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Loop transforms into more residential area over last decade

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Though plagued by a condominium glut and a loss of jobs, Chicago’s Loop has become more of a neighborhood over the last decade while undergoing other changes that have added to its economic muscle, a report shows.

The report issued by the Chicago Loop Alliance draws a portrait of a downtown core that is more residential than even longtime Chicagoans appreciate. Along with a growing population have come condo values that have generally increased despite the housing collapse.

It also bares a Loop that has far more college students than in decades past and one that’s friendlier to tourists. The additions of Millennium Park and the museum campus have made the Loop a greater tourist draw, and the hotel industry has responded with a 30 percent increase in its inventory of rooms.

What the Loop has lost is jobs. State figures show it had 338,000 private-sector jobs in 2000, yet the 2010 total was 275,000. The decade covered two recessions that slashed the demand for office space.

But the report showed that the Loop’s share of Chicago area employment has held steady and that it’s still an attractive place for a business hub. It said big companies still favor the Loop because of its transit connections and its appeal to so-called “knowledge workers,” many of whom live close to workplaces.

The study also accounts for the impact of government employment, which generates about 30,000 jobs downtown.

The Chicago Loop Alliance is a chamber of commerce. While its report has the gloss of boosterism, it draws data from several sources to chart how downtown life has evolved. It hired Goodman Williams Group Real Estate Research to compile the report.

The report, using estimates of the 2010 Census count, said the Loop population nearly tripled to more than 20,000. Sun-Times data drawn from the 2010 census show the Loop, as defined in the report, nearly doubling in population to 16,225.

Earlier Thursday, Ty Tabing, executive director of the alliance, said the growth of college crowds and tourism has given the Loop new vitality, especially at night.

“It’s helped us recruit businesses,” Tabing said. “Before that, a business might say, ‘Sure, you’ve got 300,000 workers, but what does that do for the dinner crowd?’ ”

Downtown now has 65,500 students, the report said. In 2005, a report showed 52,000 students downtown.

The Loop’s strengths aren’t overstated in the account, said Dennis Judd, interim director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a political science professor. But he said downtown’s future needs could take a back seat as problems of crime and schools get more attention.

Judd said downtown’s biggest ongoing needs are spending for infrastructure and public transit. “Mass transit is sliding into tatters,” he said.

Downtown benefited from a “coherent plan for the lakefront” that outgoing Mayor Daley pushed and often doesn’t get enough credit for, Judd said. He said new public amenities, green space and planters made Chicago more alluring for the middle class and visitors.

The alliance’s report said the Loop has 26 institutions of higher learning and besides their own hiring and purchasing, their presence also has brought an influx of young shoppers. “Cheap chic” retailers such as Forever 21 and H&M set up shop on State Street, joining others that draw a younger clientele such as Anthropologie and Nordstrom Rack.

Thousands of unsold condos have brought construction of new for-sale units to a halt downtown. But the report said the median price of a Loop condo rose 25 percent from 2005 to 2010. The gain shows the influence of buildings that can charge premiums for views.

Demand for apartments has remained strong and the number of available units has increased, the study said.

Also important is the Loop arts and culture scene. The report said 7 percent of all Chicago hotel occupancy comes from people who attend Broadway in Chicago performances.

Researchers used a definition of the Loop that differs from others. They defined the Loop as between the Chicago River on the north, Canal Street and west, Congress Parkway on the south and the lake on the east.

Other data cover the broader downtown, defined as covering most of the territory from Division south to Interstate 55 and from the lake west to Halsted.

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