James Letchinger is back on top with the highest-end building to ever hit Chicago.
A rendering of JDL Development’s Gold Coast luxury condominium tower No. 9 Walton on the southwest corner of State and Walton.
Chicago may be one of the architectural capitals of the world, but when it comes to world-class residential high-rises that set gold standards for enduring design, quality construction, and extraordinary amenities, the city is lacking, says James Letchinger, president and founder of JDL Development.
“New York has them,” says Letchinger, “but Chicago’s really behind in buildings that have what high-end buyers want right now.” His solution—a patrician 36-story Gold Coast condominium tower christened No. 9 Walton to reflect its address—has broken ground to fill that niche and take center stage as the first ultra-high-end project to be built in the city since the market’s downturn in 2008.
Letchinger boasts, “It’s the highest-end building to ever go up in Chicago.” That he is the developer behind it is a testament to his persistence, affable nature, and ethics. “When there was no development going on [post-2008], I thought I’d have to change careers. But I realized there was nothing else I wanted to do—even in tough times,” he admits.
Letchinger showed his mettle long before 2008. In 2002, tough times reared their head when he had a multifamily condo project fail. Famously, he made good on several million-dollar loans from his own pocket in order to walk away with a clean slate—a deed that made his name. “He was able to bounce back and partner [with others] because he’s such a stand-up guy,” says Alan Lev, president and CEO of Belgravia Group.
But one of the things he did change post-2008 (which enabled him to develop No. 9 Walton) was his partnership strategy. Before the recession, he relied on funding from family and friends, and was highly leveraged. With the development of 1225 Old Town, a 250-unit luxury rental building that was one of the first projects to be built in post-2008, he partnered with institutional investors for the first time. The project was completed in 2012 and sold for $156.9 million in 2013 for the highest price-per-unit ever paid in downtown Chicago at the time.
“Jim has a tremendous amount of vision… and he’s always been very nimble. Coming out of the downturn, he was one of the first to go out [and] identify development sites, get them re-zoned, capitalize, and deliver a best-of-class luxury rental,” says Matthew Lawton, CEO and executive managing director of HFF.
Today, No. 9 Walton is also setting records. Its 66 units range from $2 million for a two bedroom to $24 million for the duplex penthouse, at costs averaging $1,250 per square foot—a pricing benchmark for new residential construction.
Also, with so few units, the building taps into the boutique building trend, which places a premium on the intimacy of small, cosseted communities. Most significantly, the cosseting will come from extraordinary features and amenities Letchinger says will put Chicago back on the residential luxury map, starting with No. 9’s powerful yet refined stone-and-glass design from Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture. A layer of understated neoclassical detailing and Deco-inspired step-backs gives the contemporary structure a pioneering yet timeless demeanor.
The No. 9 Walton lobby will refect the brilliance and grandeur Letchinger believes Chicagoans have been waiting for in luxury high-rise residences.
Equally timeless are the units’ luxe amenities, including sprawling floor plates, expansive windows, high ceilings, exquisite millwork, sumptuous finishes, and customized fitted kitchens. Gigantic terraces set a new standard with gas, water, electricity, and overhead heat to make them true extended living environments. And services are strategic: a concierge, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, wine storage, rentable guest suites, chauffeur service, and a private dining room—but no communal living room. “If you live in a $5 million condo, you don’t want to sit in a shared space,” Letchinger reasons.
“These are the things buyers want right now, and Chicago buildings don’t have [them],” Letchinger states. His source? “My gut.” Given that Letchinger has survived and thrived despite such epic and well-publicized ups and downs—and has already sold 33 units at No. 9 Walton —i t’s a safe bet his instincts will serve him well in this effort. “Now the dollars are bigger, but the risk is smaller,” he says. If past performance is any indication, the results are sure to turn heads and set trends. 9 W. Walton St
November 4, 2015 | Home & Real Estate
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