Chicagoland’s Rising Communities

by Chicago Agent

By Stephanie Sims

It’s funny how a Chicago neighborhood or suburb that people once claimed had “nothing there” or was “a bad neighborhood” can sprout condos, townhomes and retail over a relatively short period of time, turning the area into a bona fide hotspot and attracting residents like flies to honey. Chicago Agent has compiled several spotlights of progressive areas that show no signs of slowing down. If you haven’t been in these neighborhoods lately, you don’t know what you – or your buyers – are missing.
The borders of Bronzeville are debatable. The nucleus of this historic area is bounded roughly by 31st, 39th and State streets and the lake, though some carry the boundaries as far south as 51st Street, including the neighborhood North Kenwood-Oakland. Way back when, it was the home of the lush boulevard now known as King Drive, august greystones and homegrown businesses. Celebrities from Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to Richard Wright and Ida B. Wells once called Bronzeville home. The giants of jazz and blues played in myriad clubs along 47th Street, which, in its heyday, was one of the greatest entertainment strips in the country.

In the years following that heyday, it had little retail: a Jewel, Wal-Greens and a few fast food restaurants sprinkled here and there. That didn’t attract residents, but the neighborhood’s location did. With four bus lines, CTA red line and green line stops and a Metra station, it makes travel downtown easy. But today, Bronzeville’s retail has progressed. While its access to public transportation is convenient and a selling point, residents no longer need to leave to go shopping, attend a cultural event or go out to dinner.

“Fifty years ago, State Street was a major thoroughfare, with movie theaters, shops and a lot of things that have disappeared,” Realtor Kristyn Dunn of Coldwell Banker Hyde Park says. “Now, we’re bringing them back throughout the area.”

Several cultural centers emerged in the neighborhood in recent years, Dunn says, including the Harold Washington Cultural Center, as well as comedy clubs, upscale restaurants and bars. And much more retail and nightlife options are planned for the near future. In two to five years, State Street will have fully developed retail amenities, including more national retailers such as Starbucks, always a sign that a neighborhood is thriving.

Bronzeville is also attracting buyers with its great values for new construction. Dunn says 70 percent of the neighborhood is new condos, helping its resurgence, and new townhomes make up the rest. Fitting stats, as a majority of new Bronzeville residents are 25 to 44, either single or married with no children, and the balance are either people looking for second homes or married couples with children who have been purchasing town homes. Typically, a three-bedroom, two-bath condo is priced in the $350,000s, Dunn says.

“If someone is looking to make a sound investment, buy now,” she says, “because soon it will be almost unaffordable. It is quickly becoming a miniature Lincoln Park. Every day, prices go up.”

Uptown had been neglected for nearly 20 years. Realtors and developers might have had information on properties in the North Side neighborhood bounded by Irving Park, Foster, Clark and the lake, but they weren’t talking. In the same respect, Edgewater was hidden from the masses. It didn’t have the same tough reputation as Uptown, but still wasn’t seen for its good points.

Now, parts of Uptown and Edgewater are beyond hot, according to Wayne Caplan, managing partner at Sheldon Good Brokerage. Both areas’ resurgences began about a decade ago, due in part to the popularity of Andersonville, a sub-neighborhood of Edgewater within close proximity to Uptown.

“I have done a lot of work, both commercial and residential, in both of these neighborhoods, and I would say they are ‘sister’ neighborhoods in that both have similar characteristics,” he says. “They are diverse
ethnically and demographically, which means that they share the challenges of an urban neighborhood trying to appeal to many different types of people.

“Both have several sub-markets like the lakefront high-rise areas, quiet tree-lined enclaves, pricey single-family homes, lots of condo conversions and new construction, historic districts (Bryn Mawr in Edgewater and Lawrence/Broadway in Uptown), busy commercial areas and lower income rental housing,” he says.

With all the new residential construction, retailers have been “coming in droves,” Caplan says, adding that with all the buzz surrounding both neighborhoods, they will continue to evolve and provide residents with “a home life that is urban in nature.” During the past five to seven years, several larger and mid-rise developments are most visible, providing condo living, complete with building amenities that Uptown and Edgewater lacked previously. In addition, nearly every kind of buyer is attracted to both areas because of retail and proximity to the lakefront, desirable to many homebuyers. Because of this, prices, while still affordable, are steadily increasing.

Brighton Park is “clearly in the eye of the residential storm,” says Jeff Benach, executive VP of Lexington Homes, a development company. The neighborhood is seeing the most new development it’s seen in 50 years.

Brighton Park’s real estate market has been steady, and prices will only increase. At the end of the day, Benach says, prices of units in the neighborhood are considerably less than in neighboring areas such as McKinley Park and Bridgeport, for now. “As the area’s housing becomes more mature, prices are bound to become more equivalent to the McKinley movement. As development moves toward Midway (Airport), it only enhances values.”

The old Chicago neighborhood, with housing that’s been around since before World War II, has had an ever-changing ethnic composition for decades. Only recently have townhouse, condo and loft developments pumped new buyers into the area, even though its physical appearance and housing stock has changed little. Lexington Homes is developing a 700-plus unit condo building a block from the CTA orange line’s Western Avenue station and Brighton Park’s up-and-coming retail. These condos and lofts are attracting younger first-time homebuyers in their late-20s to early- and mid-30s. Benach says buyers looking in Brighton Park are planning to stay for a while and, traditionally, the more buyers who buy and stay, the better the neighborhood will fare.

Founded in 1840, the far western suburb of Aurora is one of Illinois’ oldest towns. In the early-20th century, it was a manufacturing town, with family-owned businesses and a diverse ethnic population drawn to the manufacturing work. John McEnroe, a broker with RE/MAX Town and Country in Aurora, says the town progressed much like Chicago has with ethnic neighborhoods. Over the years, Aurora has grown and progressed slowly.

