First, the good news: Six months into construction, Randolph Tower is on schedule and on budget. Michigan-based developer Village Green is converting the 45-story neo-gothic tower into 313 apartments, the first of which will be ready for occupancy next winter. Last week, Curbed chatted with Village Green CEO Jonathan Holtzman by phone about the status of the building and its place in Chicago. Restoring Randolph Tower is a massive undertaking; the building was disintegrating when Village Green bought it out of bankruptcy, with large chunks of decorative terra cotta crumbling off the facade. Fixing that stuff obviously isn't cheap, but Village Green, which had been eying the building since 2006, specializes in historic buildings, and they stuck with it as construction costs escalated.
Back in 2006, the cost to rehab and convert the former office building was estimated at $78.4 million, but by this year the price more than doubled, to $147 million. The cost of fixing the crumbling facade alone was pitted at $23 million. "This might be the largest terra cotta project in downtown Chicago," says Holtzman, acknowledging the challenges and risks of such an undertaking, "but we think historic buildings are win-win for everyone." To help defray the cost, the city pitched in with $34 million TIF funding, which Holtzman says was largely to cover the terra cotta restoration.
That an attractive, historic high-rise is getting some much-needed TLC is of course great news, but we're also curious about the interior. The lobby renderings posted on the Hartshorne Plunkard Architects website look sleek, flashy and modern — not exactly the look you might expect for a 1929 skyscraper. Holtzman confirms that the new apartment building will include some very modern finishes, but he says that Village Green will work to salvage and restore whatever they can. "You honor history where you can, and you bring in new materials where you can't," he says.
Instead of trying to recreate a historic look in the interiors, the developer plans to bring in a lot of glass and metal and other modern finishes. "What we looked at was, OK, if we can preserve the historic, we do," says Holtzman. "If it's destroyed, we put in new materials that represent the future." So what's being preserved? The building was in pretty rough shape when Village Green acquired it, but there are some things that are salvageable. The carpets in the hallways will be ripped up to reveal the old terrazzo floors. The skylight over the pool is being restored, and the doors, to the extent that they weren't destroyed, will also be preserved, Holtzman says. Also, the old ballroom, which will be used as a common area and fitness center, will be preserved, but it'll get a new floor.
Inside, the apartments will have 10-foot ceilings, and the corner units will have unobstructed views. Holtzman says. The tower will include full-floor penthouses ("we don't think there will be better apartments in Chicago," says Holtzman says of the penthouses). The pool, fitness center and spa will be located at the top of the building's base, on the 28th floor. The building will also feature what Village Green is calling the 'Sky Club,' a common area with a kitchen, lounge and bar area.
Holtzman also touched upon the green aspects of the building when we spoke with him, emphasizing the notion that the greenest building is the one already built. Notably, Randolph Tower won't have any on-site parking (which doesn't come as much of a surprise, considering that it's a vintage building with no preexisting garage). Holtzman doesn't think that'll scare off renters, though. "We find that every year, less and less renters have a car," he says. And besides, there are several nearby garages where car-owners can rent a space.
The construction cycle was estimated at 24 months, and Village Green is currently six months in. The original plans called for delivering the first of the 313 apartments 12 months from starting, and Holtzman says they're still planning to do that. A pre-leasing office is set to open in the MDA City Apartments in early August.
· SoNo East, Randolph Tower Under Construction [Curbed Chicago]
· Official website: Randolph Tower [Village Green]