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Metramarket:Project may give buyers a taste for West Loop

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Project may give buyers a taste for West Loop
Tribune, Real estate section

Wayne Faulkner, Real Estate editor
Published March 20, 2005

In Chicago, food is never far from the center of conversation. Cocktail party talk will often turn to the latest find in neighborhood restaurants -- that is, if you can get people to stop bragging about how much more their homes have gone up in value.
It's no wonder, then, that the availability of restaurants has grown in importance as a factor in choosing where to live. (See today's Real Estate cover story, "Food for thought"). Some house hunters check the distance to the local supermarket, while others see whether there's good Thai, Italian or Mexican food nearby, or at least a decent place to order pizza or Chinese.
Now, one new commercial development is bound to make the West Loop more appetizing to home buyers as well as office workers.
MetraMarket, a $47 million project of U.S. Equities Realty and Metra, will transform the area north of the Ogilvie Transportation Center (formerly the Chicago & North Western Station) into a mix of restaurants, retail and a "French-type marketplace," according to Bob Wislow, chairman of Chicago-based U.S. Equities.
Planned since 2001, construction is scheduled to start by year-end with the businesses opening in stages in the fall of 2006. It is designed by OWP&P Architects, Chicago.
You might ask yourself: Isn't this area already served by the restaurants in Greektown on Halsted Street or those along Randolph Street? The answer is that Greektown is west of the Kennedy Expressway and so are most of the Randolph Street restaurants. And the restaurants of the Loop are east of the Chicago River. The Kennedy and river serve as neighborhood definers and barriers.
MetraMarket will close what Wislow called a "hole" and a "wall between two incredibly developing parts of the city -- east of the facility, the office development and tremendous conversions of lofts along Canal Street and north, and the huge development on the west side of the train tracks," where five new office buildings have gone up "in addition to an amazing" upswing in residential, Wislow said
"All this has happened without a neighborhood," he added.
Now, residents and office workers, along with rail commuters, will have a walk-to place to eat and shop, a kind of town center, which will stretch from Washington to Lake Streets and from Canal to Clinton Streets.
The 200,000-square-foot development, which will include parking, will be a destination, meant to draw crowds six days a week, according to Wislow, U.S. Equities Vice Chairman Camille Julmy and Vice President Cassandra Francis, who spoke in an interview last week.
Wislow explained that restaurants in neighborhoods often are evening establishments and don't serve lunch, while downtown the restaurants have concentrated on lunch rather than dinner.
"The beauty of [MetraMarket] is that this will have the lunch business, but because all this residential has grown up this will be an evening destination and a weekend destination. We'll allow our restaurants to spill out onto the streets," Wislow said.
"The middle of the project is going to be a permanent French-type marketplace, a huge enclosed space. Surrounding that on the outside will be the restaurants and some other service retail for the neighborhood," Wislow continued. Restaurants will range from the higher end of fast food to sit-down, white-tablecloth establishments.
U.S. Equities is in negotiations with Bensidoun, the largest operator of markets in Paris, to operate the marketplace, Wislow said.
The Chicago City Council still must approve some $12 million in TIF (tax increment financing) subsidies proposed for the project, which was approved as a planned development in 2001.
In 2001, residential and office development in the area was in its infancy. Plus, the business climate was spoiled by the effects of Sept. 11, Wislow said.
Now "the timing is much better," said Julmy, "because so many office buildings have been built [in the neighborhood] and with the additional residential, population is much bigger."
Restaurants make a neighborhood so much more livable. Just ask the folks in Lincoln Square and Edgewater or in downtown Evanston, Forest Park, Naperville and other towns. Whether they're at a cocktail party or after-worship coffee hour, they'll be glad to let you in on their latest find in cuisine (as well as gloat about their home's appreciation).
Wayne Faulkner is editor of Real Estate. You may contact him at [email protected] or write to him at Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.
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I just read this article this morning, and while I think the idea is great, and I would love to see this happen.... I will admit to being a bit sceptical as to just how successful this will be. There is residential close by, but the area is mostly a ghost town after hours and on weekends.
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