1611 West Division Proves High-Rises Don’t Need Parking to Succeed

The 1611 West Division Tower, left. Photo: Dennis Rodkin, Chicago Magazine

Last week I reported that the Belmont-Clark tower, located a block from a Red Line station, may include 90 rental units but only 39 parking spaces. A commenter scoffed, “Good luck renting those apartments when they run out of parking spaces.” However, the 1611 West Division rental tower, which opened last year next to the Division Blue Line stop, shows that new residential buildings near transit with little or, in this case, no tenant parking can be a big success.

I called 1601 West Division L.L.C., the owner of the building, for an update on how things have been going. About 90 percent of the 11-story building’s 99 units are rented, according to staffer Jamie McNally. “Our first move-ins were in October, and we had terrible weather this winter, but it’s only mid-May and we’ve almost leased the entire building,” he said. “Being able to lease a building without [tenant] parking hasn’t been an issue, so we’re pretty happy about how things turned out.”

Conventional wisdom in Chicago says that people who pay premium rent for high-rise living will insist on bringing cars with them. The units at 1611 aren’t cheap, with studios starting at $1,930 a month, and two-bedrooms starting at $2,995. However, the building has no interior parking, and only 16 surface lot spaces: 15 for retail customers and one for Enterprise car-share, which offers a discount to tenants. PNC Bank and Intelligentsia Coffee will be opening at the building later this year, and two other retail tenants are in the works.

The push for car-lite development at the former Pizza Hut site came from local residents, according to McNally. “They wanted a high-density building that would foster a walkable environment,” he said. “We recognized that a lot of young professionals don’t have cars.”

He noted that the building is practically on top of the Blue Line, and near six bus stops and a Divvy station. “You can get pretty much anywhere you need to go without a car. It might be counter-intuitive to some people, but providing more options for people to live near public transportation decreases the need for car parking.” 1611 residents are ineligible for stickers for nearby residential permit parking, but there are commercial lots nearby offering monthly parking.

Instead of indoor car spaces, the building provides a large bike room with a spot for each tenant. A CTA train tracker display in the lobby also facilitates car-free travel.

McNally isn’t sure how many, if any, residents own automobiles, but he guesses that the majority are young professionals who work in the Loop. “If you work downtown, you can get to the Clark and Lake station pretty quickly,” he said. It takes eight minutes, according to Google Maps. “Our tenants are smart. Location matters more to them than having access to a car.”

  • Ross Guthrie

    Another success story, albeit in the loop: Randolph Tower Apartemnts at Randolph & Wells. Renovated 1920s building with 300+ Rental units and ZERO parking spaces.

  • Pete

    1601 West Division is crazy. If you’re going to pay Streeterville prices and live without the possibility of parking, might as well live in Streeterville.

    Residents of this building should not be allowed to have neighborhood residential parking permits. This would defeat the purpose.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Yet, somehow it has filled up 90% so far, and as the article states, they aren’t allowed to have residential parking permits.

  • Taco

    Anybody else think they fact that they still haven’t rented 10+ units a pretty bad thing? I mean I think it will only get harder from here on out. I know one person that lives there that is moving out as soon as her lease is up because it’s too expensive for what it is.

    What kind of excuse is the weather was bad for an apartment building?

  • jeff wegerson

    Is there anyone who thinks this building isn’t ugly as all get out? I get that tastes vary but at some point below consensus we should be able to veto design. Or maybe I give the building too much credit. Maybe there was zero design and the architect told the developer to just slap the panels and windows up any old way.

  • Alex_H

    I agreed with Elliott Mason’s comment from a few months ago: say what you will about this building, at least it is trying to look like -something- rather than like nothing (like so many contemporary buildings). Elliott can probably weigh in with a more rousing defense.

  • Anne A

    It certainly isn’t bland. I’ll give it points for that.

  • gounion

    Honestly, the price per unit is most likely a bigger barrier to a lack of occupancy in that building. WP rents have skyrocketed since I moved here, but they aren’t 2k for a studio high…yet.

