MetraMarket plans unveiled

By Meha Ahmad

Metra commuters will soon be able to sample foods from France, order coffee from Italy and even buy groceries from CVS in a new European-style market before taking a ride on the commuter line rail trains.

Metra, city leaders and project developer U.S. Equities Realty broke ground on Sept. 18 in the West Loop on a multimillion dollar retail development project slated to be completed by summer 2009.

Seeking to bring a European feel to Chicago as the first French Market in the nation, the city’s latest development project, MetraMarket, will be a restaurant and retail center. The market will sell products from venders around the globe, said Anthony DiBiase Jr., executive director of Chicago-based U.S. Equities Realty.

The market, located under the rail platform of Ogilvie Transportation Center at Madison and Canal streets, will capitalize on the culinary prowess of the city, said Katherine Lohring, a leasing associate for U.S Equities.

“It’s an urban market, and it’s a full year-round farmer’s market,” DiBiase Jr. said. “We really hope that this will be a spot where people congregate at all hours of the day and night.”

Project executives expect the year-round center to become a major draw to Metra’s 105,000 customers and the nearby CTA station’s 3,000 daily riders, as well as non-commuters and tourists. The $42 million project has received $6 million in funding from Metra for infrastructure improvements, $12 million in tax increment financing from the city of Chicago and a $25 million construction loan from lenders Eurohypo.

“MetraMarket is going to benefit the commuters, but it’s definitely going to be a neighborhood destination for the people living and working in the area,” said Kevin Stanley, vice president of U.S. Equities Realty. “There’s about 40,000 people who live within one mile of MetraMarket and about 500,000 people who work within [that same distance].”

Though they have a large base of potential customers, Stanley said Metra and U.S Equities Realty are interested in more than just dollars and cents.

“We hope it’ll be a place that people will go to shop, to eat, to experience new food and just hang out and have fun,” Stanley said.

With 50 percent of the spaces already pre-leased, MetraMarket tenants include the 15,000-square-foot French Market, an open Parisian-style market with cheeses, produce, pastries and flowers; Caffe RoM, a modern Italian cafe and wine bar; and a CVS Pharmacy. Retailers will include boutique shops, banks, bookstores and others.

U.S. Equities and Metra are still looking for more tenants that can’t be found at the average mall to include in MetraMarket. They’re looking for a gelatteria-an Italian gelato shop-a specialty ice cream shop, bakeries, a creperie and other boutique retailers.

“We want very unique things here, things you can’t find in the typical suburban shopping centers,” DiBiase Jr. said.

MetraMarket has been more than seven years in the making, said Carole Doris, Metra chairwoman. The project was approved in April 2001 but was slowed because of the 9/11 attacks and a stalled real estate  market.

There were also other obstacles facing the project developers, Stanley said.

“It’s been a complex transaction because you’re dealing with a 24-hour railroad facility, and you also have all the neighborhood considerations to take into,” Stanley said.

At the groundbreaking, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the project will help link an underutilized part of the city to the Loop.

“For many years in this area, [we’ve been] surrounded by dark … viaducts that unintentionally separated the Loop, West Loop and Fulton River districts,” Reilly said. “While a nearby office and condo market were booming, the dining and shopping options in this immediate neighborhood were limited.”

MetraMarket is also expected to bring significant economic growth.

“This project will create new jobs for the city of Chicago and further stimulate commerce in the Loop,” Reilly said. He said the project will result in 165 full-time jobs as well as 200 construction jobs.