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150 apartment units may hit Ravenswood near Metra

Artist rendering Ravenswood Terrace Apartments project 1801 w. Argyle.

Artist rendering of the Ravenswood Terrace Apartments project at 1801 w. Argyle.

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Updated: October 14, 2012 1:47PM

City planners are close to approval of an apartment complex with parking on an open site in Ravenswood that has enticed developers for years. The property covers nearly 3 acres at 1801 W. Argyle, a tract that sits next to a Metra commuter stop.

Developer Greg Merdinger wants to build 150 housing units in an array of low-rise buildings, the tallest being five stories.

The property constitutes about half of a development site that fronts on Lawrence Avenue. That part is getting a Mariano’s grocery store and an LA Fitness.

Merdinger’s housing plan is tentatively set for a Chicago Plan Commission hearing Sept. 20.

His pitch for the project has to do with scarcity, relative affordability and location. Merdinger, principal at Nexstep LLC, said the North Side area he targeted has registered apartment occupancy rates of more than 97 percent, a rate pushed higher as economic reality has forced people out of for-sale housing and into rentals. “You look around that market and there is no new product there,” he said.

Yet he figures he can offer units for rent of about $2 per square foot, while downtown buildings can be 50 percent higher. “We’ve got a project that’s low in scale, with a good amount of green space, and you’re 600 feet from a train station that’s 11 minutes from downtown,” Merdinger said.

If he gets plan commission approval, Merdinger said he hopes to start construction next spring and finish units through most of 2014.

GREC Architects designed the project, called Ravenswood Terrace.

PRENTICE UPDATE: Did I hear an inkling of how the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will rule when it takes up the preservation of the old Prentice Women’s Hospital, 333 E. Superior? I called the commission chairman, Rafael Leon, to ask for his take on protecting Prentice, and he initially responded that he wanted to hear all sides first.

Then Leon said, “The building clearly qualifies if you look at the technical aspects of the landmark designation.” In other words, he buys the preservationists’ argument that the Bertrand Goldberg building meets four of seven specific standards for landmarking set forth under city ordinance.

But in Chicago, that doesn’t settle the issue. Property owners have a voice and, with the owner here being Northwestern University, clout. Northwestern has directed more than 1,200 letters and emails to Mayor Rahm Emanuel asking for its right to raze the building.

Leon said he wants to hear about the economic impact on the university. Does he buy Northwestern’s argument that the Prentice site is the only place where it can erect a medical research center, when its allied hospital owns two empty blocks across the street? “Real estate is a lot about negotiations,” said Leon, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. “Maybe they tried that route and were told no.”

Still, his comment, and the pressure applied by more than 60 big-name architects who have called on the mayor to save Prentice, tells me the preservationists have a decent shot here.

GETTING SCHOOLED: Celebrity chef Rick Bayless is opening a Frontera Fresco outpost at Northwestern University’s Norris University Center on the Evanston campus. It will be the first campus site for the quick-serve Mexican restaurant, which features Bayless’ signature emphasis on fresh and locally sourced ingredients.

Bayless has a Frontera Fresco operating in the Macy’s stores on State Street and in the Old Orchard shopping mall in Skokie.

The Northwestern version will take over ground-floor space that used to have a Sbarro, Jamba Juice and Crepe Bistro. NuSushi and North Shore Pizza Co. are relocating to accommodate Bayless’ tacos and tamales. But this a campus after all, so Frontera Fresco also will offer coffee, pastries, ice cream and a make-your-own parfait bar.

Construction has started and the restaurant is expected to open in late October, the school said.

FRIES WITH THAT: A real estate investment trust based outside Atlanta has bought a Lisle office building for $17.7 million. Wells Core Office Income REIT acquired 2275 Cabot Drive from an affiliate of Blackstone Group LP, regulatory filings show. The 94,000-square-foot building is fully leased to McCain Foods USA Inc., the world’s largest producer of frozen French fries.

David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780) and WBBM-FM (105.9). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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