Revitalization through-innovative construction, the transformation of Circa922

28 July 2020

At the heart of what we do as an integrated developer and general contractor is the collaboration of our interconnected disciplines aimed at building value for ownership and controlling the risk of innovation within each project. That is particularly true when Focus is involved in the revival of a distressed asset. We recently dug into our success at 1717 Ridge where our teams revitalized an unfinished community in Evanston and reimagined it to address new market conditions. Similarly, in 2009 Focus became involved in a stalled loft condominiumminium project in Chicago at the corner of Washington and Sangamon in the city’s emerging Fulton Market neighborhood.

As a result of the 2008 economic recession, the original developer of the Sangamon Lofts – a condominium conversion of a 1910’s printer’s lofts building, stopped construction on the project with the roof unfinished and kitchen installation in process on the first floor. The bank that controlled the site approached Focus to act as receiver on the property.

Damage Control

After taking control of the site, the first order of business was to assess the damage. With the roof unfinished, the interior was exposed to the elements resulting in widespread harm to the interior finishes, all of which were at different stages of completion. For instance, all of the kitchen cabinetry had already been installed on the first floor and had to be removed. Eventually the bank sold the existing building to another developer – Speedwagon Partners, who hired Focus as the general contractor to finish construction on the 45 units, now to be marketed as luxury rentals. Construction was completed within an aggressive seven-month schedule.

Meanwhile, our development team began evaluating the Loft’s adjacent surface parking lot for redevelopment. Recognizing the potential for redevelopment, Focus eventually purchased both the loft building at 123 N. Sangamon and the parking lot from Speedwagon and began creating a new vision for the property. Our team reimagined the program and developed a plan for two buildings, a new 11-story apartment building in place of the existing parking lot, joined through a ground-floor lobby, to the existing loft building. The increased size of the project made it a financially viable model and addressed the increasing demand for luxury rental housing in the West Loop.

Cost Savings Through Construction

Once they received the approval needed from the local alderman, the Focus development and construction teams began to evaluate the constructability of the design and identify opportunities to build value for ownership. Teams identified a less costly way to construct the superstructure utilizing a hybrid concrete and beam methodology. Whenever a new construction technique is considered, the Focus team aims to control the risk of innovation by following a strict process to evaluate risk and reward. Through extensive collaboration with the design team, harnessing our in-house expertise as well as dialogue with our industry network, the Focus team can effectively vet new technology and provide a more accurate assessment of the risks. Upon completing our investigation, Focus decided to utilize a new and innovative building system called Girder-Slab. The system employs a combination of concrete and steel structure in lieu of a more traditional, poured in place concrete system. Circa922 was the first building in the city of Chicago to use the Girder-Slab system. The system provides many of the same the benefits of traditional concrete construction, but also allows teams to build more economically. By using this system, the Focus construction team saved the project over $1 million.

Unique Challenges

From a construction perspective, building next to and improving an existing occupied building involved its own set of challenges. The team took advantage of the extra time required to design and permit a new building in order to address long-term maintenance repairs to the existing loft building. Work included masonry repairs, sealants, roofing, and exterior painting before construction of the new building began.

The existing building’s lobby included a set of stairs between the sidewalk and elevated lobby which originally did not meet ADA accessibility standards. Though the accessibility issue was addressed with an interior lift, it was a less than ideal solution. By creating a new lobby within the new structure with a grade level connection to the existing building, we were able to incorporate a new ADA ramp allowing barrier free access to both the new and existing building.

Secondly, the existing building lacked amenities, with only a small basement level room designated as a fitness room, meaning the lofts were not positioned to perform well at leasing. By combining both the new and existing building, the development could now support a much larger amenity space. This space included an expanded lobby, mailroom and package center, secure covered parking, game room, fitness room, meeting/theater space in the original lobby area, rooftop terrace that included a pool and dog run, as well as an 11th floor entertainment terrace overlooking downtown Chicago.

Lastly, the structure was designed with all deep foundation work separated from the existing building by a buffer zone to avoid disturbing the existing foundations. The new building was constructed with a steel frame and clad with precast and aluminum windows. This brought a durable, maintenance free exterior that could be constructed with a single crane on the new parcel and limit work on the facade adjacent to the occupied building.

During foundation installation, one of the underground steel piles encountered an obstruction, resulting in a unique curled piece of steel. This material was salvaged and used by a local artist to create the curved steel sculpture which is now located outside the Circa 922’s main entrance today. Our team enjoyed transforming a minor problem encountered during construction into a permanent unique art installation within the project.

At the intersection of development and construction

As an integrated developer and general contractor, Focus was uniquely aligned for success at Circa922. The experience and innovation of our construction team resulted in the use of the Grider-Slab system and created over a million dollars in savings. In addition, our integrated model ensured that instead of those hard-cost savings benefiting a 3rd party general contractor, the team re-invested the contingency savings back into the project allowing the design team to invest in improved finishes, amenities and overall quality for residents.

Eventually, Focus sold the project for approximately $500,000 per door, the highest price for an apartment building in Chicago at the time and the most succesSFul sale in Focus company history.

By not shying away from the challenges presented by complicated projects, like those associated with distressed assets and through our dedication to controlling the risk of innovation, Focus is able to build the highest value for our clients and partners. To learn more about our approach to distressed assets and innovative construction, reach out today.

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