It’s a logical location for a restaurant, given its proximity to Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue address. The site at 151 N. Michigan Ave. has been empty since 2008, when La Strada Ristorante closed there after 28 years in business.
At the time, BJB, the owner of the apartment building to the north, had teed up plans for a skinny 185-unit multifamily tower on the tiny site, smaller than a tennis court. By 2015, it had revised its proposal to include a hotel within the building. But BJB never broke ground.
BJB representatives did not respond to requests for comment. The firm has filed an application with the city for a zoning change that would allow its proposed project.
By constructing a small commercial building with retail and restaurant space on the parcel, BJB can generate some income from its investment and keep its options open. It could build a tower on the site in the future, or sell the property to a developer that would pay up for it.
Downtown restaurants and retailers are still smarting from the coronavirus pandemic, and their recovery will depend on how many downtown professionals return to the office after working from home for such a long time. It’s still a question without an answer.
But in a shaky market, some landlords will do better than others, and BJB and its brokers could have a locational advantage as they market the new space to prospective retail and restaurant tenants. A restaurant with a rooftop terrace overlooking Millennium Park—like one Rosebud operates in Prudential Plaza next door-—could draw tourists and office workers during the warm months.
BJB’s building to the north, Millennium Park Plaza, includes retail space leased to tenants including Protein Bar & Kitchen, Nutella Café, Bubblelicious Bubble Tea and Orangetheory Fitness.
Founded in 1969, BJB specializes in apartments, with dozens of properties in the Gold Coast, Lakeview, Rogers Park, Lincoln Park and Evanston. The firm paid $101 million in 2004 for Millennium Park Plaza, its biggest Chicago apartment building, with about 550 units.
The property’s performance has slipped over the past couple years. Its net operating income fell to $7.4 million, down 39% from 2020, according to Bloomberg data. The property also didn’t generate enough cash flow to cover its $7.8 million in annual debt payments last year, the data show. Its commercial space, which includes about 85,000 square feet of office space, is 71% occupied, while the apartments are 100% occupied.