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Chicago building permits show increase in construction

If you think you are hearing the sound of pounding hammers and whining saws more frequently in Chicago, you’re right.

The estimated value of all the building permits issued by the city for new construction and renovation has risen by 46 percent in the past two years.

In 2012, permit applicants told the city they would be spending $3.7 billion putting up new buildings and fixing up old ones. That number jumped to $5.4 billion for just the first 11 months of 2014.

Still, the amount is far short of the $6.4 billion in estimated permit value posted in 2007, as the real estate business was about to fall off a cliff.

And while the city building department cautions that the estimated value of a project isn’t always what is actually spent, experts say the numbers reflect a significant growth in construction.

As of November, the Chicago area posted the third-highest growth in construction jobs in the nation, gaining 9,100 jobs over the previous 12 months, for a total of 135,600, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America.

“That’s the best November figure since 2008,” Simonson said. “But the industry is still 20 percent below where it peaked in 2006.”

Tom Gilbertson’s Des Plaines-based Gilco Scaffolding Co. saw a 15 percent increase in revenue last year and despite a slow start because of the the polar vortex, is having a good year in 2014. “Sales are still strong,” Gilbertson said. “It’s the middle of December, and we’re still busy.”

Gilco is working on new construction and renovation projects, including a new skyscraper at 200 N. Michigan Ave. in the Loop and the renovation of the Northwest Tower at Milwaukee and North in West Town into a boutique hotel.

Find out how your neighborhood is doing

The permit data show that in 2014, the Near North Side, with new high-rises going up in Streeterville, led the way among Chicago neighborhoods with $1.4 billion in permit value — more than double the $665 million reported for the same area in 2012.

The Loop, the Near West Side, Hyde Park and West Town rounded out the top five neighborhoods.

The actual number of building permits issued also is up, from about 8,200 to 9,200, in the past two years.

According to the city, one of the fastest-growing segments is small to mid-size new construction projects (buildings less than 80 feet in heights and less than 40 units). The number of permits in that category rose by more than 150 percent.

“After years of remaining flat, Chicago’s economy is moving in the right direction with more new construction taking place,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said earlier this month when announcing the increase in smaller projects.

Not all neighborhoods were on the way up this year, though. The Southeast Side neighborhoods of East Side, Burnside and Riverdale all had less than $600,000 estimated construction in 2014, though each of the areas had more than $2 million the previous year.