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The River North Neighborhood of Chicago

River North is where the hip meet the moneyed (not to say that a person can’t be both) in 21st century Chicago. It’s obvious, however, that this ‘Near North’ neighborhood (also known as the Gallery District) on the historic Chicago River houses an eclectic demographic community unlike most others in the city.

It’s a unique urban enclave where commodity traders rub elbows with art dealers, ballet dancers, and city workers alike at any number of the area’s 50+ watering holes–okay, maybe ballet dancers…not so much. But be it Henry’s Swing Club, Theory, or Three Dots and a Dash, local residents double park their shiny import sedans and sturdy Divvy bikes, pour out of Uber jitneys and rush hour buses, to belly up for a little post-workday conversation and a couple cocktails before heading off to their respective abodes; an equally interesting mix of contemporary sky scraper, raw timber loft space, and engineered concrete mid-rise. Toss in a dash of post-modern apartment buildings for those non-homeowners who can still afford the pricey rents ($1700+ for a two-room studio with a step-out balcony) along with a spattering of equally-placed affordable housing options (starting at $1200 monthly for a subsidized two-bedroom), and you have a nice, well-rounded ‘hood in the middle of a nice Midwest city.

Stability of River North Real Estate

For the past 25 years, River North real estate has enjoyed a steady, upward trend of economic growth (the obvious blips in the bubbling ‘aught’ years, notwithstanding) due to its diverse housing inventory and preferred location—not too close, yet not too far away from the ’9 to 5′ drumming of the inner-Loop financial district. Two-bedroom/two bath condos typically trade in the mid-$500,000s and are thus, competitively priced by downtown Realtors in the $350-$400 per square foot range. Be sure to budget in an additional $30,000-$50,000 for a deeded garage space as metered street parking fees are off the hourly charts. Monthly rental parking can be leased for around $350 on almost any corner. Finally, for all housing entities–condos, townhomes, and single family homes combined—closed sale appreciation for 2014 is currently hovering at 8% above the same period last year. Good news for the seller on that front. Rents, however, remain ridiculous.

About River North Neighborhood

Geographically, the River North neighborhood is tucked in between Superior Street to the north, the winding Chicago River to the west and south, and that great State Street to the east. It is steps away from the Magnificent Mile shopping district of Michigan Avenue and a mere five buck and change cab ride to almost anywhere else in the downtown vicinity. For public transport, the Chicago Brown Line ‘L’ rumbles gently overhead with platform stops at both Chicago Avenue and the Merchandise Mart. CTA buses run ‘round the clock in every other direction. Taxi, Uber and Zip Car options are endless.

Merchandise Mart, a neighborhood landmark

The above mentioned Merchandise Mart is probably the most recognizable landmark in the neighborhood, if not the entire city. Originally built in 1930 as a warehouse, it was for decades billed as the largest building in the world with approximately 4,000,000 square feet of interior space crammed into 25 floors. And until 2008, it even had its own postal zip code. The magnificent art deco Goliath still stands today as a commercial mixed-use building (comprised of mostly wholesale and retail design showrooms)–short, squat and proud on the broad-shouldered horizon.


River North Renovation and Conversion Projects

Upriver and just a few blocks north, another 20th century cluster of architectonic gems rise from the plats of yesteryear–the former Montgomery Ward facility. The complex was (and still is) comprised of three separate standing masonry monuments: the administrative headquarters (built in 1972 and designed by Minoru Yamasaki) with its iconic travertine marble skin, the warehouse, and catalog building (both completed in 1907). All three have since been converted into luxury condominiums and mixed-use commercial retail space with ‘The Montgomery Condos at 500 W Superior’ being the crown jewel of the lot. Nine luxury units have closed in this building since 2013 ranging in price from 1.1 million to 1.85 million. The former warehouse and catalog buildings are a bit more ‘soft-loft’ in design and typically sell in the mid-$300,000 to high six-figure range, depending on size, finishes, and degree of river view. Many are also available for rent beginning at $2,000 monthly for a mere 1000 square feet.

Neighborhood Vibe and Culture

Further east, storefront art galleries line the sidewalks of Hubbard, Superior, and Huron Streets and loom in the shadow of the elevated train tracks that rise above Franklin Street. Upscale, and also eclectic in nature, it is not an uncommon occurrence to wander across a lesser known Dali hanging in a gallery next to the work of any number of regional artists and sculptors. There are also a half dozen Michelin caliber restaurants within walking distance and late-night music venues are many in number.

Nearby Chicago Neighborhoods

Neighborhoods adjacent to River North include: Old Town; several undeveloped parcels of the former Cabrini Green housing projects; Goose Island (yes, there are geese as well as brew); The Gold Coast; and River West. In regards to education: Ogden Elementary is consistently rated among the best public primary schools in the city and Walter Payton College Prep, just north on Wells Street is perhaps, Chicago’s most sought after selective-enrollment secondary school. Nearby private schools include Latin School and Francis Parker, both with annual tuition in excess of $25,000 per student. And coming full circle, i.e., putting it into ‘hip meets moneyed’ perspective, that’s just for pre-school!

Near North Chicago Neighborhood Summary

All said, River North is a genial blend of old and new; ‘landlubbed’ and riparian; artsy and otherwise; not too close/not too far; moneyed, hip, and sometimes even both. Just steps from history and an eye blink from the future; it’s a community for the ages. Now, if those of us who aren’t as ‘moneyed’ can just figure out a way to ditch the car and get by on a scooter…

Map of River North Chicago

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About Author: Geno Petro

Geno Petro is an Illinois licensed real estate broker and nationally-read real estate blogger. A top-producing Broker Associate with Chicago Home Estates for 14 years, Geno is now broker owner at GenoPetro.House and has negotiated over $100,000,000 in buy and list-side transactions, specializing in luxury condominiums and new construction single family homes. He lives in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood with his beautiful wife, Mona.