Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shangri-La Interrupted

Back when I first toured Trump Chicago in early 2008, I took note of the project not too far away, on the other (south) side of the Chicago River, which had just begun construction. Called Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel, it too was to be a high-end hotel/condo mixed-use development of large proportions, like Trump's building. Developers were thinking big back in the mid-2000s, after all. The idea was that many buyers would not be Chicago residents at all, merely the ultrarich who would want a residence in Chicago for those occasions they came to town.

The Trump Organization had better timing. Better luck, in other words, though the number of businessmen who will admit that luck has been a factor in whatever success they've had is vanishingly small. Trump was planning his Chicago structure as early as 2001. It was, in fact, scaled down on the drawing board from "the tallest building in the world" right after September 11, 2001, to something a little less tall. In any case, Trump Chicago managed to get it out of the ground and mostly built before the Panic of 2008. Or just as importantly for a real estate project, before the Credit Freeze of 2007. (Events that deserve capitalization.)

Waterview Tower and Shangri-La Hotel, by contrast, wasn't so lucky. Crain's Chicago Business noted last November that "the original developer... had planned a 90-story tower with 233 condos and 200 hotel rooms but never secured a construction loan to fund the project and ran out of money in 2008. After 16 months of litigation over more than $100 million in unpaid bills, a consortium of contractors... took over the property in May [2010] and has been seeking buyers ever since."

So far, no dice. And so the building stands there partly finished at the corner of Wacker Dr. and Clark St., a very prominent place in downtown Chicago. The place was a little eerie. There was no activity of any kind that I could see, just the shell of a building.

Such is real estate. People imagine that real estate developers are loose cannons, but no. They would be if they could be, but in fact they answer to the money men.

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