Archive for August, 2018

The Pittsfield Building

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“Is the Pittsfield Building cursed?” This is the title of the featured article in a recent edition of Crain’s Chicago Business. (Read it here) Without even reading the story, a sea of memories and emotions washed over me. Why? Because I served as the leasing agent for this mess of a tower for 5 long years and lived to tell the tales.

It was 1996: I was fresh into the real estate business and my attire proved it. Right away, my boss decided that my wardrobe needed an upgrade. He took me over to the Kuppenheimer men’s clothing store located in the Pittsfield lobby and after wandering around for a bit, I was absolutely in awe of the spectacular 5-story atrium, marble finishes and history that oozed from every crevice. That day, I told my boss that we had to find a way to get the leasing assignment. It never happened with him, but little did I know what the future would hold.

Four years later, I was awarded the leasing assignment and it felt like a significant step forward in my effort to build the commercial operation of Rubloff. We were quite excited, especially since our appointment was with the promise that the building was about to be declared a Chicago landmark and embark on a substantial renovation. A public relations firm was hired to promote “the rebirth of the Pittsfield” which was to include modernized elevators, mechanical systems and common areas, as well as a scrubbing of the classic facade back to its original color. I was still under the notion that for many years, this classic Loop tower located at 55 East Washington had a rather prestigious reputation—or so I thought.

Our very first day on the job, my late partner, Matt Gould, and I took up every bit of 7 hours to walk through all the vacancies. The list was so overwhelming that we had to assign grades to each space, A – F. For leasing purposes, we decided that only the A and B suites were to be shown, occasionally the Cs, but the Ds and Fs were off limits until they were fixed up.

After a full day of suite grading, we were mentally exhausted and collapsed into the seats of the legendary Pittsfield Café in the lobby. We sat and ate cheeseburgers while we wondered what the heck we had gotten ourselves into. It did not take us long to figure out how dysfunctional this situation was.

I have endured numerous difficult landlord representation assignments over the years, but nothing quite compares to Pittsfield.

Just in the first year, we witnessed the chief engineer getting fired for stealing a conference table in the middle of the night, another engineer getting fired for allegedly reporting a code violation to get revenge against a perceived slight by the building manager, build outs being completely botched or sometimes not even started at all, bills never being paid on time (especially ours), and got stuck in an elevator during a showing with a woman who then started hyperventilating. The overriding source of angst, however, was an owner who made it next to impossible to lease space.

He insisted on using a 32% common area loss factor, applied to existing tenants on renewals (hey tenant, so, your 500 square foot space was remeasured and is now 800 square feet, and your rent is also increasing!) as well as new deals, had a completely overblown view of what the rents should be, refused to fix up vacancies and generally was averse to spending money on just about everything. Deals were few and far between and frustration set in quickly.

When Matt informed me that he was making the switch to another firm, the very next thing I did was resign the account. After 5 years, ridding myself of this albatross was a tremendous relief. Since then, there seemingly have been never-ending efforts to redevelop the building and move away from office use.

Like so many vintage properties in downtown Chicago which recently have received a new lease on life, Pittsfield deserves to have a similar fate. Fixed up with a well-capitalized developer, it would make a wonderful hotel or apartment building; it has an amazing location and there is just too much natural beauty in this landmark for it to waste away. I will continue to sit on the sidelines as an interested observer, hoping for the best – and grateful to not be involved. So, is the building cursed? Well, maybe a little.

An Office-Filled Summer

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I’m going to try to keep this short and simple, so bear with me.

This summer I had an experience like no other. It wasn’t so much the actual labor that was most memorable, but the people and environment that I was surrounded with. This summer I met some amazing people, had some laughs, got rained on more than a couple of times, fell asleep on a train, ate chipotle almost every day, and so much more. But before I get into all of that, I first want to talk about the person that afforded me this great experience.

When I was first told I would be able to work downtown this summer, I didn’t really know what to think. I live 50 minutes or so outside of the city, so the only way to get downtown would be to take the train there and back every day. Then, naturally, I was a little nervous about going to work for someone I had never met before. I had heard great things about Jonathan, but I really didn’t know what to expect. Soon I would come to realize that Jonathan was one of the most honest, sincere, funny, and honorable people I had ever met. The first thing that struck me about Jonathan is that he is one of the most knowledgeable people about the downtown Chicago office market that there is. I remember just walking to a building and on the way Jonathan would tell me the history of the entire area building by building. It amazes me the vast knowledge he possesses in that area. Also, he truly cares about the people he represents. Jonathan always went out of his way to make sure the tenants he put in his buildings had everything they needed. He made sure they were happy with their decision, even if it meant turning away a deal. Jonathan also has to be the hardest working person I know. He puts his all into his company, so it is no surprise that he has such an impressive list of buildings to his name. Everybody he comes into contact with raves about how he handles himself and appreciates the honesty they get out of him as well. I can honestly say that I am so fortunate to have worked for someone who does everything the right way. He has set a great example about what to do to be successful and how to treat people the right way. In the end, Jonathan is someone I look up to and someone I will always consider to be my mentor and role model.

I hope she doesn’t think I’m forgetting about her, but I also worked with another great person named Jillian. The first thing that struck me about Jillian was just her infectious energy. She is the type of person that you want to be around because she is always working and it makes you want to work harder. As the marketing director, she handles the marketing of the buildings, which isn’t always an easy task. But let me tell you, she is very talented. The interactive flyers she creates, along with the edits and videos she makes; everything looks like it had been done by a team of computer nerds working around the clock. But she creates them by herself, and every time I see one I am more and more impressed by her. Her talents and personality will get her very far in life, and it is easy to see what Jonathan saw in her when he first hired her. I couldn’t think of a better co-worker to have for the summer.

I really feel like I have learned as much about office leasing in Chicago as I could grasp. But while rent rolls, vacancy lists, contacting tenants, dimensions, updated websites, and lease expirations are very valuable to know, I learned some other things as well. I would argue, more importantly, I learned a little bit about life and doing business in the real world. I learned that getting caught in the rain happens, and you just have to shrug it off and carry on. I learned that there are some strange people out there who try and pretend to be someone they are not. I learned not to breathe heavy under bridges because of how bad the pigeon stench is. Ok, maybe that last one is a little exaggerated; but in all seriousness the most important thing I learned was how to deal with people.

Watching Jonathan work with people really showed me the right way to do things. I learned that rejection is part of the job, and you are going to get rejected more than you are going to hear yes. I learned that connections are very important, so be nice to everyone because you never know when you may need something from them or run into them again. I also learned to be selfless. Always put the client first, even if that means missing out on a deal. People remember when you do things like that, and most of the time it will come back to help you at some point in your career. Lessons like those and countless others I don’t have time to mention are my biggest takeaways from this summer. As the summer winds to an end, I can say this summer provided me with the greatest experience I could have hoped for. Not only did I learn valuable information about how to lease office space, I learned a lot about life and how to do things the right way. I had the best teacher in Jonathan to help me grasp everything I could, and I met some great people along the way. This is a summer I will never forget. And to Jonathan and Jillian: thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of Willard Jones for the summer.