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Chicago Hope

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"I think Louise did an excellent job helping us design the project," offers McLean. "I think it's unfortunate that she would say something derogatory about a project that she helped design."

By 9 a.m. on an icy January morning, the crew has set to work peeling slabs off the Towers' roofs and hurling them to the snow-covered ground. No small task, considering ailanthus trees are now sprouting from the turrets. The inside is filled with pigeons, squatters, and ash from a fire in the seventies. Even the electricians are getting spooked. "You walk in there, you hear things up top," whispers one. "Crazy stuff up there," agrees another, shaking his head.

"They'll be reused," says McLean, pointing to a growing pile of bricks in back, next to a cone-shaped smokestack that was once the hospital's crematorium. As McLean steps onto the Street, a colorfully dressed woman, who looks more like the lead singer in an East Village rock band, interrupts: "I just want you to know, I think what you're doing is terrible!" "What?" asks McLean, slightly chuckling, "Saving the building?" Then he steps over, hardhat-less, to inspect the spot where the circular driveway and fountain will someday be. "Hey!" says the foreman, known as Big Tony. "Don't die before you finish paying!"

In his limo heading downtown, McLean thinks about what the girl said. "I think she thought we were tearing it down," he concludes. "And she had purple hair and a nose ring, so I'm not too worried." She's not the only neighborhood resident who's unhappy, however. "All I'm going to get out of it is rats running around the street for the next year," says a resident of West 103rd Street. "And I hardly consider that progress." In zoning-board hearings last summer, a group called the Save the Towers Committee tried to overturn the city ruling that changed the zoning back to "residential," citing an increase in traffic and noise level. They lobbied for a university or even, as a local psychiatrist suggested, an American Museum of Medicine. Either idea would not cover the $20 million needed for the restoration. "Building a condo," says McLean, "and having the new tower is, economically, the only way."

At the next marketing meeting, there is some good news: They've signed David Rockwell to do the lobby and children's room. "It's a name!" says LD&A's Len Dugow. "Anne was beating him up on the price," laughs McLean. "And he says, "Well, you are going to use my name aren't you?" A final mock-up of the brochure is ready. "I didn't care for 'sleek modern architecture,' " says Miller. "I'd use 'traditional.' And where it says 'slate and marble finishes'? We don't have slate. The rest is great." Next are the photos: autumn parkscapes, jazz cafés, and one abstract shot of a gigantic black-and-white dog asleep on a red velvet couch. "I like it. It says we're tender, dog-friendly," jokes McLean, "and that the rooms are big enough to fit a dog that size," adds an Elliman broker. "How long's it going to take to print?" asks McLean. "Six weeks? Jeeze, give it to me, we'll take it to Chicago and get it done in two."

Next on the agenda are amenities. It is decided to amp up the health club and lap pool and turn it over to American Leisure and the Rockwell group to configure. "How about a storage area?" someone suggests. "Will the valet wash cars?" "We can put that in," says McLean. "Tailoring maybe?" "Sure." A debate ensues over what to call the extra-helpful concierge. "Supierege" is voted down. "That's not right," sighs Miller. "We'll work on it." "How about a temperature-controlled wine cellar?" say Dugow. "We can charge by the bottle," says McLean.

He may not be part of the New York real-estate elite, but McLean is, as they say, a big deal. His 350-acre estate in Wisconsin has an eighteen-hole golf course. The sand traps spell out his initials. "Oh, I know Christie Hefner," he says, when she comes up in conversation. "Very serious girl." Mayor Daley lives in one of his buildings. Oprah -- is there a bigger Chicago name? -- has a place on Fisher Island. "The other day, my sales guy was talking to these college kids," says McLean. "I said to my secretary, 'Why is he wasting his time with those kids!' And she goes, 'Dan, those are the Backstreet Boys.' "

Still, one has to wonder if he has other, perhaps greater, worries about the Manhattan market. "Things are very different than they were in the overbuilding days of the eighties," he says, shrugging off even the possibility that he's missed one of the city's greatest booms. "More people want to stay in the city. They've already branched out to Chelsea, the 59th Street Bridge . . . there are not very many opportunities elsewhere."

This week, the triple trailers that will make up the sales office have been installed where the X-ray building was. Despite a few last-minute glitches (like the fact that LD&A suddenly went out of business), the selling is set to begin the first week of April. Even now, MCL gets two or three calls a week from eagle-eyed buyers who've tracked them down from the tiny logo posted on the site. There are rumored to be sports figures who've come calling. "No one we can say," says McLean. The resident who McLean is really hoping for, however, is one he figures can easily commute to his new office: Bill Clinton. "It's a natural," he says, his excitement gaining speed. "We are definitely," he says, "definitely sending him a brochure."


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