Privacy is the newest amenity

Chicago’s high-end condo buyers and apartment renters are shifting their priorities in a Covid world, and are seeking out units with balconies, and communal spaces with plenty of room

One Bennett Park’s Lawn Bowl, Optima Signature, and JeffJack Apartments
Clockwise from top left: Related Midwest's One Bennett Park, LaSalle Investment's JeffJack Apartments, and Optima Inc. and DeBartolo Development's Optima Signature

UPDATED, July 9, 5:01 p.m.: In a Covid world, privacy has become the ultimate amenity.

Balconies, large roof decks, sundecks — and the ultra-exclusive park — have overtaken “tween” rooms, squash courts and pools as must-have items for Chicago luxury renters and condo owners.

The outdoor offerings have always been part of the package at upscale residential properties across the city. But as the coronavirus shuttered gyms, pools and other common spaces — and created crowd-anxiety among dwellers — some of those perks are now the featured attractions.

Developers, landlords and real estate brokers have taken notice to the shifting priorities, and are rethinking the way they market buildings. After having spent years promoting shared experiences, brokers are increasingly incorporating social distancing into their pitches, highlighting the secluded spaces.

One of the marquee amenities at Related Midwest’s ultra-luxury One Bennett Park condo tower, a 1.7-acre park and expansive children’s playground, was all but tailored for the moment. While the park is public, residents have a private entrance from the building, and there are resident-only activities and gatherings there.

During the months-long stay-at-home order, the park was a place for “socially distant outdoor respite,” a spokesperson for the property said. Now, it is “being used for small-group outdoor fitness classes and other small gatherings.”

At LaSalle Investment Management’s 190-unit JeffJack Apartments in the West Loop, sundecks have been a major draw, said Connie Maali, the building’s business manager. Residents at the 15-story complex have “been stuck in their apartments that are pretty small, so they’re ecstatic,” she said. Outdoor space “is very important, and probably as high on everyone’s list as a washer and dryer at this point,” she added. Some tenants with expiring leases have even switched to units with balconies, Maali said.

One Bennett Park’s Lawn Bowl

One Bennett Park’s Lawn Bowl, in the 1.7-acre park

In recent years, Chicago has added luxury residential towers and smaller complexes with hundreds of new units, loading them with increasingly elaborate and extravagant amenities. L Logan Square holds a retrofitted “L” car from the CTA on its roof deck, while the 57-story Optima Signature in Streeterville built a full-size basketball court. Cooper at Southbank created a “jam room” where musicians can play.

Reserving the rooftop

But a different luxury market has emerged as the city tests its Phase 4 reopening called “Gradually Resume,” which took effect June 26.

At Optima Signature — built by Optima Inc. and DeBartolo Development — the new reality has brought the Amenity Boss.

Residents now use the app to schedule times for some of the spaces they would ordinarily use without planning. That includes reserving the basketball court, bocce and squash courts, children’s playground, 40-yard dash track, sundeck terraces with fireside lounges, and private dining areas. The complex rolled out the app on June 3, when the city began Phase 3 of its reopening that included — with restrictions — residential amenities. If Optima residents want to use the terrace for grilling, they can reserve space, limited to two hours.

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Demand has been high, said Optima Signature business manager Kattia Halaoui. “On the first day alone, we had 159 reservations to use the amenities,” she said. A couple of days later, that was up to 259 reservations. The indoor and outdoor heated pools are now open again — as are the pool lounges — though the saunas, whirlpool spas and cold-plunge shower are closed.

JeffJack Apartments, where some residents have switched to units with balconies

JeffJack Apartments, where some residents have switched to units with balconies

At the 54-story Harbor Point and 70-story Lake Point Tower condos, sundecks “mimic a park with mature trees, providing shade, grass and grilling areas,” said Rebecca Thomson, regional vice president at Coldwell Banker and head of Thomson Real Estate Group. Citywide, Thomson said she has seen an uptick in people searching for units with balconies and terraces, and larger outdoor areas like sundecks.

Dan McCaffery, CEO of developer McCaffery Interests, said Chicagoans “are spending more time at home than ever before and taking stock in those environments.”

One of the firm’s developments is The Orchard Private Residences at 2350 N. Orchard St. in Lincoln Park. The 32-unit condo building under construction will open later in the summer or early fall. Units include balconies of varying sizes and for the top-floor penthouse owners, additional private rooftop terraces, according to the property website.

Cadey O’Leary is a broker for Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty and listing agent for The Orchard Private Residences. The terraces will be generously-sized at the ultra-luxury property, she said. “They have recessed heaters, recessed lighting, they’re covered and they’re really an extension of their indoor living space,” she said. The design was in place before the coronavirus was on anyone’s radar, O’Leary said, but will now be an even greater draw.

Optima Signature

Optima Signature

She added that the complex will still offer co-working spaces, lounges, and a rooftop deck with an outdoor kitchen for residents who want to socialize or enjoy a small group atmosphere.

Don’t forget community

That desire to interact is why one Chicago-based interior designer doesn’t want to toss out the idea of shared spaces. Mary Cook of Mary Cook Associates said that for the last 15 years, “all of our focus has been on designing amenity spaces that enhance the community, bring people together and elevate the building. Let’s try not to break community down and lose sight of what we spent a lot of time building.”

Once a coronavirus vaccine is delivered, she said, people will feel more comfortable socializing again. “I think that human nature will probably keep people together.” Cook said she does want to integrate some building features like antimicrobial surfaces and touchless door entryways, blinds and faucets.

Lineata Carter, a broker with Prince Realty Group, believes the virus will steer the way in which amenities are marketed and created moving forward. She recently took a client on a tour of a South Loop condo with a gym, pool, rooftop and dog run. The building has a temporary two-person limit on the use of the gym.

Despite current restrictions, Thomson said buyers still “appreciate the prospect of having access to a private pool or gym versus a public one.” She added that the pandemic may have even increased the desire for those offerings.

“With more companies shifting to a more permanent work from home model, these amenities being on site become that much more appealing,” she said.