Wheaton Center: Revival Project Provides New Life

It’s hard to miss Wheaton Center. Two of its six buildings are the tallest in the city of Wheaton, a suburb about 30 miles west of Chicago.
Upgrades at Wheaton Center included a clubroom terrace with built-in grills and seating, a playground, a “bark park” and a landscape redesign.

Upgrades at Wheaton Center included a clubroom terrace with built-in grills and seating, a playground, a “bark park” and a landscape redesign.

The six-building community in suburban Chicago transformed over the past three years through a capital improvement project launched by the new owner. Local investor Draper and Kramer Inc. started the $40 million makeover in 2014, immediately after purchasing the asset. A mere 1 percent of the budget was assigned to landscaping work that managed to bring life back into the property built almost half a century ago.

It’s hard to miss Wheaton Center. Two of its six buildings are the tallest in the city of Wheaton, a suburb about 30 miles west of Chicago. The 758-unit community, built in 1972, comprises two 20-story high-rises, a pair of mid-rises and two garden-style apartment buildings. Chicago-based Draper and Kramer Inc. bought the property for $44.4 million in 2014 and spent $40 million on interior and exterior renovations over the next two years.

Most of that funded structural renovations and repairs such as building envelope and concrete façade fixes, roof replacement, canopy construction, as well as window and balcony door replacement. Site work included paving, sidewalks, lighting, signage and garage repairs, along with upgrades to the landscaping, which was lackluster, aside from some original trees and outdated shrubs and perennials.

Storm runoff produced mud puddles on the walkways and the  grass was trampled. Parking garages were too visible and the entrances weren’t welcoming. The Wheaton Center road sign was partially obscured by a hill and trees. A concrete canopy that connected the high-rises had been removed, leaving unframed entrances and residents unsheltered from the elements.

Wheaton Center sun deck 10 800x620Need for change

Much needed to change, according to William Van Senus, senior vice president at Draper and Kramer. “We hired architects who designed steel and wood canopies and a sign that brings it all together,” Van Senus told Multi-Housing News. “We rebranded the property even though we kept the same name. We’ve done a lot to try to say, ‘Even though it’s the same name, it isn’t your grandmother’s old place.’”

The company replaced underused basketball courts next to the pool with a sun deck complete with gas grilling stations, fire pits, cabanas with entertainment centers, soft seating areas, pergolas and shade sails over the cooking and dining areas.

Wheaton Center pool 6 800x620One leaf at a time

Acres Group of Roselle, Ill., had been maintaining the grounds and was tasked with the $400,000 landscape redesign and installation. With lots of units in a very condensed space, Acres’ senior regional account manager in charge of the redesign, Riley Skaggs, had a lot to consider. Heavy foot traffic, snow removal and general maintenance needs were among the challenges, along with a desire for four seasons of colorful plantings. In high-traffic areas, he replaced turf with sidewalk borders of hardy plants such as daylilies, coral bells, hydrangea, hostas and hardy flowering shrubs such as viburnum. “All of these could withstand ice-melting salt and relieve management from having to replace trampled grass”, said Skaggs.

Elsewhere, he added rose bushes, lilacs and ornamental grasses. Acres ordered the biggest plants that the nursery offered to complement the mature site. Between the towers’ windows, the company planted arborvitae—tall evergreens for masking the buildings and lending the landscape some height.

“We spent a lot of time and money adding landscaping around the whole property and pretty mature stuff so it doesn’t look like a brand-new property with little plants around it,” Van Senus said. “It looks like a well-landscaped property where the landscaping has been there for a while.”

Wheaton Center dog run 5Pets got a bark park

The landscape redesign also included widening the sidewalks and replacing the asphalt with concrete. To reduce runoff and eliminate erosion from the steep grades next to the towers, Acres added drain tiles beneath the downspouts, backfilled and graded soil, and installed retaining walls of rocklike precast concrete blocks.

Acres also designed and constructed a 400-square-foot club room terrace with built-in grills and wall seating to frame the patio. Youngsters got a new playground and four-legged residents now have a “bark park” planted with dog- and human-tolerant fescue that’s irrigated daily for freshness.

Wheaton Center sun deck 7 800x620From the 1970s to 2017

Indoors, Draper and Kramer updated 157 units from their 1970s finishes and added stacked washers and dryers to 342 units. The company remodeled common areas and improved the fitness center with a large CrossFit room and video fitness classes in the yoga/Pilates room. Eleni Interiors of Naperville, Ill., took care of the interior design.

Location was always in Wheaton Center’s favor. It sits adjacent to a Metra commuter rail station and the popular Illinois Prairie Path cycling and walking trail passes through it. Still, the property was only 70 percent occupied when Draper and Kramer bought it. Upon completion of renovations in December 2016, Wheaton Center was 93 percent occupied, according to Van Senus.

“It was a significant investment,” he said. “We think we did the right thing.”

Images courtesy of Draper and Kramer.

Originally appearing in the September 2017 issue of MHN.