Evanston senior building getting makeover

A longtime retirement apartment building in downtown Evanston is undergoing a major overhaul, turning the property into an upscale rental complex for seniors with updated residential units and an eight-story addition.

Work is underway at the former North Shore Retirement Hotel, 1611 Chicago Ave. Originally built in 1919 as a 350-room hotel, the building has been operated since the early 1960s as apartments for seniors. The property has been renamed the North Shore Residence.

The project’s first phase is a $5 million renovation of the existing building. Apartments are being outfitted with hardwood floors, and new bathrooms and kitchens with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. When the renovation is complete, the building will have 145 apartments — a mix of studios and one- and two-bedroom units.

The building’s mechanical systems are being replaced, and the lobby and dining room are getting upgrades.

“The common areas will reflect what you would expect to find in a high-end senior living community,” said Jeffrey Michael, chief operating officer at Horizon Realty Group, the Chicago-based owner and developer of the project.

The building will have a full-time doorman and valet parking service.

The North Shore Residence is meant for seniors who can live alone without assistance. A wellness center with some health care services will be available in the building.

The second phase of the project consists of a $15million addition to be built on the courtyard just north of the existing building. The addition will have 65 new apartments for seniors, along with a fitness center, indoor pool and spa, theater, and two-story atrium.

Phase 2 of the project is awaiting approval by the city of Evanston, but Michael says the company hopes to start building the addition in November, with completion expected in fall 2014.

Renovation of the existing building is about 20 percent complete, Michael said. The building has about 100 residents, who are being moved to the newly redone apartments as they are finished.

The building was about 25 percent vacant when Horizon bought it for $10 million in September.

Hattie Buell, 84, has lived in the building for six years. She had lived in Arizona, but when her husband died she decided to move back to Evanston to be near her son, who lives in Wilmette.

“I love it here,” Buell said. She participates in many of the building’s activities and plays the piano after lunch for residents. Buell graduated from Northwestern University in 1961 with a degree in music.

“The remodeled apartments are gorgeous,” said Buell, who has a studio unit that hasn’t been redone yet. “This place was kind of tired-looking before.”

But it had potential, according to Michael. Horizon Realty specializes in the turnaround of neglected properties. In 2009, Horizon spent $5 million to renovate Sheridan Plaza Apartments, a 140-unit building in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood that was originally built as a hotel.

Michael saw a similar challenge in the North Shore building.

“We were attracted to the idea of an Evanston institution that appeared to have fallen on hard times,” he said.

The project also had sentimental appeal. Michael’s father, Daniel Michael, chief executive of Horizon, was married 40 years ago in the building’s banquet hall.

The hall, big enough for about 200 people, is being renovated and will be available to rent for outside parties and events.

Horizon plans to manage the building, the company’s first seniors-only project.

Though upscale senior living projects often require a large entrance fee, the North Shore will remain a rental building. Monthly rents range from about $1,700 to $2,700, depending on the size of the apartment. Residents also pay a nonrefundable community fee at move-in equal to one month’s rent.

Furnished apartments are available. Short-term rentals for several months are also being offered for those who spend part of the year elsewhere. The rent includes activities.

The meal plan hasn’t been finalized, though residents will probably be obligated to spend about $600 a month at the dining venues, equivalent to about two meals a day, Michael said.

Two new dining areas are being added to the property — a bistro and a sports-type lounge. The renovation of the main dining room starts in a few weeks. A new meal program has already been introduced with an enhanced menu and more fresh foods.

“We really want to make this a better place to live,” Michael said.

Buell said she’s “extremely pleased” with the new dining arrangements. Previously, lunch was served at noon or 1:30, and the staff selected the dining table for the residents. “Now when you’re hungry, you can go any time between noon and 2 p.m. and sit where you want,” she said. “Nice things are happening.”