What do two savvy developers do with a prime site once occupied by a movie theater in a semi-suburban/urban location? In Evanston, Ill., 18 miles north of Chicago and home to Northwestern University’s main campus, the firms transform it into a luxury, mixed-use development. The parcel was originally designed for condos, but the 2008 downturn led Dodge Capital to M&R Development in 2012 for a rental alternative. The building’s name reflects its transit-oriented development status.
Because of zoning codes and surrounding low-rise historic commercial buildings, OKW Architects in Chicago designed the 80-unit building in four stories. The layout sets back a center section of the structure 15 feet from two “bookends” starting on the second floor. The elevation also incorporates brick and cement-board siding in varying shades. Due to the difficulty of finding street parking, 81 spaces were included on the building’s ground level, with one reserved for a Zipcar station.
Sized to Please
Central Station’s units run from 590-square-foot studios for $1,465 a month to 1,415-square-foot three-bedrooms for $3,565 a month. Since they became available last fall, all but 10 have been leased, which M&R president Anthony Rossi Sr. attributes to the community’s location; condo-level finishes; energy efficiency; and LEED Gold certification. Architect Michael L. Breclaw, an OKW principal and director of design, thinks the units’ large sizes, with 9-foot ceilings, have also proved to be a magnet.
Because of the building’s small scale, amenities were limited. Choices included a fitness center—“a given,” Rossi says—coffee bar, lobby seating with fireplace, outdoor terrace, and bicycle storage. Designer Jennifer Banks of Bella Maison in Chicago focused on making areas ecologically friendly, hip, and practical. Among her choices: glass mosaic tiles, custom upholstery, and bold colors, like cobalt blue in the cyber café (pictured). The street level includes 10,700 square feet of retail space, 80 percent of which has already leased.
The building’s location in the midst of the now bustling Central Street neighborhood was recognized last year when the American Planning Association named it one of the country’s top 10. After the theater closed, conditions in the eastern part of town declined, says ward alderperson Jane Grover. “We worked hard to develop business, and the building and its retail had a ripple effect on other construction, including one grocery store reopening as a Whole Foods,” she says.