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Friday, March 19, 2010

Grand possibility for rail terminal site in South Loop

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February 14, 2001

The biggest empty chunk of downtown Chicago is for sale, ready for somebody to take a chance on a future cycle of real estate growth, David Roeder wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times. Buyers should bring cash, great credit and patience.

The property is eight acres at the southwest corner of Harrison and Wells, which several investors have taken a crack at. It has been vacant since 1971, when the Grand Central Station rail terminal was torn down, to the horror of people who loved the architecture.

Russland Capital Group Inc. of Skokie owns the largest part of the tract, 6.6 acres, and is marketing it for $41 million. The remaining 1.5 acres is at the corner. Its owner, D2 Realty Services Inc., is trying to sell it, but a price could not be learned. It had tried to peddle it for $15 million, but the contract never closed.

Russland's part includes frontage on the Chicago River, so developers have eyed it for a residential and retail mix. The housing collapse and credit squeeze upset those plans.

Jacob Bletnitsky, Russland president, said his firm doesn't want to hold the land for the next boom. "We're developers. We have other uses for the cash, and this is very expensive property to keep," he said.

Bletnitsky said Russland paid $34 million for the site two years ago and that valuations have veered wildly. He said that a few months after he bought it, Dubai investors offered him $100 million. He said they were working on the contract before the Dubai economy collapsed.

To market the property, Russland has hired Rick Levin & Associates Inc. The firm is best known for auctioning properties, but President Rick Levin said he is selling the parcel conventionally.

The land is just south of the city's financial markets. Levin said it would be the logical place for downtown to expand when the economy improves.

Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, president of the Near South Planning Board, said neighbors probably will resist a zoning plan for the site that calls for a massive dose of housing. She said the South Loop has too many unsold condos.

Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward includes the site, said the river exposure makes the land attractive for new homes. But he said he would resist high-rises because too many have been built, bringing congestion to the South Loop.

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