Developer seeks OK to make Bucktown building a hotel

September 17, 2008

Alby Gallun, Crain’s

A city panel on Friday will consider a plan to convert the tallest building in Bucktown into a 90-room hotel, a project that has yet to receive the blessing of the neighborhood’s alderman.

1600 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), who represents the area, likes the idea but is withholding his support for the permit because he hasn’t seen a specific plan.

“There’s just a lot of questions,” says Paul Sajovec, the alderman’s chief of staff. “Our concern is that right now this could be anything. It could be a Motel 6 or it could be a high-end product.”

MCM representatives did not return phone calls for comment.

An MCM affiliate paid $5 million for Northwest Tower in January 2007, financing the property with a $5.2-million loan from Amcore Bank, according to documents filed with the Cook County Recorder.

The developer also acquired three low-rise buildings just north of the tower and drew up plans for a major mixed-use development on the properties, a proposal that Alderman Waguespack shot down last year. All the buildings, including the Northwest Tower, are now listed for sale on MCM’s Web site, suggesting that the developer is open to all options for the properties.

The landmark Northwest Tower, which was built in 1929, isn’t the only big redevelopment candidate at the intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee avenues. Chicago developer Jon Goldman paid $18.4 million in March for the Midwest Bank building at 1601 N. Milwaukee Ave., with plans to convert the property to retail use.

Though retailers have flocked to the neighborhood, hotel rooms there are in short supply.

“We have 33 beds at bed-and-breakfasts in Wicker Park and Bucktown,” says Paul Barrington, executive director of the Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce. “We do see an increase in the need for hotel rooms.”

Alderman Waguespack agrees but isn’t ready to back MCM’s plan until he sees more details. He plans to send a letter saying just that to the Zoning Board of Appeals, says Mr. Sajovec, his chief of staff.

The Wicker Park Committee, a residents group, has similar concerns. MCM has yet to show its proposal to the group, a step most developers take before they seek the city’s approval on a project, says Craig Norris, chairman of the organization’s preservation and development subcommittee.

“I think in fairness, the community would like to see what the plan is and have some meetings,” he says. “That’s pretty standard.”