After a dozen years on the radar, a large, posh condominium development in the 1100 block of Bonnie Brae in River Forest may finally become a reality.
The 20 unit, four-story “super luxury” development, which is being marketed to local empty-nesters looking to downsize in style, would be built on the site of a 34-space parking lot at 1101-07 Bonnie Brae, across from Concordia University.
Developers say they also plan to de-convert the adjacent three-story building at 1111 Bonnie Brae from six units back to three units measuring approximately 3,000 square feet each.
Art Gurevich, one of the principals of developer Jenny Builders Inc., a Wilmette-based construction company, made a 10-minute presentation before River Forest’s Development Review Board (DRB) and answered questions Thursday night.
DRB Chairman Frank Martin noted that the pre-filing meeting was advisory only and that nothing said by DRB members was binding in any way.
Martin said the meeting was held for Gurevich “to talk about [this] project and tell us what you want to do.” The process, Martin said, will make future meetings with village officials “more productive.”
The DRB did make one formal decision on the project. While the questioning from DRB members was mostly general in nature, there was concern over the effect of the development on local parking.
When Martin made a motion to allow the developers a waiver on a required traffic study, the motion died for lack of a second.
The two-building, brick-and-limestone condominium project is intended to be a “classical building with some contemporary flavor.” Gurevich said the two buildings would likely contain a total of 20 residential units, but might have less.
He said the residential units, which will be between 1,900 to 2,500 square feet, are “flexible,” in that they can be doubled up for people wanting greater space.
“They’ll be very large and comfortable,” Gurevich said.
He called River Forest “unique,” with many owners of large single-family homes interested in downsizing while retaining comfort and luxury.
“We had a focus group of 40 people who’d be in the market for these units,” Gurevich said. “We have a certain number of people who are interested.”
Jenny Builders has a strong track record in Chicago and elsewhere. According to city of Chicago permit records, over the last four years they’ve focused on several multi-unit projects on Chicago’s North Side.
In 2010 Gurevich and his partner, Mark Boldun, effectively rescued the bankrupt 18-unit Forest Creek condominium project in Brookfield.
“We are not new to this type of project,” Gurevich told the DRB. “We have the technical and financial wherewithal to do this project.”
Two of the men involved in the original Bonnie Brae development effort back in 2003, Richard Smith and Dan Watts, were in the audience Thursday night.
Smith said the parcels have already been sold to Gurevich’s company. In May, Watts and Smith’s Bonnie Brae Development LLC became Bonnie Brae Construction LLC, with headquarters at Jenny Builders’ Wilmette address.
In November 2003, Smith contracted with Concordia University to purchase seven parcels of land on Bonnie Brae, and eventually put together an 11-parcel package. An attempt to develop condos on part of the site in 2006 did not pan out.
With the global economic recession starting around 2007, development plans were put on hold indefinitely. Bonnie Brae Development LLC continued to carry a mortgage on the properties and rent out the units for student housing and the 34 parking spaces for staff and student use.
While the latest process is in its preliminary stages, Smith and Watts said they are excited with the both the proposed development and the strength and quality of Jenny Builder’s resume.
Watts noted that his partnership “could have sold the property several times for high-density developments.” But, he said, they wanted a project that fit in with River Forest’s aesthetic sensibilities.
Smith said he liked that Jenny Builders was “building something the community wants instead of building something they want to build and then trying to sell it to the community.”
Watts also said he was happy to see the ornate vintage building at 1111 Bonnie Brae preserved and rehabbed. He called it “beautifully detailed” and “a fabulous building.”
Gurevich and Boldun have partnered on real estate developments for 15 years. Boldun said he immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine, where he was vice president of a state-owned building company. Gurevich, originally from Belarus, emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1979.
In addition to their work on Chicago’s North Side, the pair has developed condominium buildings in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago, winning accolades in 2003 from the Chicago Commission on Landmarks for new construction in that neighborhood.