Ex-Beatles bud sells Blackstone

Columbia Chronicle Online/July 2, 2003
By Lisa Balde

After a year of sitting dormant beneath rows of scaffolding, the Blackstone Hotel was declared for sale at a price of $35 million-a move that has already received "lots of interest."

The hotel, which sits just south of Columbia's 624 S. Michigan Ave. building, served as a condo conversion project of ex-Beatles spiritual adviser Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The project started almost two years after building code violations prompted the city to close the 95-year-old hotel in 1999.

The first and only public announcement of its sale was published in the Chicago Tribune on June 4 by the Maharishi World Peace Fund. The ad boasted a projected direct sale of the building without the use of agents, and it encouraged prospective buyers to make a bid immediately for the sake of world peace.

According to the fund's director, Benjamin Feldman, a steady stream of interest has flooded the staff's phone lines since the advertisement's release.

"[The building] has a larger purpose," Feldman said, "which is to advance the peace by building peace palaces throughout the U.S."

Feldman said that, in correlation with Yogi's original intentions for the purpose of the 95-year-old Blackstone, profits from the sale of the property will be used within a larger scheme to create world peace.

Plans are in the works to develop 100 "peace palaces" as quickly as possible throughout the United States, he said. Just as the Blackstone was initially purchased by Yogi to create a utopia for its residents, such 4,000 to 35,000 sq. ft. palaces will serve as smaller models of the original idea to generate money for the World Peace Fund's peace initiatives.

"We found [the Blackstone] was too valuable of a building for people," Feldman said. "[We can now] build our new buildings which would be better suited for the purpose."

Feldman said that the decision to sell the hotel occurred only a few months ago, although two peace palaces are already open in Lexington, Ky. and Washington D.C.

The move to sell was a predictable one, according to those who were involved in the conversion project during the last two years.

James Kinney, president of residential sales for Rubloff Residential Properties and agent for the sale of the Blackstone condos, said that Yogi may have chosen to abandon the building because of the lack of interest the public showed in purchasing the units.

The prices of the units were a great deal higher than what Rubloff advised, Kinney said-a dissimilarity in interests that may have led to the project's demise.

Kinney said that he suggested prices ranging from $550 to $650 per sq. ft. for each furnished unit. Yogi and the Ohio-based Heaven on Earth Inns Corporation decided to sell the condos, many of which were unfurnished, as loft spaces for $750 to over $1,000 per sq. ft.

Rubloff and Kinney were disassociated from the project after Yogi abandoned it last year. The condos were officially listed for two years.

"We told them we really couldn't achieve their results last year," Kinney said. "They sat on the project for another year [last year]."

Kinney expects that, although an offer will be made for the Blackstone Hotel, the bid will probably be less than the asking $35 million.

Lucien Lagrange, owner and founder of Chicago-based Lucien Lagrange Architects and commissioned designer for the Blackstone project, wasn't so sure that the property would attract too many enthusiastic bids.

"The hotel was pretty old and not maintained well in the last few years," he said. "It was pretty worn out."

Lagrange was sought out and hired for the project three years ago. All designs were done for the conversion including floor plans for each unit, the common spaces throughout the building, the lobby and the kitchens before Lagrange was asked to stop work during the middle of last year.

There were no funds left to complete the project, he said.

"The economy changed," he said. "And the condos were priced too high."

Although some demolition was done in the early stages of the building's conversion, no construction was ever completed, according to Lagrange.

The hotel was designated a Chicago landmark in 1998.

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