Who owns large apartment complexes in downtown Wheaton?

The national and international flow of capital in real estate is a well-established phenomena in the biggest cities but it is recognized less in suburbs. Here is an example of this in Wheaton, Illinois:

In the bigger deal, San Francisco-based FPA Multifamily acquired Wheaton Center, a 758-unit property in downtown Wheaton, from Edge Principal Advisors of New York, according to a statement from HFF, the brokerage that arranged the sale.

It’s unclear how much FPA paid—the statement did not include a price and FPA and Edge representatives did not return calls—but the property was expected to fetch about $135 million, according to Real Estate Alert, a trade publication. At that price, the sale would generate a big profit for Edge, which paid $44 million for Wheaton Center in 2014 and invested about $40 million in a major renovation.

The seller of the other property might want to forget about Wheaton altogether. Invesco, an Atlanta-based pension fund adviser, sold Wheaton 121, a 306-unit apartment complex that opened in 2014, for $72 million, according to Connor Group, the Ohio investment firm that bought the property. That’s nearly 25 percent less than the $95.8 million Invesco paid in 2015 for the complex, 121 N. Cross St.

The main culprit: property taxes. Wheaton 121’s taxes rose so much after Invesco bought it that the added expense significantly depressed the property’s value, according to people familiar with the complex. A jump in the property’s assessed value pushed Invesco’s 2018 tax bill up to $2.0 million, a whopping 47 percent increase from 2016, according to DuPage County records.

I suspect most suburbanites know little about who owns major pieces of land in their community, let alone who owns large apartment buildings (which may be more or less common depending on the suburb). Unless the owner makes a big deal of their ownership with signs or presence in the community, daily life just moves on.

But, this infusion of money from far away could have a significant influence on a suburb. Local developers may not be interested in sizable projects or may not be able to access the same amounts of capital. At the same time, a local developer may be more attuned to local conditions. Presumably, all the owners of nicer properties want to be seen as good actors in the suburb but they may have varying levels of involvement and commitment to the exact community.

The first control center Cold War bunker opened in 1958 in Wheaton

If the Soviet Union had unleashed nuclear weapons on the United States, perhaps the country would have gotten up and running again from a bunker in Wheaton, Illinois:

A Cold War bunker in Wheaton — hailed as America’s first Nuclear Age Civil Defense control center — is scheduled to be razed in the coming months, taking with it some of the last pieces of evidence of the tense geopolitical standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The $500,000 bomb shelter, built inconspicuously underneath a one-story highway office on DuPage County’s government campus, was constructed to house up to 60 civil defense workers to keep operations running for weeks post-atomic blast.

Its ribbon-cutting was held almost exactly a year after the USSR launched Sputnik, the man-made satellite that orbited the earth in October 1957 and heightened fears of a Soviet attack on U.S. soil. It was also a time when schoolchildren practiced “duck and cover” drills to protect themselves from nuclear explosions and women’s home magazines included tips for furnishing bomb shelters…

An entrance can be sealed off in the event of a blast and the bunker features a ceiling of 36-inch-thick reinforced concrete and 18-inch cinder block walls. Moving from room to room, I found decontamination showers, a “war room” of sorts designed for tracking Soviet attacks and a secure landline, which at one point could have connected workers to the White House.

It would be interesting to consider how the leaders of DuPage County – quite conservative politically in the decades after World War II and open to suburban growth – might have responded uniquely to the use of nuclear weapons. If the major centers of the United States were knocked out, could the county officials from suburban Chicago be counted on to get the country on the right track?

Data on Chicago area mosques through 2010

In 2010, Paul Numrich published data on the 91 mosques in the Chicago region as part of the Pluralism Project at Harvard:

Before 1960, only five mosques could be found in metropolitan Chicago, all within the city limits. From research conducted in the late 1990s, I estimated that there were 67 mosques in the six-county region (cf. Numrich 2004). In a 2010 research project, I verified the locations of the 91 mosques shown on the accompanying map. This essay describes my research methods and findings for the 2010 project and discusses some implications of Islam’s growing institutional presence on Chicago’s (and America’s) religious landscape…

53% of the mosques (48 of 91) are located in the city of Chicago, 47% (43 of 91) in the suburbs. Notable clustering of mosques can be found on the city’s north and south sides (due to residential patterns of immigrants and African Americans, respectively) and in suburban Cook and DuPage Counties, the latter one of the wealthiest counties in the nation…

