Boutique hotel to anchor North West Tower building complex after renovation, repurposing and construction in Wicker Park


Elevation shows the rough configuration along Milwuakee

A hotel operator who specializes in boutique hotels and whose largest property has 56 rooms is expected to be the facilities operator after the renovation and re-purposing of Wicker Park's North West Tower and Hollander Fireproof Warehouse buildings is complete, explained a team from Convexity Properties (CP), during the Wicker Park Committee's (WPC) Preservation and Development (P&D) Committee meeting Tues., Oct. 15. This is only part of the redevelopment of one of the land spokes at the Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues intersection. 

The Properties

The parcel of land to be developed by Convexity Properties is from 1600 to 1628 N. Milwaukee Ave. It includes the 14-story North West Tower Building which is part of Chicago's Milwaukee Ave. Landmark District, the Hollander Fireproof Warehouse building which wraps around the Tower from North to Milwaukee Avenues and 1624 to 1628 N. Milwaukee, two parcels north of the Hollander building.


Construction on the right is the North West Tower during construction*


Wicker Park's first skyscraper, the North West Tower building, designed by C. Herrick Hammond of Perkins, Clatten and Hammond, was the tallest building on Chicago's northwest side when it opened in April 1929. It was owned by the stockholders of the Noel State Bank. Joseph R. Noel's bank, under the name North West Savings Bank, began operations in 1905 at the 1600 N. Milwaukee site in the Milnoro Building, built in 1885 and razed in 1928. They moved to their new building across the street at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave., officially opening on July 30, 1921, (currently the home of Walgreen's). 

A description of the Tower building in 1929 appeared in an issue of the Greater Chicago Magazine, "With its walls of Indiana limestone, rising from a granite base to a sheer height fourteen stories above the sidewalk, it is the tallest office building on the northwest side. Surmounting its stone cupola, a great bronze lantern illuminated at night by floodlight will be visible for miles in all directions. Besides calling attention to the merits of the North West Tower as a fine business home, this beacon will serve to advertise the entire district in which it stands. 

"The interior of the North West Tower was carefully planned to achieve both beauty and utility."* 

Proposed use


The Hollander Warehouse is seen next to the Tower on the right side which is Milwaukee Ave.

Adding "social environment with community engagement" to the 1929 attributes of beauty and utilitarian, the proposed use for the approximate 70,000 square feet in the Tower and the Hollander buildings is for a boutique hotel. With a maximum of 120 rooms, 75 rooms will be on 10 floors in the Tower.  

The overall concept for the Wicker Park property is that they offer not just rooms but also a social experience where families are welcome. While still in the planning stages, the likelihood is that they will be offering some form of shared and small room options under $100 as well as regular hotel rooms at a price range of from around $130 to $175. Concentrating on occupancy, they are still working on how they can be flexible with their offerings, depending on seasonal market demand.        

Other usage in these two buildings is for lobby, second floor flexible event space and lounge space open to the public, a small 55-person Tower penthouse space with a solarium cover, food service (possibly a diner) on ground level, a small pool area on top the Hollander and retail. 

"We will be taking one high rise building with antiquated systems and a former warehouse with no systems and packaging it as one building with a central plant that will serve all buildings," said David Nelson, Vice President, DRW Holdings, LLC. 

In addition there are plans to build one new two-story building from 1624 to 1628 N. Milwaukee, north of the Hollander building. That 6,000 square foot structure will house additional hotel amenities, retail space, underground parking for about 20 to 30 valet service spaces for the complex and a third-party restaurant. Complexity is already talking with local restaurateurs about possibly of re-locating in that space.

Like many commercial properties, the ownership of the buildings will be in separate companies like 1616-1624 N. Milwaukee Ventures, LLC.

The owners and developers


The Convexity Team: David Nelson, Christopher Oakley and Evan Meister

Purchase of the property began in 2011 with a partnership of Donald Wilson, head of DRW Holdings, LLC and AJ Capital Partners buying the note on the Tower building "through a complicated deal involving two banks and two separate mortgages," according to a 2011 article in Crain's

Convexity is a real estate and management arm of DRW, Holdings, LLC. Their projects are a mix of hospitality, entertainment and retail properties.  It was founded by David Nelson in 2009. 

