Cleveland developer envisions six-story building in Chicago's Chinatown

Cleveland developer envisions six-story building in Chicago's Chinatown - Crain's Cleveland Business

A Cleveland-based developer is laying plans for a six-story, 100,000-square-foot commercial building in Chinatown that would include retail, office space and potentially a new Chicago Public Library branch. Eddie Ni, president of Windfall Group USA, says he is under contract to buy a property at the southwest corner of Archer Street and Wentworth Avenue for $5 million and is discussing financing with lenders to construct the $18 million building there. Mr. Ni envisions a food court and supermarket on the ground level, with retail condominiums between 200 and 1,500 square feet on the second and third floors. The library branch would occupy the fourth and at least part of the fifth floor, should the venture come to terms with the library system. Offices would fill out the top level. Retail vacancies in Chinatown are low relative to other Chicago neighborhoods, and the community has strong population densities, always an attractive prospect, says Keith Lord, president and managing partner of Chicago-based real estate firm Lord Cos. But the challenge for Mr. Ni's project is getting shoppers to ascend into the building. Upper-floor retail is “incredibly challenging,” he says. “Retailers need easy access and visibility,” Mr. Lord says.

Mr. Ni likes the site's location, immediately west of an entrance to the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line station in the neighborhood. “Everybody knows that site is the best site in Chinatown, the best location in the Chinatown area,” Mr. Ni says. “We've been trying to acquire the land for two or three years.” The Windfall Group has a trailer open near the property and is marketing spaces for sale in the building. Yet the developer faces several hurdles. Aside from securing a construction loan, the venture must gain City Council approval for a new zoning classification at the site and close on the land purchase. Property owner Stephen Quan referred questions about the deal to his daughter, who could not be reached. A spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Library, meanwhile, confirms discussions with the development venture have taken place but describes the talks as in their early stages. At the same time, the spokeswoman confirms the library system has no other locations in mind for a site for the replacement Chinatown library, which community residents have long advocated for. The neighborhood's library is now at 2353 S. Wentworth Ave.

The city also is considering rerouting Wentworth Avenue, a move that could foil Mr. Ni's plans. Under one proposal, the city would acquire the parcel he wants to buy; the City Council last year gave the Department of Housing and Economic Development authority to acquire the parcel as well as 10 adjacent pieces of property, according to a spokesman. Alderman Danny Solis says Mr. Ni's venture needs to turn in additional information to complete its zoning application. It's unclear if there is money for the Wentworth infrastructure work or the new library, though the site does sit within a tax-increment financing district. “If the city just talks to me and doesn't show any money, I will go with the developer's plan,” Ald. Solis says. “If the city shows me they do have the money and the developer does not comply with the specifics they need to turn in, I'll go with what the city is proposing. It's not going to be an easy decision.” Rolando Acosta, a lawyer at Chicago-based Ginsberg Jacobs LLC who represents the venture, says additional zoning information has been submitted to the city. Windfall's recent investments in the Chicago area include a 105,500-square-foot retail property in west suburban Carol Stream that a Windfall venture acquired in March 2011 for about $2.7 million, according to a deed. Mr. Ni says he expects that building to be fully leased by year's end.

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