  • BlueFairlane

    Oh, you’re definitely not alone on this. I hate fad architecture, and I don’t give architects points for originality if they achieve it by designing an ugly mess that in no way works with its surroundings. I’ll take ten buildings that look like nothing over this monstrosity.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I agree that it’s ugly, but I’d rather err on the side of community meetings not becoming something like a giant homeowner association.

  • Chris Kendall

    I would rather live here than Streeterville for the same money. I like the vibe of the brick homes and leafy streets. Feels more like a neighborhood. Plus all the Divison St. stuff. Without the Blue Line subway across the street it would be a much harder sell. Subways are great during bad winter weather.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    The streets should be available to everyone for parking. They are not owned by folks who already live there just FYI.

  • jeff wegerson

    Yeah I get that you don’t turn design over to community groups and that too heavy a hand by them can kill creativity. But this building is so bad that it screams for someone to kill it.

    I’m thinking something like a 90% or even a 95% vote requirement to veto a design like this. I bet it would have gotten that kind of opposition. And that’s an important plaza and historic corner to boot. So maybe there you require an 80% vote to kill a design.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    Having worked at a couple high rises with premium rent, I don’t see it as “conventional wisdom” that residents will insist on bringing cars with them. When they hear the additional monthly rent for a parking space – usually around $250 per space – they often make plans to leave their cars at work, with a family member, or at a cheaper lot a few blocks away. The people who can afford the most expensive apartments can also afford car service or taking taxis everywhere.

    I think the developers behind 1611 West Division simply did the math: They can earn more per square foot from retail and residential than from parking. When potential residents insist on parking, they can refer them to the nearby commercial lots. And then they can spin it as an altruistic decision.

  • I am amazingly touched that something I wrote has stuck with you that long. :-> That’s my warmfuzzy for the day sorted!

    That said, (a) I do stand by my strong preference for attempts (even attempts I personally find repulsive) at an aesthetic purpose than the horribly bland smooth-monotone-brick rectangular boxes that we seem to get a lot of nowadays … but (b) I actually kind of like this building. I didn’t on the initial renders, but in actual photography of the actual construction, it has a rhythm and a balance to it that I find appealing.

    It’s not very TRADITIONAL looking (especially set directly across the street from that old bank building with the CVS in it), and I also freely admit I’m irrationally fond of the “let’s put terracotta ornaments all over it” era of architecture. But I still strongly prefer 1611 Division to, say, the Harold Washington Library, which continually weirds me out in how it manages to both be loomingly enormous AND claustrophobic in the extreme. It’s almost a superpower that building has …

  • Peter

    Yep its fugly, I’ve thought that from the beginning. Too bad they couldn’t plan something more in line with the classic look of the old bank/current CVS across the street. Oh well, without architects the world would look perfectly square and boring…

  • Peter

    If given the choice, i would choose this neighborhood over streeterville any day of the week…

  • Jin Nam

    People tend not to move during winter months so there is a big drop off in rental rates and it picks up come spring-Aug. Apartment vacancies are low so rents tend to increase.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    What I think is funny is to call this and the one at Belmont/Clark a “tower”. Its a mid-rise.

    Yes, it is kinda funky weird, but hey don’t be afraid of new styles. This whole we got a build it to make it look kinda, sorta, oldie looking sometimes results in some very pedestrian architecture that is b-o-r-i-n-g. Be bold. Even four plus ones built along the Lakefront for cheap housing in the 70s have their place in the urban landscape.

    What makes me so sorry about architecture and interior finishings is the fact that people have been sold on the “open floorplan” concept. May work in a larger house type situation, but in an apartment like its having to live inside your kitchen. Modern day dormitory. And oh God, we have to have the whole compliment of Marble Countertops, Stainless Steel appliances and Maple Cabinetry. What a bore. But hey, my first apartment was a 5 floor walk up and the kitchen sink was one of those giant porcelain models that hung from the wall. But the kids expect all the bells and whistles today for their first place.

    I will expect this building to have high turn over because of the price and neighborhood. Its probably the place where people settle for their first couple years in Chicago, and once they get to know the city better, find a better place to live.

