October 05, 2012|By Erik J. Martin, Special to the Tribune
When renter Cathryn Schmaltz wanted to book the perfect place for her wedding rehearsal dinner three years ago, she didn’t have to look any farther than her apartment building. With a little help from concierge Kelli Taylor, Schmaltz was able to host a memorable prenuptial feast in the party room at Eugenie Terrace on the Park in Chicago.
“(Kelli) didn’t just reserve the room for us,” said Schmaltz. “She helped us pick out the flowers, catering and decor; made sure our audiovisual slide show worked; helped us pick our wedding day limos; and even gathered all of our mail while we were on our honeymoon.”
The charge for all this assistance? Zero. As with many apartment and condo buildings, concierge services like restaurant and ticket reservations, mail pickup, trip planning and exclusive events are provided free to Eugenie Terrace tenants.
In Chicago’s highly competitive condo and rental markets, concierge services are a given at many luxury properties.
“Today, to be considered a luxury building, you need to have a concierge available for residents,” said @properties broker Phil Skowron. “These types of amenities have not always been as detailed or personalized. However, expectations are always changing, and now the presence of a concierge is customary the way that a glass of champagne is on any first-class flight.”
Skowron said buildings offer different levels of concierge services. A building with more affordable units may staff one part-time concierge, while high-end Chicago properties such as Park Tower and The Elysian Residences pamper occupants with white-glove service offered daily by highly trained staff.
Condo owners at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, for example, can have dry cleaning placed in a closet, groceries unloaded from their car to their kitchen by a bellman and their home staged for an impromptu dinner party.
“We receive a lot of requests that are handled in-house by our trained staff, including in-home housekeeping, dinners prepared by our hotel chefs, and tables and chairs provided by our banqueting team,” said Adora Manalo, director of owner services for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago.
“Our program is a twist on the traditional concierge concept,” said Vanessa Casciano, community relations director for Magellan Development Group, whose Chicago properties include condos at Aqua at Lakeshore East, town homes at Benton Place Parkhomes, and apartments at The Shoreham and The Tides. “At these buildings, we offer a complimentary rewards program, which allows residents to take advantage of discounts through local hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as different exclusive complimentary events.”
Magellan residents can, for example, partake in seasonal movies in the park, happy hours at area steakhouses, a monthly book club, creative classes, building mixers, healthy cooking demos, wine tastings and annual get-togethers like a dog parade and kids Halloween party.
Adam Basey, a renter at Presidential Towers in Chicago, said his understanding of a concierge changed dramatically after moving into the building in April and getting to know the concierge, Anna Cornille.
“Before, I thought a concierge was an information desk where you could get brochures and have a few questions answered,” said Basey. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I learned that this person can not only provide information but also fulfill special requests and follow up on making something happen.”
Since Basey has settled in, Cornille has helped him score reduced-price movie tickets and meals and is planning a special “guys night out” itinerary for when his out-of-town friends visit soon.
Taylor, like Cornille, said she plays many roles in her job, from a community liaison who connects Eugenie Terrace residents with resources like baby-sitters within the building to a city travel guide who directs occupants to hot spots and deals throughout the neighborhood.
“I’m a one-stop-shop matchmaker who makes connections on behalf of residents, and I’m prepared to go beyond the call of duty when necessary,” she said.
Taylor recently overnighted a passport to a desperate resident detained in New York who needed to travel overseas, and she located a country house in Iceland on short notice per a renter’s request.
Thanks to Taylor’s efforts, “I do feel very spoiled, and things are much easier living in this building,” said Schmaltz, a personal trainer who is often referred by her concierge to fellow tenants looking to start a fitness program.
Booking events, fulfilling reasonable requests, and connecting residents to people and places of interest continue to be among a concierge’s most in-demand duties.