Daniel Burnham is credited with saying, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Oak Parker Greg Sorg of Pioneer Property Advisors seems to have taken the architect and urban planner’s words to heart in his latest venture in real estate development.
Fresh on the heels of the successful turnaround of a once-abandoned bank building-turned-urban brewery at One Lake Brewing on the corner of Lake Street and Austin Boulevard in Oak Park, Sorg has set his sights eastward to a vacant warehouse on Madison Street just east of Austin Boulevard.
Once the home of Big O Movers and, before that, the longtime home of Jackson Storage, the building had seen better days when Sorg decided to take it on. Parts of the roof were missing, the freight elevator was inoperable and then there was the matter of the trash. The building was full of items from abandoned storage lockers.
“This is like storage wars on steroids times 1,000,” Sorg said. “There was just abandoned stuff everywhere.”
From motorcycles to pinball machines to household items, the abandoned belongings were everywhere, filling the elevator shaft up the fifth floor. In spite of the trash, Sorg was able to see the potential for the building, which dates to the 1920s.
The building was designed by architect George Kingsley, known for designing warehouses, including the Reebie storage warehouse in Chicago with its façade of Egyptian designs.
By the time Sorg got his hands on the building, at 5951 W. Madison St., many of the original details had been lost to time, but some original decorative tilework remains on the exterior, and the lobby retains a wooden vestibule adorned with stained glass.
Car club concept
While the project is in the very early stages of development, Sorg is not afraid to dream big. A car enthusiast whose own Japanese car collection is substantial, Sorg envisions turning the warehouse into a high-end car club, complete with condominiums, restaurant, and a roof top deck. He sees an opportunity to create something for which there is a demand.
His architect, Bill Scholtens of Elements Architecture Work in Oak Park, agrees.
“The pendulum is swinging the other way now” Scholtens said. “The digital community is not enough. People want to meet in person and socialize. This kind of space taps into the need people have to get together.”
The final details are still being hammered out, but Scholtens and Sorg envision rehabbing the freight elevator to carry cars to the six floors of the building. The first floor of the building, with its trussed ceiling, will be an event space with room for catering and a lobby-like entry at the front of the building.
The second floor might include retail bays or service bays for the car club. Middle floors might house high-end condominiums, and the upper floor will include a bar, lounge and restaurant that will be open to the public as well as car club members.
Calling the roof the highlight of the building, Sorg says the plan is to blow out all the east-facing walls to provide a view of the city to for both the condominiums and the restaurant. Another possibility? A helicopter landing pad on the roof.
While admitting that the project is “a little more ridiculous” than his previous conversion of a bank into a restaurant, Sorg says there are very few car clubs like this in the country, and the two that he knows of are in New York and Los Angeles.
“The question is, is this too far for this area?” Sorg asked, noting that some may label such development as gentrifying rather than improving a neighborhood.
A large part of Sorg’s vision is his belief in the West Side of Chicago. While he manages 300 to 400 apartment units in Austin, Sorg’s new focus is on development.
After the success of One Lake Brewing, he’s helping develop the Daly Bagel on Oak Park’s east side and sees a lot of opportunity in both the east side of Oak Park and the west side of Austin.
One incentive is financial. Sorg points out that storage for his car collection in Melrose Park came with a high property tax bill. Taxes for 10,000 square feet of space in Melrose Park was roughly equal to the tax bill for 65,000 square feet in Austin.
He also said that the area is calling out for more development in the way of restaurants and things that will draw people to the neighborhoods and give the people who already live there places to go.
“People complain about the lack of parking here, but they don’t complain about it in Lincoln Park,” Sorg said. “The difference is, there’s things to walk to in Lincoln Park.”
Scholtens sees eye to eye with Sorg on his vision.
“He’s really committed to that, as am I,” Scholtens said. “Greg has for years been looking east. This has the opportunity to really be one of those anchors of the community with benefits to Oak Park and Austin. Greg has the courage to say, ‘Let’s go in and do this.'”