77% of the mosques (70 of 91) have adapted their facilities for use as a mosque. These include several former Christian churches, such as Islamic Community Center of Illinois on Chicago’s north side (see photo on map, courtesy author). Two mosques meet in functioning churches, including Batavia Islamic Center in the western suburbs (see map), which is featured in my book, The Faith Next Door (Numrich 2009: chapter 4)…

Nearly two-thirds of the mosques (58 of 91) have some exterior indication of their Islamic identity that would be recognizable to the average American passerby, such as domes, minarets, Islamic symbols, or English signage. All but two of the 21 newly built mosques have such recognizable Islamic markers, such as Masjid Al-Faatir on Chicago’s south side with its impressive dome and minarets (see photo on map, courtesy Frederick J. Nachman).

As Numrich notes, the number and locations of mosques is fluid and thus might have changed by 2015. Still, there is good data here (involving driving more than 2,400 miles to check out the locations) and the page includes a Google map with all the locations.

Come to think about it, I haven’t seen many stories recently about new mosques or communities objecting to proposals for mosques. Back in the early 2010s, this was a hot topic: see earlier posts here, here, and here. But, given the number of mosques within the Chicago region as well as some of the reaction to these high profile cases, it seems as though this is now normal. Even Wheaton, the “Protestant Vatican,” saw the opening of a mosque in late 2013.

Mosque spokesman Abraham Antar said he and his fellow congregants are excited about their new home, which he said is Wheaton’s first Muslim community.

“Wheaton is a city of faith, and we’re very privileged to be able to establish an Islamic community for Wheaton and especially for the western suburbs,” he said. “There are a lot of Muslims in Wheaton and the surrounding towns. It’s unfortunate for the (First Assembly of God) church that they lost their opportunity to stay there.”

Antar also said Islamic Center of Wheaton leaders are looking forward to getting to know other religious institutions in the area.

I don’t know how those conversations with other religious institutions are going but it would have been hard for Wheaton residents decades ago to imagine seeing a mosque within city limits.

Allowing suburban residents only two garage sales a year

Suburban homeowners must protect their interests, from policing Halloween decorations to limiting the number of garage sales at one address:

Wheaton residents may soon be limited to hosting only two garage sales per year, each for a maximum of two days.

The Wheaton City Council reviewed a proposed ordinance Monday that would modify the city’s existing garage sale regulations.

“There are some homes in the city where people have stuff out on their lawn every weekend throughout the year, or at least throughout the summer months,” said Councilman John Prendiville. “The neighborhoods are becoming a little bit upset with that, they think it is hurting the enjoyment of their property.”

City Manager Don Rose added that this summer has been “different,” with the number of “almost continuous garage sales, taking up the name of hoarder sales” becoming problematic in several neighborhoods.

What exactly does “hurting the enjoyment of their property” mean? Perhaps it is referring to enjoying nature on the front lawn, whether through using the space or having a clear sight line from house or porch to other areas. Perhaps this is generating some extra noise and blocking sidewalks or parking along the street. But, what it really probably means is that homeowners are worried about their property values. What does it look like if neighbors consistently have things for sale in their driveway or front lawn? It looks lower class and less desirable. It is suggestive of commercial establishments or of neighbors who constantly need money. All of this could translate to less value.

At the same time, I’d be interested to hear how a suburban community would enforce this guideline. Will people have to officially register their garage sale? Will police officers start a database? Will neighbors be able to take time-stamped photos of illegal garage sales and turn this in as evidence?

Wheaton’s walkable shopping center…surrounded by parking lots

Renovations are coming to the Town Square Wheaton shopping center yet the picture of the complex shows it may just be as auto dependent as any shopping center:

It features 160,000 square feet of retail space, much of it filled with chain stores such as Banana Republic, Gap, Joseph A. Bank, Starbucks, Yankee Candle and Talbot’s. The property also includes two professional buildings that house medical offices.

Tucker Development plans to enhance the seven buildings arranged in a walkable loop primarily through signage and facade improvements.

Town Square Wheaton, a shopping center on the south side of the city, recently was sold for nearly $57.3 million. The new owner, Tucker Development, has plans for $1 million in renovations.

