Johnson Publishing Building redeveloper scores refinance as apartments open

Chicago /
Jul.July 02, 2019 01:10 PM
3L Real Estate CEO Joe Slezak and 820 South Michigan Avenue

3L Real Estate CEO Joe Slezak and 820 South Michigan Avenue

A local developer landed a refinancing on a historic South Loop publishing headquarters at the tail end of its year-long effort to turn its offices into 150 apartments.

Rosemont-based 3L Real Estate secured a $30 million loan from Hinsdale Bank and Trust Company last month on the 12-story brutalist building at 820 South Michigan Avenue, according to Cook County property records. It replaces a $19.6 million loan provided by Citizens Bank in 2017.

The mortgage “signals the end of the construction phase” for 3L’s conversion of the former Johnson Publishing Building, which got underway in spring 2018, CEO Joe Slezak said. The building’s first apartment tenants moved in in April.

As of this week, about 60 of the building’s 150 units have been leased. The property owner also is trying to fill a 5,000-square-foot retail space at the foot of the building.

Slezak said his team wanted to maintain the building’s decades-old legacy as the headquarters for Johnson Publishing, which pumped out issues of Ebony and Jet magazines throughout the mid-20th century. The building in 2017 was declared a city landmark, forbidding any future owner from taking the iconic “EBONY / JET” sign off its roof.

Johnson Publishing in 2010 sold the building and an adjacent parking garage to Columbia College for $8 million, according to a 3L spokesperson. Columbia later sold off the parking lot for $2 million, and in November 2017 it sold the office building to 3L in a nearly $11 million deal.

3L’s $15 million renovation produced a rooftop amenity deck and fitness center but otherwise avoided many of the luxury bonuses built into the thousands of new apartments flooding into the South Loop market in high-profile towers like NEMA Chicago and Essex on the Park, Slezak said.

“Not everyone can afford to live in those buildings, so our view is that this is a more cost-conscious way to get into a great spot with a lot going on,” Slezak said. “An adaptive reuse allows us … to offer a unique product at a different price point.”

The building includes studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms, with the smallest units starting around $1,300 per month.

A local preservation group disassembled the building’s vibrantly-designed test kitchen, used during the 1970s by Ebony Magazine, and turned it over to New York’s Museum of Food and Drink.


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