Column:

Johnson Publishing building to become apartments after $10 million sale

The former Johnson Publishing headquarters, the longtime home of Ebony and Jet magazines, is getting a new title: apartment building.

Developer 3L Real Estate has paid more than $10 million for the 11-story office building on South Michigan Avenue, with plans to invest about $20 million more converting it into 150 apartments, 3L Real Estate CEO Joe Slezak said. He declined to say the exact price.

The early 1970s building at 820 S. Michigan Ave., which was recently designated a Chicago landmark, will maintain the iconic Ebony and Jet sign on its top, he said.

Those magazine titles made Johnson Publishing the country’s most influential African-American publisher, before the company’s struggles in recent years.

The project will be the latest example of vintage office buildings in Chicago being converted to new uses, including apartments and hotels.

Other examples involving Chicago media include the former office building at 360 N. Michigan Ave., formerly home to publisher Crain Communications, being redeveloped into the LondonHouse hotel, and, just to the north of the Chicago River, the planned redevelopment of Tribune Tower. Tribune Tower’s new owners, CIM Group and Golub & Co., have not publicly unveiled their redevelopment plans, which could include the addition of a second tower on a parking lot east of the landmark tower.

The seller of the Johnson Publishing building was Columbia College, which bought it for $8 million in 2010 but never used it. The college considered putting its library there, and later its student center.

But after deciding to build a new student center at Wabash Avenue and Eighth Street, where the college recently broke ground, Columbia instead decided to sell the building. The publisher briefly remained in the building as a tenant of the college but moved out in 2012.

Redevelopment of the Johnson Publishing building will begin by early 2018, with residents expected to move in by summer 2019, Slezak said.

“Part of the fun of my job is to look at real estate in great spots and figure out how to bring it back to life with a new use,” Slezak said. “The history of the building gives it a wonderful story, and it’s in a great location.”

The building will be converted mostly into studio and one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom units, Slezak said. Rents of about $1,200 to $2,700 per month will be lower than those of higher-end towers that have recently opened or are under construction elsewhere in the South Loop, he said.

The purchase of the Johnson Publishing building, completed Monday, is one of two the Rosemont-based developer is making from Columbia College.

Slezak’s firm also has a preliminary deal to buy the 343-bed student housing building at 731 S. Plymouth Court, which the developer could eventually convert to traditional apartments, he said. Slezak declined to say how much 3L Real Estate has agreed to pay for the student housing building.

Columbia College spokeswoman Cara Birch declined to comment on either property’s sale price.

Crain’s Chicago Business first reported 3L Real Estate’s plans to buy the Plymouth Court building from the college.

3L Real Estate is also close to completing 21st Street Lofts, a conversion of a former Yellow Cab warehouse at 57 E. 21st St. into 137 apartments, Slezak said. Previously, the developer bought student housing properties from the University of Chicago.

[email protected]

Twitter @Ryan_Ori

An earlier version of this story misstated the 2010 purchase price.

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
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