WHEATON – Revitalizing the city’s downtown has been an area of focus for local government for several years, culminating in the Downtown Strategic Plan and Streetscape Plan passed in 2013.
Apartment complex Wheaton 121 – deemed by city officials to be an important piece of the development puzzle – has been in operation just under a year, apparently to great success.
The $60 million, 306-unit development at 121 N. Cross St. began leasing in July 2013, and finished construction this April. It is currently at 70 percent capacity, said David Strosberg, president of developer Morningside, and is on schedule with projections to reach full occupancy by the first quarter of 2015.
"This is the finest residential building in suburban Chicago, and its location in downtown Wheaton makes it unbeatable," Strosberg said. "The fact that you can walk to restaurants, walk to the park, walk to the Prairie Path out your front door. For those people who commute or go downtown for events there, the Metra is just a few blocks away. All big pluses."
He said the property has been particularly popular with young professionals and empty-nesters who want to take advantage of the local atmosphere.
Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk said the vertical development, which includes Waterford Place and Wheaton Center, offers a population influx to the landlocked city's business district.
"Having a 300-plus unit here in the heart of downtown really bodes well for the city of Wheaton and for the future of the town," he said. "The measure of vitality for a city is what its downtown looks like. And in this case a housing development such as this really speaks well for the downtown, which causes a snowball effect. Once you get people moving in, retailers and shop owners say 'I might want to move to Wheaton too.'"
Downtown Wheaton Association Executive Director Paula Barrington said new Wheaton 121 residents had been stopping by the association's office to ask for maps and information about the downtown. She had also heard from member businesses that traffic had picked up, she said.
Just across the street, downtown staple Carlson True Value Hardware has felt the impact of Wheaton 121 as well, said manager Dave Harms.
"We have converted some of our stock to cater to them," he said. "We're a hardware store, but we've become more of a general store. We have quite a few people come over for cleaning supplies and things like this. We've noticed a real difference, a nice increase of business because of them."
Harms said Carlson is one of many downtown businesses that have partnered with Wheaton 121 to offer a rewards card to new tenants, including incentives such as discounts and free items.
Strosberg said he, too, had heard from local businesses about how the development has helped their bottom lines.
"I think the proof is in the pudding," he said. "I hear from downtown restaurant owners and businesses that residents in our building are frequenting their businesses, and that process is only going to get better as the building becomes fully leased."
Note to readers: This article was revised after publication to correct the misspelling of the name of Wheaton 121 developer Morningside.