Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Category

They’re Building in Chicago Again

May 6th, 2013 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Chicago

Over the past few days I have noticed just how much constructions going on, especially in my neighborhood. It was last Thursday and I first thought, "They're building in Chicago again," while walking from the Merchandise Mart to State St. and Wacker Drive in the Loop that construction was in full swing at the building at Wacker Drive and Clark St.

The site, 111 W. Wacker, was slated to be an ultra-luxury hotel and condo complex–the 5th tallest building in America–when construction started in 2008, but the financial crisis put that project into bankruptcy.

While I was thinking about that, I noticed another high-rise construction crane in the distance and wondered whether it was the project at the corner of LaSalle and Huron, which had been wrapped in a shroud of white fabric when it was shuttered maybe maybe five years ago, another casualty of the financial crisis. It was, now the construction site of the Godfrey Hotel.

Good thing, I thought. It may be an increasingly digital economy, but nothing gets an economy moving like construction. It occurred to me again while running in my neighborhood Saturday morning (05/04/13).

In the aftermath of the Financial Crisis and its lingering Great Recession, it's easy to forget just what a residential construction boom went in on some neighborhoods. Here's a photo of that legacy on Grace St. just east of Ashland Ave.

Before I got to that point on my run, however, I passed three homes under construction, on Larchmont near Lincoln Ave. in the North Center neighborhood. Granted that fire destroyed and damaged the properties, but the site would have remained vacant even two years ago.

Apparently it's not just in my neighborhood. Local residential construction is up more than 19% in the first quarter of 2013, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, in an article reported by Crain's Chicago Business. Local construction is forecast to rise 7.4% this year, to $7.5 billion, the highest total since 2008., Crain's reports, "spurred by a spate of residential projects in the first three months of the year."

Every time I get on the Brown Line at Irving Park, I watch progress on the second phase of EcoNorth, a three-phase condo-retail project, the second phase, which started up late last year after being on hold for a few years after the crisis.

Right up the street is a massive infrastructure project, which started in late 2011 and will continue through 2019. Metra is replacing 22 bridges of its Union Pacific North railway, along Ravenswood Ave., all more than 100 years old and deteriorating: you can see the sky through the rusted holes when you walk underneath them.

Further east, at Irving Park and Paulina is another condo project, this one in what for years was the empty lot left from a closed gas station and Midas muffler shop.

Across the street from that is a gut rehab of a restaurant, though again this one was the result of a recent fire.

Even on Ashland Ave., a gritty looking street even with the trees and flowers in the median, new homes are under construction, near the intersection with Grace Ave.:

The stretch of Ashland between Irving Park and Grace has always looked rough around the edges to me, and it contains reminders that, even with the uptick in construction, the recession lingers:

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Spring in Chicago: Crabapple Trees

May 5th, 2013 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Chicago

This week really is the first time spring is in the air, and some part of it stinks. The crabapple trees* are in full bloom. They look absolutely lovely, thickly covered in a cloud of tiny delicate flowers in cotton-ball sized blooms, especially along and in the medians of city neighborhood streets.

Here’s what they look like on Irving Park Road, just south of Ashland Ave. Lovely, yes. But do you know what these blooms smell like? They are not sweet. They are not a perfume you’d want to wear. They a kind of musty, but not the sweet musty of an old book, more like the musty of mold, a mushy smell.

I would prefer Redbud or Dogwood, both native to the region. I imagine they are not as hearty. Crabapples are hard and sour, and I’ll bet nothing will kill the trees. So there they are, all along with streets, a visual feast and better than the exhaust from the busses. Then again. . .

* I’m fan of plants, but I’m no botanist. If these trees are something other than crab apples, please let me know, and I’ll put crabapple jelly on my toast as an apology.

Groupon Chicago

May 28th, 2011 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Business, Chicago

Why Groupon is a perfectly Chicago company

It’s hard not to read about Groupon, currently the most mediafied of Chicago companies. It’s got a What’s Hot tab on TechCrunch. It’s national burger weekend deals made Crain’s and other media, and it’s one of several pre-IPO companies cited as examples of a new tech bubble. Groupon brings a lot of tech start-up luster to Chicago.


All that attention–along with discussing innovation at last week’s MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago Whiteboard Challenge and reading Malcom Gladwell’s May 16 New Yorker piece on the story of creativity and innovation at Apple Computer and Xerox PARC–got me thinking about Groupon and its Chicago location.


Chicago is not technology like Silicon Valley or Boston. There is not the mass of high tech here out there. The mass of innovation in Chicago spans a much wider range of industries, as shown by winners of the Chicago Innovation Awards, now in their 10th year.


Chicago is manufacturing (food, healthcare, drugs), finance (economic thought and trading products), and media-entertainment (Oprah and improvisational comedy).


And retailing.


It’s retailing and advertising I think of when I think of Groupon.


Like Chicago retailer innovators Sears, Wards, and Spiegel, Groupon is a retail sales organization. Like old catalogs of those retailers, Groupon relies on a clever copywriting style for its pitches (not without its critics). It also relies on a savvy sales force (akin to buyers) to source and sell local deals. It’s a direct-response sales organization using email rather than postal mail.


Where else would Groupon be? Not the technology garages of Silicon Valley but the old Wards warehouse in Chicago. As Gladwell suggests with innovation, the new Chicago spirit of progress is a new incarnation of the old.


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Whiteboard Challenge

May 27th, 2011 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Business, Chicago

Ideas for Blood Vessels, Captchas, and Cars Win
2011 MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago Whiteboard Challenge

Winners of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Enterprise Forum Chicago provide additional evidence that innovation is alive and well in Chicago in a wide range of sectors. The three winners spanned medical, internet, and personal services.

The MIT Enterprise Forum Chicago Whiteboard Challenge, now in its sixth year, is an ideas contest, with the winners receiving a share in $5,000 in cash prizes. Ten finalists presented their ideas Thursday May 26. The three winners are:

Blood Vessel “BullsEye” Locator, presented by Colin O’Donovan, won the top prize of $3,000. The idea solves the problem medical professionals have in locating arteries when drawing blood and veins for injecting medicines. The BullsEye device provides a two-dimensional representation of a patient’s arteries and veins, allowing medical professionals to insert a needle tip accurately. Consisting of a disposable patch and a reusable optic sensor, the system uses a “razor/razor blade” revenue model. Income would be generated through sales of the patches. The BullsEye locator is being developed by Vaccess Medical, a group of business, medical, and legal students at Northwestern University.

Fun Captcha, presented by Bryan Arturo, captured the $1,500 second prize. Fun Captcha is designed to make the often frustrating process of entering “captchas” in websites easy and profitable. Websites require humans to enter captchas, distorted text, to prevent spam. The Fun Captcha concept uses questions about images that appear on the screen rather than distorted text. One image could be a product, providing a source of advertising revenue.

I-GO Peer-to-Peer Car Sharing, presented by John Brophy, won the third prize of $500. This idea extends the existing I-GO Car Sharing service, allowing people who own cars to share them with those who don’t. After installing I-GO equipment, the car is registered with the I-GO system and made available for reservations either at home or work, whenever the owner wants. The cost of insurance and gas is included, as they are with I-GO’s own fleet, and profits are split between the vehicle owner and I-GO.

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