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student_apartment(TNS)—The Spartan college dorm is out. The luxury student apartment is in.

College grads of the past will marvel at the newest student residences that have cropped up in downtown Chicago.

You can’t call them dorms since they’re loaded with such amenities as fully furnished interiors, Euro-style kitchens with granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances, double-door refrigerators, in-unit washer/dryers, free Wi-Fi and cable, fitness centers and rooftop decks with barbecue grills. Bellhops are provided for moving in and out.

The demand for fancier student housing has grown as the Loop has evolved into an urban college campus, where thousands of full-time students attend classes at more than 20 colleges and universities.

The new “super dorms” are finding homes in historic Loop buildings that are way past their prime. Developers of historic buildings that are renovated can apply for a 20 percent federal tax credit if the structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Of several student housing projects in Chicago that have used this benefit, the newest is the Arc at Old Colony, located in a 17-story former office building. It dates from 1893, the same year as Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition. Students started moving in this past August.

The $58 million restoration and conversion by CA Student Living, Chicago, created 137 furnished apartments with bedrooms for 380 students.

Apartments are not rented, but rather beds. Students sign individual leases. Rents range from $855 a month for each of four students in a four-bedroom unit to $1,500 a month for each in a two-bedroom apartment.

“Renovating the Old Colony was special because of its historic character,” says Andrew Hansen, vice president of property management for CA Student Living. The South Loop landmark went on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Hansen adds that the economic feasibility for the project was driven by the tax benefits.

“Office buildings convert very well for student housing,” says Allen Johnson, partner in the Chicago office of MacRostie Historic Advisors, the historic consultant for the Arc at Old Colony and Infinite Chicago, another CA Student Living rehab.

“There is certainly a market for student housing downtown, and there are many other old downtown office buildings that are candidates for conversion,” Johnson says.

“With so many amenities, these new apartments are not your grandfather’s college dormitory,” he commented.

What’s it like attending college in the busy city?

“I’m a city girl so I love going to college downtown,” says Melissa Jimenez, who is working on a master’s degree in art management at Columbia College.

“I like the art scene downtown and the museums,” she says.

Hailing from the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, she now lives at the Arc at Old Colony. She looked at three other housing options before selecting the Arc, where she has two roommates. She says her favorite spot in the building is the rooftop deck that offers views of downtown skyscrapers and Lake Michigan.

To aid in compatibility the Arc offers roommate matching. Students fill out questionnaires that ask about their attitudes toward neatness, studying, smoking, drinking, personality type, socializing, overnight guests and sleeping times.

Another Arc resident also is enthusiastic about the downtown scene: “The city experience helps with some of my ideas for fiction writing, but mostly I get it from people I meet and my adventures with my friends,” says Iman Peden, a junior in fiction writing at Columbia College who is from suburban Chicago. He is now sharing an apartment with two roommates.

What the Arc does not have is a garage — because students walk, ride bikes or take nearby public transportation. Within walking distance are DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College, Robert Morris University, National Louis University, the School of the Art Institute and others.

“Restoring the 122-year-old Old Colony building to its former elegance was like an archaeological dig,” says Keith Giles of MCJ Development who worked on the renovation along with McHugh Construction. The architect was Pappageorge Haymes Partners.

“More students are living downtown than ever before. It gives the city a collegiate atmosphere,” says Mark Kelly, vice president for student success at Columbia College.

“Students like the urban lifestyle of the city — the cultural attractions, museums, galleries, the theater and the music scene. It’s all part of a student’s education,” Kelly added. “Ten years ago downtown was very quiet. Now it’s brimming with energy. The student vibrancy continues to build. The power of Chicago with its employment opportunities is another enticement.”

©2016 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.