High-end ‘super dorms’ find home in the Loop


By John Handley, Chicago Tribune

The Spartan college dorm is out. The luxury student apartment is in.

College grads of the past will marvel at the newest student residences that have cropped up in downtown Chicago.

You can’t call them dorms since they’re loaded with such amenities as fully furnished interiors, Euro-style kitchens with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, double-door refrigerators, in-unit washer/dryers, free Wi-Fi and cable, fitness centers and rooftop decks with barbecue grills. Bellhops are provided for moving in and out.


The demand for fancier student housing has grown as the Loop has evolved into an urban college campus, where thousands of full-time students attend classes at more than 20 colleges and universities.

The new “super dorms” are finding homes in historic Loop buildings that are way past their prime. Developers of historic buildings that are renovated can apply for a 20 percent federal tax credit if the structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of several student housing projects in Chicago that have used this benefit, the newest is the Arc at Old Colony, located in the 17-story former office building at 37 W. Van Buren St. It dates from 1893, the same year as Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition. Students started moving in this past August.

The $58 million restoration and conversion by CA Student Living, Chicago, created 137 furnished apartments with bedrooms for 380 students.

Apartments are not rented, but rather beds. Rents range from $855 a month for each of four students in a four-bedroom unit to $1,500 a month for each in a two-bedroom apartment.

“Renovating the Old Colony was special because of its historic character,” said Andrew Hansen, vice president of property management for CA Student Living. The South Loop landmark went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Hansen added that the economic feasibility for the project was driven by the tax benefits.


“Office buildings convert very well for student housing,” said Allen Johnson, partner in the Chicago office of MacRostie Historic Advisors, the historic consultant for the Arc at Old Colony and Infinite Chicago, another CA Student Living rehab.

What’s it like attending college in the busy city?

“I’m a city girl so I love going to college downtown,” said Melissa Jimenez, who is working on a master’s degree in art management at Columbia College. “I like the art scene downtown and the museums.”

To aid in compatibility the Arc offers roommate matching. Students fill out questionnaires that ask about their attitudes toward neatness, studying, smoking, drinking, personality type, socializing, overnight guests and sleeping times.

What the Arc does not have is a garage — because students walk, ride bikes or take nearby public transportation. Within walking distance are DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, Robert Morris University, National Louis University, the School of the Art Institute and others.

“Restoring the 122-year-old Old Colony building to its former elegance was like an archaeological dig,” said Keith Giles of MCJ Development who worked on the renovation along with McHugh Construction. The architect was Pappageorge Haymes Partners.

“More students are living downtown than ever before. It gives the city a collegiate atmosphere,” said Mark Kelly, vice president for student success at Columbia College.

“Students like the urban lifestyle of the city — the cultural attractions, museums, galleries, the theater and the music scene. It’s all part of a student’s education,” Kelly added. “Ten years ago downtown was very quiet. Now it’s brimming with energy. The student vibrancy continues to build. The power of Chicago with its employment opportunities is another enticement.”

“New student housing options offer more amenities than in the past, but while students may want all the bells and whistles, there is the issue of affordability,” Kelly pointed out.

Jordan Brown, a senior in performing arts management at Columbia College, compares her previous experience at Indiana University with here. She now lives at Infinite Chicago, another upscale project by CA Student Living. It opened last year with 124 apartments with space for 394 students at 28 E. Jackson Blvd. in the historic Gibbons and Steger buildings.

“It was a shock moving from that campus in a small town to Chicago. Here you have to be more independent, more mature and more on your own. My apartment here is totally different from my dorm at Indiana, which was a little box that you could barely move around in,” she said. She described her current residence as “like luxury living.”

Brown added that one of the reasons she left Indiana was because there are more job opportunities in Chicago. Currently, she has an internship at the Joffrey Ballet, which she calls “awesome.”


(c)2015 the Chicago Tribune

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