Developer stands tall in defense of work

Christopher Carley is an unlikely candidate to develop North America's tallest building. He has a recent track record of projects that--despite their quality--have struggled to reach the financial finish line.

The chairman of Chicago-based Fordham Co. rejects such criticism, saying his projects are as profitable as those of his rivals.

"We've made money on all of our buildings," he said.

Like many developers, Carley, 62, is a relentless promoter who rarely acknowledges a project's downside. Yet unlike most of his rivals, he lacks an outsized ego.

That perspective may be due to a bout he had with intestinal cancer in 1995, seven years after starting Fordham. Since then, he has been an active fundraiser for cancer research.

Before Fordham, the Chicago native and Marquette University graduate was an executive with Dallas real estate firm Trammell Crow Co.

But his projects haven't been without challenges, including the Pinnacle, a 48-story condo tower at 21 E. Huron St., which he calls a "home run."

"Unfunded costs" to complete the high-rise forced his lenders, Chicago-based Corus Bank and pension fund National Electrical Benefit Fund, to fork over an additional $17 million as part of a June 23 refinancing, a loan document shows.

Yet other lenders competed for the refinancing, a sign of the project's ultimate success.

Slow sales have marked another project, 65 E. Goethe St., a 24-unit, eight-story building that still has one unit to sell after five years of marketing.

And in September, a lender obtained title to 18 unsold condo units, a 188-car garage and retail space in the Fordham, a 50-story tower at 25 E. Superior St. Sales of those assets will offset the balance on the loan and give the lender "a healthy, competitive return," Carley said.

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