CHICAGO-The ambitious vision of a $1.2-billion redevelopment of the former Montgomery Wards properties just west of Cabrini-Green is to create a 24-hour living environment centered around the high-tech redevelopment of the massive former Wards Catalog building. Having already anchored the telco hotel E-port with three key tenants, the plan’s overall goal is to anchor the residential rebirth of the formerly moribund area along the Chicago River.

“The potential of these properties was obvious for a long time”, says Paul Fishbein, vice president of Amermar Enterprises of Philadelpia, which is the marketing partner in the development. “The problem was that the people it was obvious to didn’t have the money to make it happen.”

The opportunity for the E-port partners, which also includes Taconic Investment Partners, Angelo Gordon & Co. and Centrum Properties, came when Montgomery Wards filed for bankruptcy. The E-port partners stepped up and paid $62 million for the Wards properties, which included some land and the massive 1.5 million-sf former Wards Catalog Building. The price is looking cheap just one year after the deal. During that time, Chicago’s Downtown and its Near North neighborhood have experienced a wave of residential development announcements unprecedented in the city’s history, a boom fueled by people’s dissatisfaction with suburban living.

So while much of the attention paid the development has been given to the high-tech E-port office and telco hotel, it is the $1-billion Kingsbury Park residential element of the plan that may turn out to be the most profitable for the residential team, which is comprised of Centrum and Angelo Gordon. Fishbein says that the Kingsbury Park element of the plan is also critical to the ultimate success of E-port. “What we want to create here is a 24-hour community,” he says. “This will really be the new community of the 21st century, with work, play and living all together that will attract the kind of high-tech tenants we want.”

The Kingsbury developers have hired architect Dirk Lohan to design a master plan for 30 acres running north and south along the Chicago River. The plan will ultimately comprise 2,600 units of lofts, high-rise apartments and townhomes as well as a private marina on the river.

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