North Shore Retirement Hotel getting big makeover, addition

Wonder what’s going on with the construction at the former North Shore Retirement Hotel?


Big changes are underway at the six-story independent senior living complex downtown, which is undergoing a complete renovation. The property on the corner of Chicago Avenue and Davis Street is also getting a huge addition and a new name: The Merion.


“This is senior living redefined,” said Jeff Michael, who with his father, Daniel, bought the building in September 2012 and began construction last year. “We’re setting a new bar in the senior rental arena.”


The Michaels are real estate developers and owners of Chicago-based Horizon Realty Group, which Daniel started three decades ago. The company specializes in redeveloping apartment buildings that have been neglected or mismanaged.


While the senior market is new for Horizon, Michael said the project was one they couldn’t pass up.


“What we saw was a magnificent piece of real estate in a fantastic location,” he said. “We didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do, we just knew we could do something special with it.”


Something special, according to Michael, means a higher end, more luxurious living experience for active seniors. This includes a complete renovation of all 140 fully furnished apartments, plus construction of 63 additional units. Named after the S.S. Merion — the ship on which Daniel’s father came to America — the Merion will also have a large ballroom, lounge with bar, dining room, card room, movie theater, organized social functions and programming, and a fitness and wellness center.


The dining program will offer what Michael described as a “country club atmosphere” with fresh, healthy meals.


“We invested over a million dollars on the kitchen alone,” said Michael, who lives in Highland Park with his wife, Melanie, and their three children. “We wanted a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen that has the capability to prepare the kind of food we want for our seniors.”


The Michaels contracted with Boston-based dining services company Unidine, which specializes in the senior market.


“We serve only the freshest ingredients,” said Andrew Coates, a district manager for Unidine who was once executive chef at Chicago’s Pump Room. “Everything we make is from scratch, nothing is pre-made, and it’s all from local purveyors. If we make chicken soup, it starts with chicken stock.”


“Food was a huge priority,” Michael said. “We brought in a top-notch company and instead of banquet dining, our guests will order off menus and only receive meals like they would get at an upscale restaurant with only fresh, homemade ingredients.”


North Shore Retirement Hotel was built in the 1920s, and, serendipitously, happens to be the place where Daniel Michael and his wife, Martha, were married in 1967.


“We came here in July and we were standing in this ballroom and my dad says, ‘By the way, this is where your mom and I got married,’” Michael recalled.


Fifty percent of the living spaces, which consist of studios and one and two bedroom apartments, are already rehabbed, and the rest will be done by the fall of 2014, according to Michael. Construction of the addition begins this summer and should be completed by September 2015.


“What Jeff and his dad have done is make this a resort for people to live in,” Coates said. “This isn’t an old folks home. Living here is like being in a five-star hotel.”