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October 24, 2018

What Did I Ever Do To Them?

By Jonathan Zimmerman

The scene: The Old Town Ale House, on the southeast corner of North and Wieland. It is a sleepy Tuesday night in October in the city of Chicago. LaSalle Street somberly walks into its favorite watering hole and bellies up to the bar. LaSalle’s old friend, Bobby, is bartending tonight.

LaSalle: Hey, Bobby. Scotch on the rocks and make it a double, will ya?

Bobby: Sure, LaSalle. You seem down tonight. What’s troubling you?

LaSalle: I just don’t get it. First, it was all of the trading firms going away. Then, the Roanoke Building, the New York Life Building, and Barrister Hall all got rid of all their office tenants. Now, Northern Trust, Bank of America AND BMO Harris want to leave me. What did I ever do to them?

Bobby: As Dylan once said, the times they are a-changin’. I guess you can’t stop progress.

LaSalle: Progress my left curb! I am LaSalle Street, damn it! You know, the most prestigious thoroughfare in downtown Chicago? The home of local and national banking headquarters, important financial institutions, the most cutting-edge trading firms and some of the city’s most powerful law firms. If you have a business in one of these industries, you know you hit the big time if your office has a LaSalle Street address. Gaze south down my famed canyon all the way to the Board of Trade, you cannot tell me you are not awed by the brilliant architecture and fascinating histories of each edifice. My street is clearly the place to be!

Bobby: No doubt, it’s been a great run.

LaSalle: Heck, the ‘85 Bears, the greatest football team ever assembled, chose my street for their ticker tape parade to celebrate their Super Bowl XX victory. Ditka, Payton, McMahon, Singletary, Fridge. It don’t get better than that! The ‘05 Sox picked me, too. Get me another Scotch.

Bobby: Coming right up. With all due respect, sometimes you gotta get with the times and adapt.

LaSalle: Adapt? Why? I have the greatest location in the city. Close to the courts, trains, business headquarters. City Hall is right here. So is The Fed. I got it all!

Bobby: Your location is dynamite, La Salle, but technology is changing the way firms office. There is a lot of action west of you right now, especially along the river. People like views of the river, a short walk to the trains, new glass and steel towers with efficient floor plates, and no columns or dropped ceilings. Then there are all the amenities, like rooftop decks, fitness centers, and game rooms…it gets tough for older buildings to compete.

LaSalle: Come on, you’re telling me tenants no longer want dropped ceilings, oversized offices with paneling on the walls, columns, or fluorescent lights with flat acrylic covers? And these views and amenities you mention, people come to work to do work, not stare out the window and play around.

Bobby: These darn Millennials are changing everything.

LaSalle: (staring blankly into his nearly empty glass): You know, I guess I should have seen it coming when all those trading firms started leaving the Board of Trade; then ABM AMRO left 208 South LaSalle, practically emptying out the building. Now there are TWO hotels there, not to mention two more down the street at 39 South and 11 South. Heck, I hear 29 South is even being turned into apartments. Imagine that, people living on my street. I never thought I’d see it.

Bobby: LaSalle, isn’t this a good thing? Beats having empty, worn down buildings.

LaSalle: I guess, but I still can’t understand why all these businesses are leaving. Who’s next?
Bobby: Not everyone is gone. Didn’t CIBC just sign a big new lease at 120 South and Wintrust, too, over at 231 South? Plus, Northern Trust has recommitted to staying at 50 South. These are all big deals!
LaSalle: True. Another scotch.

Bobby:Slow down, big guy. This one’s on me. Then I am going to call you a cab.

LaSalle: Sure, but make it a cab, not one of those Uber things.

Bobby: Look, if I were you, I would view this as an opportunity for a fresh beginning. Just think, you can redefine yourself as a place where people, work, live AND play. Plus, the office component is never going away completely. The Rookery is still one of the all-time greats and very few buildings can compare with the elegance of 190 South and 120 South; 120 North, too, for that matter.

LaSalle: I am proud of those beauties.

Bobby: And look at 1 North LaSalle. The building sold, the new owners tore out ceilings, created a swanky lounge, outdoor space, fitness center, and all kinds of modern amenities. The occupancy shot up and I hear it just sold again for a fortune.

LaSalle: No doubt that’s encouraging, but how are 115 South, 135 South, and 231 South going to survive when their big boys leave? Those will not be easy spaces to lease.

Bobby: They will figure it out. These real estate guys are smart. Maybe they will break the space up into smaller suites. Perhaps they will get lucky and stumble upon a big user, maybe they go residential or hotel or even do co-working?

LaSalle: I don’t get that whole co-working thing, but heck, if WeWork wants to come in and lease 100,000 square feet, who am I to stop them?

Bobby: Keep the faith, good buddy, you have one of the most convenient locations in the city, great history, and amazing architecture; no one will forget about you. It’s simply time to write the next chapter.

LaSalle: Thanks, pal. You always know how to make me feel better. Three scotches don’t hurt either.

Bobby: Anytime. Drop on by to celebrate your next new lease or redevelopment announcement.

LaSalle then stumbles out into the night and hops into a cab, still feeling nervous, but a bit more optimistic about what the future holds.