  • Lisa Curcio

    In apartment buildings like this one, 95% occupancy is virtually full occupancy because there is always turnover going on. They are claiming 90% occupancy which is pretty good for a new building.

    As to the design, it looks better in person.
    As to this location vs. Streeterville: this is a neighborhood. Streeterville is a location.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I agree on basically all you said, and am curious now, what do you think of Citadel Tower? ( I love it because of its mosaic reflection of the surrounding city, personally, it seems like a piece of modern art, rectangular reflections of color… haha! )

  • I’m not familiar with that building. Where is it?

  • alexfrancisburchard

    North side of Jackson between State and Dearborn.

  • chicagoan

    This is nonsense. The backers of this project were well connected with the city and were able to pay their way out of conforming to zoning laws. Of course they can rent the apartments, they are brand new and in a great location. Its the neighborhood residents that are screwed. He says he doesn’t know ” if any” residents have cars. They do, and they’ve gotten resident permit passes on side streets. A normal citizen has to have 2 spots in order to get a permit to build a single family home, yet a well connected developer can have 0 spots for 100 apartments. Corruption? And to write this puff piece about how great it worked out is a joke. Think about it for a minute.

  • BatDave

    [citation needed]

  • As stated in the article, tenants of the building can’t get residential parking permits.

  • duppie

    lots of conjecture, but no facts…

  • Mike

    The East Village Association supported this development, including the design and zero parking:


    Think what you want about the design of the building, but the community group supported it.

  • Mike

    This development was fully supported by the East Village Association (the local neighborhood group), including the zero parking requirement. The neighborhood association requested the developer eliminate parking to encourage transit-oriented development, as the blue line is literally across the street. The negotiations over the reduced parking were conducted in open meetings with the community and were well publicized. Residents of this building are prohibited from getting parking passes, under an agreement with the Alderman. See here: http://news.eastvillagechicago.org/2013/10/1611-west-division-permit-parking-off.html

    See here for a complete history of how this development came to be:


  • jeff wegerson

    There are times when the locals are not representative enough. That plaza is a city-wide treasure, or at least a north-side treasure. The voting in those instances should draw in a larger constituency.

    The classic case is along the lake where NIMBY precincts vote against expanding public access while the vote should be at minimum Ward wide, if not city-wide, if not state-wide, if not planet-wide. The Chicago urban lake-shore is a world treasure.

    And just because some board of directors of some local business promotion group go along because they don’t want to make wave does not mean that a real vote would not have shown substantial dislike.

    But sure, I could be wrong. There is no accounting for taste, after all.

  • forensicgarlic

    I’m pro having less parking, but I thinks it’s crappy for new residents to a neighborhood to be prohibited from getting parking passes for the neighborhood they live in.

  • jared

    They can still park on streets without permit parking though, right?

  • Fred

    Does that include guest passes? Choosing to live without a car is one thing, but not even allowing visitors with cars would be a deal breaker for me.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    It seems like the better thing would be to allow them to get them, but to make them buy them at market rates from people who already have them. There’s only so much street parking to go around – let the people who currently have it make a profit if they choose to give it up.

  • Concerned EV Resident

    Plenty of people in this building need parking. I’ve heard it from several friends I know who life at 1611 West Division. Instead of arranging parking next to the building (it’s reserved for the PNC Bank that has yet to open and Intelligentsia patrons who didn’t start arriving until July – several months after many people moved in!), you get to park in the WPAC lot about 1/2 a block down in an uncovered, unassigned, and unsafe lot that needs serious work for $250/month.

  • If they didn’t like the parking situation, why did they choose to rent there?

  • birdonawire

    That’s not the point. They rented in the building because they CAN find parking somewhere else in the neighborhood. Any spillover parking generated by this building is objective proof of the failure of the concept. It completely refutes the title of this article because it demonstrates that the building does need parking.

    None of the historic buildings in Chicago have their own parking. Finding a nearby lot is normal. The problem is that buildings built since 1957 are supposed to have enough parking so that their NEW residents don’t spill over into the neighborhood making it harder and more expensive for the people who already live there to find a place to park.

    And don’t forget that the single largest source of traffic and emissions comes from the cars of people cruising the neighborhood looking for parking.

