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Unusual housing from renovated factories

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TENANTS begin moving into Cobbler Square on Chicago's Near North Side within the next few months. They'll join the growing ranks of urban pioneers in cities around the country who find the architectural diversity available in renovated factories, such as the former Dr. Scholl plant, far more exciting than the bland cookie-cutter sameness of the apartments most are leaving.

The fact that their new apartments are convenient to Chicago's Loop is another plus.

Regardless of the size, cities from coast to coast, which have refrained from bulldozing decaying factories and small manufacturing plants in the name of urban renewal, now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to attract affluent yuppies back to the city with housing that is out of the ordinary.

''Our idea was to draw a tenant mix attracted to both historic loft renovations and adventurous contemporary architecture,'' says Richard Perlman, developer of Cobbler Square.

''Developers find rehabbing these historic industrial buildings into rental units especially appealing, because the cost of financing a conversion is considerably less than building and they also enjoy a bonanza of historic preservation tax credits,'' says Robert Miller, vice-president of the Real Estate Research Corporation, the nation's oldest real estate consulting firm.

The actual construction costs of converting a soundly built older structure into loft apartments, he adds, is much less than building a conventional apartment building, because the cost of creating open loft space is much less than a traditional apartment.

Miller also cites the revitalization of an aging downtown business area as another bonus of these creative conversions of crumbling factories into one-of-a-kind housing and office space.

The first residential adaptations of industrial buildings were intended to provide cheap and abundant space for artists. The occupants didn't mind living with exposed ductwork and rafters,unplastered brick walls, and other grubby elements scorned by renters with conventional tastes.

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