“We’ve always been our own self-contained city,” McEnroe says. “We always had the infrastructure to maintain a big city, just not enough tax money to take care of the roads with the growth we experienced. We had a long time to grow at a slower pace.”

Aurora is now the second-largest city in Illinois. McEnroe explains the slow growth spurt happened because homebuyers are attracted to Aurora’s affordable housing and access to transportation. “Buyers that can’t afford Cook, DuPage or Lake counties [find] affordable and available land in Aurora,” he says. “Aurora is historically farmland, and there are still lots for development to buy and build on, which is what [several developing companies] have been doing the last few years.”

The town has a nice supply of older colonial Victorian homes built in the 1940s and 1950s, and one-story houses from the 1970s. Now, the standard home is a two-story, four-bedroom colonial with an average price of about $300,000.

Buyers comprise retirees who have lived in Aurora most of their lives who don’t want two-story homes but still want the square footage, and families who need yards and space for kids. The actively developing downtown is another aspect drawing in families. “Our downtown has finally turned a corner,” he says. “People used to come downtown, spend money and leave, but now with the new housing project, people live downtown and stay there.”

Early settlers were initially attracted to Waukegan due to its value as a commercial port city. Farmers shipped produce and grain from Lake and McHenry county farms to Chicago via Waukegan. The creation of the Illinois Parallel Railroad in 1855 stimulated manufacturing interest in Waukegan, and new businesses and industries formed. By the mid-19th century, Waukegan Harbor bustled with regional trade and economic activity. Today, it’s the ninth-largest community in Illinois and the largest community in Lake County with a population of nearly 90,000 people.

In 2003, the Waukegan City Council unanimously approved a 1,400-acre downtown and lakefront redevelopment master plan designed to transform the city into a regional hub for retail, recreation, housing and business. The project is one of the largest redevelopments in the Midwest.

“The goal is to revive downtown Waukegan as a destination for jobs, housing, entertainment, retail and dining,” says Robin Schabes, the director of lakefront and downtown redevelopment for Waukegan. “Immediate improvements in this area include streetscaping, new construction and the $23 million renovation of the historic Genesee Theatre.”

Other improvements in the city include new developments on the Waukegan Road corridor. The former Lakehurst Mall is being transformed into Fountain Square, a $250 million mixed-use development for new retail, dining and hospitality venues. The area is also home to luxury apartments, four hotel chains and nationally recognized retailers like Super Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Chili’s and Sweet Tomatoes.

Buyers who are looking in Waukegan want the historic homes at affordable values, but also easy access to transportation, “big-city” amenities, small-town charm and close proximity to the lake’s shoreline. The Waukegan Near North District contains some of the oldest buildings in the city. These Victorian, Prairie School and Victorian Gothic homes have been restored, Schabes says, but new communities, with about 4,000 new homes, will become available.

Leigh Nevers, VP of marketing and sales at Lennar, says the company had a good feeling about developing in Orland Park. The area has pockets of land to build multi- and single-family homes. “Orland Park has already built up a good name for itself,” Nevers says. “It’s always been a blue-collar place; now, they’re putting retailers and affluence into what is being built there.”

The retailers have progressed to provide for lots of different lifestyles, she says. Ann Taylor, White House Black Market, Panera Bread, Coldwater Creek and Talbot’s have not replaced, but merely infiltrated Orland Park’s shopping centers dominated with Wal-Marts and White Hens. The access to transportation also has been attracting both white- and blue-collar commuters. The suburb is close to I-80, I-55, I-57 and I-294, and Lennar’s development, Orland Park Crossing, is walking distance from the Metra.

Orland Park’s increasing population consists of all different ethnicities, families, move-up buyers and even a few yuppies due to the area’s proximity to Chicago. “There’s a little bit of variety,” Nevers says. “Once more new developments start to come, the focus will probably be on the yuppie buyer. And, with the schools and amenities in the area, it’s very entertainment driven.

“[In Orland Park] buyers can have a convenient lifestyle without being downtown,” Nevers says. “Access to downtown means they don’t have to live downtown, but can live close by, where it’s affordable.”

“Location, location, location,” says Danny McGovern, a Realtor at RE/MAX Properties Northwest. “Park Ridge is in the best location around. And, within the last five years, it’s continued to develop and take a new, different face.”

The suburb mainly consists of families, and even more families are looking to buy there because of Park Ridge’s schools and the caliber of its teachers and parks. Move-up buyers and retirees are also looking to buy because of the several new developments in the works and its proximity to transportation outlets.

While most cities’ downtowns progress, expand and undergo revitalization, Park Ridge’s uptown needed a boost, and that’s where most of its new development is happening. Condos, townhomes and single-family homes ranging from $400,000 to $4 million will be popping up during the next few years, nice for both the entry-level buyer and the move-up buyer.

“Families live here, raise their families and then move uptown to retire here,” McGovern says. “Park Ridge is all families. If we see single people, they’re young couples waiting to get married. Young people would rather live downtown, whereas older people might rather retire to somewhere near the city.” C.A.

Jeff Benach
Executive VP
Lexington Homes

Wayne Caplan
Managing Partner
Sheldon Good Brokerage

Kristyn Dunn
Coldwell Banker Hyde Park

John McEnroe
RE/MAX Town and Country

Danny McGovern
RE/MAX Properties Northwest

Leigh Nevers
VP of Marketing

Robin Schabes
Director of Lakefront & Downtown Redevelopment
City of Waukegan

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