Project Well Underway at at Burleigh and Weil Street
by Sonya Jongsma Knauss
An old lighting manufacturing plant (J.W. Speaker Corporation) that has been sitting vacant and lifeless without the bustle of industry will soon house 40 new “open concept” condominiums in the heart of Riverwest. The Hi Fi Lofts building is being developed by Andy Busalacchi, known for his Western Leather Lofts in the Brady Street area and more recently the Parts House on 2nd and Maple Streets on the South Side. The property is along the old railroad right-of-way that runs through the northern part of the neighborhood. The city recently acquired the section from Burleigh to Keefe Avenue for a neighborhood green space, and Busalacchi owns a stretch south of Burleigh. Last year Busalacchi built a garage next to the building that some neighbors referred to less-than-fondly as the “quonset hut.” That space, Busalacchi says, will house enough parking for two cars per unit. He may add brick to the front facade (facing Burleigh), but he plans to keep the silvery arc just the way it is. The garage has been dubbed “The Amp,” fitting for Hi Fi Lofts. Busalacchi has a definite aesthetic in mind for the building, and The Amp is part of the plan. “It will look very industrial,” he says. “We’ll put stainless steel or copper corrugated panels on the sides, hung like shingles — not conventional siding.” Busalacchi owns the property and by right he can make a zoning-appropriate plan without specific consent of the city or neighbors. Some neighbors have been wondering for months what was happening in the building, with its steady bustle of workers moving in and out of the adjacent structures. Francis Vogel, who with his family lives next to the property, is concerned about the process. “This significant development is literally taking place in our back yard, yet we knew nothing of it,” he said when told of the planned condominiums. “Andy Busalacchi has not sought input from any near neighbors that I know.” He calls that approach “antithetical to the Riverwest ethos of participatory democracy.” When asked why he hadn’t sought input from neighbors, Busalacchi pointed out: “The reason they weren’t informed is because that’s what the site is owned for. That’s why the city has the zoning and building code.” Ald. Mike D’Amato said he had not been approached about the building plans. “I have significant concerns for a project of this magnitude to be built without any input from the neighbors,” D’Amato said. “I’ve not met with him about his plans, nor have I met with anyone at the city who knows anything about his plans.” The alderman said he would encourage Busalacchi to host a neighborhood informational meeting at the site to share his plans with neighbors and consider any input they might give.” Busalacchi said he’d be happy to show people what he’s doing with the property. “I would be glad to address any of the neighbors’ concerns,” he said. He is quick to point out that he is building the condos without any city, state, or federal subsidies. He has 25 workers at the site, along with a couple subcontractors. “We’re not coming in here with $5-per-hour guys, destroying the neighborhood, and leaving,” he said. “We have good guys, who get up every morning and go to work. They work hard, and they’re high paying jobs. We know what we’re doing – we’ve been doing it for quite a long time.” It’s evident that Busalacchi takes pride in his work. “The brick remains exposed,” he pointed out on a recent walk through the Riverwest building. “It’s going to be all open — not your typical condo.” Huge windows will give the space a bright, airy feel and allow residents a view of trees and housetops for blocks from the top floor. In mid-March, the top two floors had been framed and plumbing was in. All woodwork is being done by craftsmen in a building on Richards Street just south of Capitol Drive. Busalacchi recently put in an offer for the larger Recycling World building on Richards, where he hopes to move his cabinet-making operations. The average selling price for the Hi Fi condos, Busalacchi says, will be $175,000. He imagines that some may go for as low as $125,000. Many of the first floor condos will have private entrances, and the first floor will also have radiant heat. He says the completed building will add about $7 million to the city tax base. “I really enjoy taking these old buildings and working with them. You can be a lot more creative,” he says as he points out the variations in room sizes and structures. “These aren’t going to be little white boxes.” If the Parts House is any indication, the condos will be attractive and well-built. The Parts House condos, priced from $139,000 to the low $300,000s, sold quickly and only a few are left on the market. The Hi Fi Lofts will have one or two bedrooms with finished kitchens and bathrooms. Busalacchi expects to start selling the condos next fall or spring. “I’m in no hurry — I don’t have to pre-sell to keep going,” he says. The storage units he built last year along the railroad right of way will be sold to condo owners as permanent storage space.