They are in the midst of redeveloping the 1914 Holabird and Roche The Three Arts Club, 1300 N. Dearborn Parkway, part of Alderman Fioretti's new 2nd Ward. Their plans for that historic structure, in the middle of the Gold Coast's high density residential area, includes Restoration Hardware show rooms, selling art and furniture. 

Another Gold Coast area property is the new complex around the old Esquire Theater, 58 E. Oak St. In Lincoln Park they have a very different property, Chicago Getaway Hostel, 616 W. Arlington Place. Out in Aspen, CO, they have the Hotel Jerome.               

Restoration is intended for the Tower Building, taking advantage of various tax credits for historic properties. The developers will also be able to qualify for Federal Tax credits on the Hollander building, so they will be restoring some of the historic features of that structure. 

While filing for renovation tax credits helps the develper, a Planned Development (PD) for the entire complex can be an even bigger win-win for the developers and the community. 

"A PD will be good if it helps in the preservation aspects and the inclusion of Hollander. The developer also needs some flexibility within the building to create the hotel and all of the internal needs required to operate a successful hotel," says Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, whose old Ward included the complex. 

"We have kept the hotel concept on the table for years and I am happy to see the developer working on it as a partner with the community. Alderman Fioretti and I are working together on this project although he was taking our lead to get this project moving as the wards transition. He and I agree that preservation of the Tower and Hollander is a primary concern, but the jobs and economic boost for the communities around it will be helpful to the entire city." 

A Planned Development gives developers more leeway in zoning [Currently zoning on the site is split between M1-2 and B3-2. They are interested in an equivalent of B-3-5.] but it also provides for public review, promotes economically beneficial development patterns that are compatible with the character of existing neighborhoods, allows design flexibility and requires a review of  plans before construction begins. Developers are then held to the commitments that they have made in their plans. 

A planned development begins with an application filed with the Zoning Administrator. The Zoning Administrator must transmit an original copy of the application, without delay, to the City Clerk, who must record it in the proceedings of the City Council at its next regular meeting. The Zoning Administrator must also, within 5 days of the application filing, transmit copies of the application to the Plan Commission. The process includes required public meetings. 

On Wed., Oct. 16, the PD application for the property from 1600 to 1628 N. Milwaukee Ave. was introduced to the City Council. The zoning ask is for 4.8.4 which is an equivalent of B-3-5. 

The Hotel Operators
Though most of the papers are signed with the prospective hotel operator who will handle operations in the Tower and Hollander buildings, Convexity is not releasing their name at this time. They expect that all agreements will be signed in the next few weeks. Convexity has, however, shared information about that company's track record. 

The probable operators, who also own 15 hotels, focus on boutique properties. Their largest has 56 rooms. "They are a group that is inspired by location and building," said Evan Meister, Convexity Properties. "They have worked with three landmark buildings before." 

One of those buildings is a 1928 triangle building, another is a 17th Century Palace and an 1880s water purification plant. They believe that their success is determined on the acceptance in the community and allowing the community to be a part of the hotel. 

Though they already know that 2,500 cars pass through the intersection at peak hours, they want a traffic study performed to determine recommendations on traffic flow and the best way to service the complex. 

The scaffolding around the Tower will not be able to come down until March 2014, explained Christopher Oakley, Convexity's Director of Design. They will be able to do work on the buildings exteriors but will not be able to do other work until the PD is approved. 

The completion date will be sometime in 2015. 

Preservation and Development Committee
The seven people on the P & D Committee voted unanimously to support the PD application, conditional on Convexity providing an acceptable traffic circulation plan and that the penthouse roof not be visible from the street. 

Representing the opinions of most to all of the P&D Committee members, Ed Tamminga, P&D Chair, said, "This is an exciting project, a real asset to the neighborhood. 

"The international quality operator should attract clientele to the neighborhood that represent good economic and social demographics." 

The project will be presented at the WPC Nov 6 membership meeting in the Wicker Park Field House, 1425 N. Damen Ave., at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.

*From Wicker Park From 1673 Thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide 

+Disclosure: this writer serves as a member of the WPC P&D Committee



Northwest Tower Building

Sounds great to me. The only problem would/could be the traffic situation. Make it exciting and beautiful.

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