South Loop blends hip, historic

Moonlit strolls down Michigan Avenue, late-night dog walks at Dearborn Park Town Homes, cozy shopping near Roosevelt Road and name-dropping at some of Chicago's finest restaurants are a given on any day in the South Loop. The community, once the 19th Century hub of Chicago's printing and publishing industry, and the location of Dearborn Station, the arrival point of many immigrants into the city, has been transformed in the last 20 years into one of the city's most progressive neighborhoods.

The thriving community has steadily changed from what most long-time residents recall.

Bj Jordan, a Chicago native, relocated to the South Loop from New Jersey 26 years ago and moved into the Dearborn Park condominiums. "I remember when I would look out of my window and see wild rabbits running through the vacant field across the street," Jordan said.

Today, development engulfs the once vacant lots and abandoned warehouses.

Trendy lofts and high-end condos now occupy those warehouses. And, real estate agents, business owners and residents all agree, the South Loop is one of Chicago's most diverse, safest and up-and-coming neighborhoods to live in.

"I know I live in a civilized neighborhood when I can purchase imported Parmesan cheese from Italy right across the street from my house," said Robert Allegrini, vice president of communications for the Americas Hilton.

The view of the South Loop from the Chicago Hilton and Towers' $7,000-a-night penthouse is a developer's masterpiece, painted with state-of-the-art skyscrapers, quaint town homes and luxury condos. Allegrini points out a dozen or more cranes at work, something he attributes to the hotel, which he refers to as "the anchor that saved the South Loop."

After initially weighing demolition of the historic Chicago Hilton Hotel as it was then named, investors chose to shutter the building in 1985 for nine months and spend $185 million on a massive renovation. The hotel, at 720 S. Michigan Ave., which functioned as a radio dispatcher training center during World War II, has housed such visitors as Queen Elizabeth II, Emperor Hirohito and every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Since completion of the remodeling, the surrounding community has transformed into an upscale neighborhood, with a melting pot of upper- to middle-class residents. The neighborhood has a multicultural appeal, as residents from diverse backgrounds join together to call the South Loop home.

Housing stock

Despite recent national and local downturns in the housing market, the South Loop continues to flourish.

Tom Feddor, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty, does about 70 percent of his business in the South Loop area.

"Twenty years ago, no one would ever think to venture south of Congress [Parkway]," he said. "Now, this is a hot area. Last year, I experienced the best sales in my five-year career and this year is shaping up nicely."

Feddor said the top sellers in the area are condos, purchased mostly by first-time buyers.Prices of condos and town homes in the area range anywhere from $140,000 for a studio, to $3 million to $5 million for a 7,000-square-foot penthouse at One Museum Park, a high-rise at Roosevelt Road and Indiana Street, overlooking the museum campus. A one-bedroom town home in the South Loop typically starts at $300,000, said Feddor.


The cultural opportunities have added to the educational experience of students in the local schools.

Students at the South Loop School have increased their Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) scores about 50 percent since 2002, making more parents in the area willing to enroll their children, said Patrick Baccellieri, deputy chief officer for Chicago Public Schools, who was the principal at South Loop School from 2002-2007. "The school offers different programs to enrich student learning. It has a regional gifted center and an early childhood center," Baccellieri said.

About 84 percent of students at the school are meeting or exceeding state standards. Jones Commercial College Prep High School has plans to expand its campus after the relocation of the Pacific Garden Mission shelter, from 646 S. State St. to 1458 S. Canal St., one of the last homeless shelters in the South Loop.

Perspectives Charter Schools' South Loop Campus is yet another alternative within the community, which offers a unique curriculum for 6th to 12th graders. In its 11th year, students attend classes in a building that has won several architectural awards, said Zack Duffy, communications director for the school.

Getting around

The central location of the South Loop, a pocket in the Near South Side, is an area generally bounded by the Congress Parkway on the north, the Chicago River on the west, Roosevelt Road on the south and Lake Michigan on the east. It is a plus for students as well as residents.

You can jump on the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line or hop on one of the King Drive, Cottage Grove, State Street buses to head into downtown. Or, quite simply, walk to Grant Park for many of Chicago's festivals and concerts.