhood. If the proposed plans become a reality, Magellan Development will be responsible for a total of 14 towers in New Eastside.

Community Presentation for Proposed Developments in Lakeshore East Monday, July 10, 6- 8 p.m. Hyatt Regency Hotel, Regency Ballroom, West Tower A 151 E. Upper Wacker Dr.

Elaine Hyde, Editor

Studio Gang’s vision extends beyond the Wanda Vista

Juliane Wolfe, Design Principal at the Chicago office of Studio Gang architect and urbanism practice, says that her company envisioned much more than a skyscraper when it began working on the Wanda Vista tower.

“With this building, we saw a unique opportunity to create a connection with the neighborhood, the Riverwalk and Lakeshore East park,” she explains. “So many people are being influenced by the site. We had to understand really well what was there.”

In some respects, Studio Gang realized that ambition quite literally. The Wanda plan includes strengthening the connection between Lakeshore East Park and the Riverwalk.

“We spent many hours walking around,” Wolfe continues. “What we typically do is build physical models to see how the connections make sense.”

Juliane Wolf of Studio Gang. Photo courtesy of Studio Gang

Wolfe is a native Frankfurter who came to Chicago “during high school” and later earned a Bachelor’s degree from IIT, where Studio Gang founder Jeanne Gang was an instructor.

“It was the first time that I experienced a city that was shaped by tall buildings,” she remembers. “Really exciting and really beautiful people too.”

After graduating from IIT, she started working for Studio Gang. Among the inspirations that guide her is “a high regard to make cities better and more livable.”

The firm’s research near Lake Shore East Park revealed, among other things, that the Riverwalk is a cherished destination. Their plan will strengthen the path between the two areas when the building is completed.

“The Wanda Vista is created of three different stems,” Wolfe explains. “The largest are the outer two. We were able to lift the middle stem, which is supported by the outer two stems, and connect the roads underneath the building.”

The plan also locates the hotel drop-off at the “very highest level” of the street, on “the north side of the east stem.” The residential drop-off is on the south side to the west.

Chicago architecture buffs and critics around the world praise the firm for its creation of the Aqua Tower, an award-winning structure adorned by undulating balconies that soar 82-stories into the air. The flowing grace and dynamic energy of its shape are visible for blocks.

But Studio Gang equipped the structure with an additional flow that affects residents and visitors every day.

“For the Aqua building, we created connections with the elevated stairs from the upper level to the lower level,” Wolfe explains.

Although it does not generate as many headlines as the curvy balconies, it certainly makes the neighborhood a more livable place to be.

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Survey Says Now’s a Great Time to Sell

How to know if it’s right for you

With existing housing inventory on the decline for the past two years, 71 percent of homeowners believe now is a good time to sell according to research by the National Association of REALTORS quarterly Housing Opportunities and Market Experience (HOME) Survey. This rings true with Matt Farrell, managing broker of New Eastside’s Urban Real Estate, who sees the same opportunity in our community, and across Chicago.

“There is obviously a disconnect between homeowner perceptions, and translating that to bringing their home to market, but the truth is, if your lifestyle or economics affords you the opportunity to sell, now is a great time to do so,” says Farrell. “Interest rates remain desirable, and buyers who have

invested wisely are looking to make their mark in our neighborhood by buying here. New Eastside, in particu- lar, attracts serious buyers, competitive offers, and strong deals when presented with homes priced compellingly.”

Urban Real Estate brokers regularly walk clients through the current marketplace, and evaluating if “now” is the right time for a homeowner to sell. Farrell, an expert on local and national media and often interviewed on Chicago’s real estate trends, adds that one

of the most important parts of selling is being able to address the “Where do we go once we sell” question. “Thinking about where you will go once you sell is often the most imperative part of the decision. If you haven’t thought that through, the expense in interim housing, dual packing and moving expenses, and stricter timeframes due to a lease, etc., can ultimately cost you financially now, and negate your ability to negotiate a strong deal for the home you purchase later.”

NAR’s survey also adds that consumer confidence, housing affordability, and job security, continue to add to a market plagued with questions in the short and long-term. “The reality is, homeownership in our corner of the city remains one of the best places to call home. If you have the opportunity to make a change, and can exceed your personal and financial goals doing so, this is absolutely the time to connect with a trusted real estate advisor and evaluate your own situation, today,” Farrell says.

For more on the Urban Real Estate Difference, or to connect with one of our brokers, call 312-528-9200, stop by our office at 400 E. Randolph St., or visit us online at

— Urban Real Estate

Wanda penthouse among city’s priciest

Urban Real Estate announced one of its clients has found a new home in the highly anticipated Vista Tower. The unit is a full floor, to be delivered in the summer of 2020, and is listed at 5,734 square feet, with two balconies, featuring sprawling 360-degree views of the magnificent Windy City, for a little over $8.6 million.

The buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a Chicagoan, represented by Giancarlo Chavez, broker with Chicago-based brokerage Urban Real Estate.

View of New Eastside from skyscraper altitude.

New Eastside viewed from skyscraper altitude.

“My client has very distinctive tastes, and was looking for amenities few buildings offered in the city,” Chavez says.

“As we considered his needs and ultimate wish list, I thought we should take a look at Vista Tower. He immediately loved what he saw, and how spectacular his new home will be. Our client will have the opportunity to be involved in customizing the unit’s layout, design and materials.”

The new gem of the New Eastside will be a $1 billion, 95-story, 1,186-foot structure comprised of residences, as well as a five-star hotel, making Vista Tower Chicago’s third-tallest building.

According to Midwest Real Estate Data, fewer than ten condominiums have sold for over $8 million in Chicago.

McHugh Construction laying Wanda’s foundation

“This is a very special development for Chicago,” says Matt Farrell, managing partner and managing broker of Urban Real Estate.

“This deal in particular sets a tone for the excitement and class that Vista Tower brings to our city. Magellan Development with its partner, Wanda Group of China, have created a sales center that allows us to work with clients to electronically visualize what their home will look like, a first-time effort of this kind in our city — and a huge plus in the luxury real estate sphere,” he adds.

“Giancarlo worked painstakingly to ensure our client garnered exactly what he was seeking, and he found just the building to make his mark in.”

— Urban Real Estate

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 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

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.”


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 | Staff Writer

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