The Most Spectacular Apartment Space in the Country Debuts in Chicago

They're open. Developer Curt Bailey of Related Midwest guides FrontDoor on a personal tour of the much anticipated luxe apartments in Streeterville.

Photo by: Related Midwest Streeterville 500 Lake Shore Drive - Amenity Level. Bailey thinks the building will attract a mix of empty-nesters and young professionals.

Imagine this: It’s 2010. The real estate market is in a blistering free-fall. Developers are getting chewed up. Buyers are in retreat. And your Big Plan is to raise money for a 47-story, upscale lakefront apartment tower on a parking lot in Chicago’s trendy Streeterville neighborhood. It’s like shouting “I will build a new ship!” from the sinking Titanic. “I was calling people on the phone and they were laughing at me,” says Curt Bailey, president of Related Midwest.

Three years later, on May 15, Related launched 500 Lake Shore Drive as their entry into the luxury rental scene. And it’s quite the dramatic entrance. Style, hi-tech and world-class amenities in a clean, elegant glass box sitting across from the beautiful Lake Point Tower building. Related anticipates more than 75 households will move in each month during the busy May to October season. After a tour, we understand the hype.

Everything in this building has the high-end touch. It’s full of what Bailey calls “quiet moments, small moments” where the builders used beautiful stone to dress a utility door, or reclaimed Indiana barn wood as textured wall covering. Kitchens have that soft-close Snaidero cabinetry; bedrooms have walk-in closets stacked with shelves; floor-to-ceiling lake views abound and there's a real gym by Equinox for a serious workout. Having wine, a pea pod or flowers delivered? The receiving area has three industrial refrigerators to keep your perishables chilled. Bring Fido to Chicago’s first Dog City – a doggy daycare with pet sitting and vet services. A business center called The Link has a row of iMacs to use after you grab a cup of java at the coffee bar. Several media and lounge rooms to choose for that Oscar party or screening of Doctor Zhivago. And a 12th-floor amenity space – the 500 Club – that Bailey says is the thing that sets this building apart from all others.  It does.

Streeterville 500 Lake Shore Drive - Living room

Photo by: Related Midwest Streeterville 500 Lake Shore Drive - Living room. Designer Kara Mann created the models. The bathrooms have custom vanities designed and built by Related's team.

“We had a lot of debate about whether to actually do an outdoor area or to enclose that,” he points to the deck and pool area still under construction. “Out here is probably our greatest spot in the building. Each of those cabanas” – a total of seven – “will have full seating areas, chaise lounges, sofas and built-in grills,” he flashes the Bailey smile. “It will be one of the most spectacular spaces in Chicago.”

Robert Pope Interiors designed the common areas, including the impressive two-story lobby.  Artwork floats on the walls throughout. On the amenity level is work by Nancy Lee and Darryll Schiff. Bailey hand-picked Kara Mann, one of the hottest designers in Chicago, to use her eclectic sensibility creating distinctive concept models for the units – the Tech Guy, the Doctor Couple, the Empty Nester, the 30s Bachelor.

“We tried to do two things here,” says Bailey, who has an infectious enthusiasm for all-things-architecture and the kind of piercing good looks that could easily slip him on the cover of Rolling Stone or GQ. “One: Build the nicest renter building in Chicago. The other is service.”

The Related brand of service is this seamlessly integrated network that includes something akin to five-star hotel level attention. Where else do you find white-gloved doormen or concierges who’ll book a restaurant for you? It’s expanded here with move-in specialists who’ll manage your entire relocation, from arranging ComEd to hanging the flat screen TV.

The technology rocks. Let’s start with the “firsts” of this building. The Lake Shore Drive apartments have a “Port System.” Outside the elevator, press the level you want, let’s say “12.” You’ll hear a voice announce which car is ready to take you straight to that floor, with no stops in between. It’s a bit unusual, but there aren't floor buttons to punch in the elevator. But routing traffic this way is about 40 percent more efficient than regular elevator cars. It’s the first Port System in any residential building in America.

Installed in each unit is a distributed antennae system, or DAS. If you’ve ever been in a skyscraper and experienced crummy cell phone reception, this is the cure. It means you’ll always have full, unimpeded clear connections on your cell phone and mobile devices. “This glass is so thick and reflective that you could have tough service in some parts of a building like this,” says Bailey. “And we wanted all residents to have a seamless cyber experience. It was a very involved process, very expensive for us. Many people won’t even have landline phones in here, so it’s got to work.” And it’s the only residential building in Chicago that’s got it.

Photo by: Related Midwest Streeterville 500 Lake Shore Drive -  500 Club. Bailey expects this building to be extremely social. "There’s less acreage here of amenity space," he says. "But somehow there’s just more. And I don’t just mean space. We decided we wanted to be beautiful." 

In 2010, trying to convince shell-shocked lenders about all these potential “firsts” tallied a string of declines before the project turned a corner when Related secured an equity partnership with Building Investment Trust (BIT), the AFL-CIO’s investment vehicle with net assets of $2.59 billion. The 500 Lake Shore Drive construction would put “about a thousand guys back to work,” says Bailey. With cash committed he could get elite players for the dream team.

He wanted to duplicate the magic from Related’s successful 340 East Randolph condo development. That building had the aura of an untouchable. Even during the teeth of the downturn, when buyers nodded “sign me up” but got cold feet, baulked at closing and created a ghost town of these big empty expensive buildings, Related defied the market. “Every single one of our buyers showed up and closed,” he says. “Every unit in that [Randolph] building has sold for more than it sold for previously.”  And there’ve been no foreclosures.

With the Randolph build as a baseline, Bailey, ever the innovator, did something else unprecedented: Instead of handing the project over to an architect for design and then sifting through construction bids for the build, he put the team together from the seed stage. Architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, who brought Chicago the Parkview Tower and the Legacy at Millennium Park, designed the glass scraper with Martin Wolf and John Lahey as principals. With Lend Lease signed on as general contractor, Bailey put them in a room “and we designed this building, soup to nuts.” Another first.

“We clearly wanted to build a building that set a new standard for rental in Chicago,” says Bailey. “And I think we really hit the mark here.”

Rents start at $1,795. They’re now open and leasing through the 29th floor for convertibles and one- and two-bedrooms. Penthouse units on the 47th floor are slated to open in November 2013.

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