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The Chicago Athletic Association, a Century Old Private Club for Athletics, Dining,
 Is Financially Strapped - Selling for Conversion to Hotel and Athletic Club
By Susan Diesenhouse, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 21, 2006 --With mixed emotions, members of the venerable but financially strapped Chicago Athletic Association this week completed negotiations with two developers to sell their landmark home, a vital element of the historic South Michigan Avenue streetscape.

On Monday, club members will review the proposals from the developers, who likely will pay about $22 million for the 265,000-square-foot, two-building property at 12 S. Michigan Ave. and 71 E. Madison St.

In what will probably be an approximately $75 million project, the chosen company will transform the stately turn-of-the-century structures into a hotel and athletic club, said association board member Michael Raimondi.

Club members will probably decide on the winning proposal by mid-November, he said.

The association hopes to purchase or lease back about 55,000 square feet of the property overlooking Millennium Park for its own use.

While happy that the complex, built in 1890 (12 S. Michigan Ave.) and 1907, will be refurbished, the association is bitter to realize that the club where city leaders such as Marshall Field, Potter Palmer and Cyrus McCormick once dallied can no longer endure in all its former glory.

"One must be an optimist, but it's a challenge to watch a great club deteriorate," Raimondi said of the facilities, where members dined, boxed, played basketball and swam. "It has the usual ailments of a 100-year-old club in a society that now values cocooning themselves at home more than exchanging ideas with other people.

"Times have changed. We can't go to our members and say, 'Remember when Granddad had a grand time here? Can you give us $50 million?'"

The club now has about 800 members, Raimondi said, but was filled to its 3,000-person capacity when it opened its doors in 1890 and had a 10-year waiting list.

The association's decision to sell the property now, he added, "was driven by pure economics. It's difficult for a declining membership to maintain such a large facility."

Bidding for the project are developers Songy Partners LLC of Atlanta and Snider-Cannata Interests of Cleveland. Another developer dropped from contention is Chicago-based HSA Commercial Real Estate, whose plan entailed demolishing one building to put up a residential condominium high-rise, Raimondi said.

"It was an interesting idea, but not one in favor with preservationists or City Hall," he noted.

Songy, which would team up with architect Gensler and contractor Walsh Group, has proposed retaining both buildings.

The exteriors would be restored. At the 18-story Madison Street building, the interior would be gutted for an approximately 200-room hotel, ballroom and athletic club. Part of the 10-story Michigan Avenue structure, with its ornate mosaic, marble, stained glass and mahogany features, would be retained for the association's use. The rest of the interior also would be gutted and rebuilt with hotel facilities, said Chief Executive David Songy.

Snider-Cannata did not return a call seeking comment.

The association hopes that the portion of the Michigan Avenue building that it retains will include some plaster ceiling medallions, carved mahogany staircase, wood-paneled walls, fencing salon and squash court, said Raimondi.

But as a realist, he added, "once we sell it, we can't say, 'Would you mind not demolishing this or that?'"

sdiesenhouse@tribune.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune

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