  • birdonawire

    That’s brutal.

    But if you think about it being pro less-parking and pro giving new residents living in new building that are permitted to be built with inadequate parking, parking permits makes no sense at all to residents who already live there. It is guaranteed to make their lives miserable.

  • birdonawire

    Isn’t that what we do with taxi’s?

  • birdonawire

    Being coerced by government into not having a private car into using public transportation because of political policies like permitting the construction of new buildings with inadequate parking that indirectly make owning a car more expensive.

  • birdonawire

    What happens as those “nearby commercial lots” disappear. Today’s parking lot is tomorrows new condo.

  • birdonawire

    One thing I like about debating parking is that it’s objective. Start ragging on style and you lose me. If you hate it you can bet that somebody else loves the way it looks. Do you really want big brother making those kinds of aethetic choices for us?

  • birdonawire

    Just like every other pre-1957 zoning code building. If not for that law then where would everyone park?

  • jeff wegerson

    Big Brother? No I prefer the Nanny State to make the aesthetic choices. Big Brother is for the security choices. And then Big Business is for the economic choices. My whole life is covered cradle to grave by others making choices for me.

    Hey, that was a fun exercise, coming up with those quips.

    Yeah, parking is more real and there are a lot of simple numeric aspects that lend themselves to something like definitive answers. But around here parking is just one of the whipping boys for the urban lifestyle crowd. Another is traffic congestion, which I guess is sort of like parking. I mean when one is stuck in traffic one is parked in the middle of the street. The urban lifestyle crowd is pretty anti-car all around not just parking.

    So since you don’t want to talk building style and since parking seems to be a vehicle (ha-ha) for starting a political discussion, where next for this comment thread?

  • jeff wegerson

    Ok sorry, I reread my own comment. Seriously yes I think that a community should have input into urban design that creates the environment that we must live in everyday and raise our children in during their formative years. As a parent I would rather not have my child grow up in an environment as ugly as that building. Not when for the same amount of money or effort one could have a much more beautiful building.

    I think your use of the phrase “Big Brother” is what is known as a “straw man” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man). I favor democratic governance within society. I am neither an anarchist nor a libertarian, I do believe in government. And yes, as I said above, I believe that when things that will last many generations beyond my own are built they should be subject to community input, or governance. I also do not believe in the ideological purity of so-called “private property.” And don’t go construing that to mean I support ever just being kicked our of “my” house or having “my” toothbrush ripped from my mouth.

  • Floyd Thursby

    I think you have just described why suburban HOA’s exist. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I can’t think of a better way of putting it.

  • jeff wegerson

    Not sure I understand. HOA is not a current acronym in my brain so I assume mean what google suggested Home Owners Association. Not sure why you might think that might sound harsh to me.

    Mostly I favor devolving power down as much as possible to the local levels. Of course one needs to balance the needs of the larger community with locals who might go NIMBY.

    So if by Big Brother you mean governing bodies who are reasonably democratic, then yes I would want them to be making aesthetic choices, but no if they are not sufficiently democratic then no I don’t.

    For the moment I was just wondering if others shared my disgust for that, imho, ugly black and white high rise. Just curious.

  • Floyd Thursby

    HOAs are one of the reasons suburbs are hated. One of the big reasons HOAs are hated is because of they enforce conformity. If the siding is the wrong shade of beige or the window coverings aren’t of an approved style or color… It’s like a condo association but for single family houses. Not sure what it would be called for a mixed neighborhood or for multiple condo developments.

    I didn’t mention Big brother, you must have me confused with someone else. I’m all for lowest level and voluntary. But there will still be a neighbor just over the line outside the people who volunteered to play by a certain association’s rules. People have to live and let live.

  • jeff wegerson

    Sorry. Didn’t look to see who was replying. I just assumed that you were “birdonawire” as this comment sat for six months before their reply.

    Historic Districts are another form of the species, of course. And further, of course, live and let live can break down when the environment comes into play. Clearly an oil refinery neighbor should play by different rules than live and let live. As does the neighbor whose yard is infested with say rats.

    And I agree there needs to be a balance.


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