This shopping center embodies a lot of the features of newer lifestyle centers or New Urbanism-inspired shopping centers: it features a central plaza with a walkable loop around it, the scale is not huge, there are office spaces on the second floor plus numerous eateries (mixed uses), and it borrows from a local architectural style (Prairie School).

Yet, the overhead view highlights one of the problems that plagues numerous New Urbanist developments: they are often plopped right into car-dependent areas so that even if they are pleasantly walkable, one needs to drive there first. Walking or biking there is not easy; there are apartments adjacent to the center but there is not a permeable boundary between the spaces. You could walk or bike to the center from several nearby single-family home subdivisions (I was just biking near here recently) but that typically requires traveling along and/or crossing busy Naperville Road which funnels a lot of commuter traffic through south Wheaton (the primary path to Naperville and I-88) and isn’t exactly lined with beautiful structures.

Hence, just another shopping center surrounded by parking lots…

New “Dry City Brew Works” reminds Wheaton of its dry past

A new brewery in Wheaton has a name that highlights the community’s past stance toward alcohol:

Exposed brick walls, metal accents, a wooden ceiling and plans for local musicians to regularly perform give Dry City Brew Works the feel of an urban coffeehouse…

The name, of course, is a reference to Wheaton’s history of being a dry city until the mid-1980s.

“A lot of people, especially from the Wheaton area, are telling us, ‘Wow, finally, it’s so good to have something like this in Wheaton.’ They love the name and the play on Wheaton and the reaction to the actual product has been good,” Jessica said.

Friends, family and strangers helped the brewery raise $15,000 through a Kickstarter.com campaign to help with some of the startup costs. The owners are now in the process now of rewarding the backers with Dry City-stamped T-shirts, glasses and other items.

A bit of a change for a community which voted for its own prohibition after the Federal prohibition ended. Read an earlier post about Wheaton’s dry past and reactions to Ale Fest a few years ago. The ban on alcohol sales was revoked in part because of arguments that such sales would help the downtown: enhance the downtown experience, attract businesses and restaurants, and thus boost tax revenues. A brewery downtown would seem to contribute to all this though it remains to be seen how successful a brewery in Wheaton can be.

“Road diets” improve safety

The US Department of Transportation is recommending “road diets” – limiting the width of roads and reducing lanes – to improve safety on the roads:

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced an 18-month campaign to improve road safety across the country. One of the things DOT plans to do is create a guide to “road diets” that it will distribute to communities and local governments. DOT says that road diets can reduce traffic crashes by an average of 29 percent, and that in some smaller towns the design approach can cut crashes nearly in half…

The result was a much safer road. In small urban areas (say, populations around 17,000, with traffic volumes up to 12,000 cars a day), post-road diet crashes dropped about 47 percent. In larger metros (with populations around 269,000 and up to 24,000 daily cars), the crash reduction was roughly 19 percent. The combined estimate from all the best studies predicted that accidents would decline 29 percent, on average, after a four-to-three-lane road diet—DOT’s reported figure.

These benefits alone would be enough to merit more road diets, but there were plenty of others. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic tends to soar at these sites, as the recaptured road space gives way to bike lanes or street parking that provides a sidewalk buffer from moving traffic or crossing islands, and as vehicle speeds decline (especially for high-end speeders going more than 5 miles per hour over the limit). Traffic volumes, meanwhile, typically stay even in such a corridor: some drivers diverted to other parts of the street network, while the rest quickly soak up any vacated space.

Best of all, these kinds of changes don’t cost much. When timed with regular road maintenance and re-paving, road diet policies require little more than the paint needed to re-stripe lanes. They’re about as cheap and cost-effective as infrastructure improvements get, which has led some to wonder why the technique isn’t used more widely.

This is counterintuitive: many people would guess that adding lanes to roads makes driving better. I would guess many people fed up with traffic in their community wouldn’t immediately support road diets. Yet, evidence consistently suggests that adding lanes attracts more traffic and that narrow roads prompt drivers to pay more attention and reduce their speed.

The City of Wheaton introduced this years ago on Main Street. The road used to have two narrow lanes in each direction between the railroad tracks and Cole Avenue but this was changed to two lanes in each direction with a median/turn lane. Traffic today seems to move just fine and the median/turn lane helps isolate turns and limit situations where big vehicles in small lanes presented hazards.