Developer planning senior housing project in Northbrook

(Crain’s) — Senior Lifestyle Corp. is laying plans for a 180-unit facility in Northbrook, part of a flurry of senior housing proposals hitting the northern suburbs.

The Chicago-based developer has an option to buy a nearly vacant 233,000-square foot office complex near Dundee Road and the Edens Expressway. The existing three buildings on the 7.2-acre site would be torn down to make way for the project.

Senior Lifestyle obtained the option from a joint venture that includes Chicago-based ICE Realty Group Inc., which last month paid nearly $8 million for the property, 1000 Sunset Ridge Road, property records show. The complex, which was owned by an affiliate of Highland Park-based Gold Realty Group Corp., had been in foreclosure.

“The mayor initially wanted retail here, but there really isn’t enough local traffic on Sunset Ridge to interest most retailers,” says Jonathan Malm, president of ICE Realty Group. “And it’s hard to attract corporate tenants willing to pay high enough rents to make this interesting to office developers.”

ICE’s joint venture partner is Chicago-based ABC Real Estate Investments LLC. Mr. Malm and Jerrold H. Frumm, a Senior Lifestyle executive vice-president, decline to disclose the price of company’s option.

Construction could start late this year or early next, with completion of the project sometime in 2010, Mr. Frumm says.

“Northbrook should be a great market for us,” he says. “It’s an area that is deep with both age- and income-qualified potential residents for senior communities like those we build.”

Sources say it could be a nearly $50-million project. Mr. Frumm says it’s too early to “pin down” a number.

Northbrook Village President Gene Marks says, “We know we need more senior-citizen housing in the region. My hope is that Senior Lifestyle will reserve some of its units as affordable housing.”

Senior Lifestyle is likely to face off against several competitors. Omaha, Neb.-based Essex Corp. is due to go before the Northbrook Plan Commission in March to propose a 140-unit seniors’ facility on Founders Drive in the Techny development, about two miles south and west of Sunset Ridge. Nearby, the Covenant Village, 2625 Techny Road, is demolishing some older apartments housing seniors since the 1970’s and replacing them with new apartments.

The Sunset Ridge complex once housed offices of Bankers Life & Casualty Co., which left in 1993, according to Bankers Life’s Web site. The Gold Realty partnership bought it in 1997, paying $3.9 million, property records show.

Michael Goldstein, president of Gold Realty, says that as vacancies mounted he considered selling off the complex for redevelopment for retailing or a self-storage facility.

It fell into foreclosure in January 2007, when Minneapolis-based Marshall BankFirst Corp. filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to collect $6.3 million. The case is still pending, but the property is out of foreclosure.

“To me, office was the highest and best use for this property, Mr. Gold says. “The location was excellent but we just couldn’t attract tenants. Office brokers I hired could never figure out exactly what the problem was.”

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