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3 Lessons I Learned During My Time Undercover as a Wealthy Chicagoan

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I am not a wealthy Chicagoan. I’m a second-year law student still paying off medical debt from 2019. But through a series of fortunate events and strategic use of my student status, I had the opportunity to briefly experience life from the rose-colored, Chanel-clad eyes of someone in a vastly different tax bracket, starting with a membership at one of the most exclusive social clubs in the city. Due to a health emergency and reassessment of my priorities, not to mention the crushing reality of my spring semester tuition invoice, my high-end lifestyle was destined to last no longer than the length of my winter break, but the lessons I learned will last a lifetime. Here are some insights I gathered from this beautiful-yet-fleeting moment of my life:

The barrier to entry is surprisingly low.

In order to get accepted as a member of the Union League Club of Chicago (ULCC), I had to submit an initial application, take an in-person tour of the club, have a formal interview with a member of the admissions board, submit another application, and have those applications reviewed by said board. The whole process from start to finish took under two weeks, and the questions were very straightforward: why did I want to become a member, what activities did I see myself doing, what contributions could I make to the club’s various charitable organizations, etcetera. I was repeatedly sold on the “young members committee,” which purported to be several hundred members strong, with multiple outings scheduled throughout the month (I later discovered that nearly all of these outings centered around alcohol, which was completely unappealing to me and therefore I never took advantage). Once I became a member, I had access to one of the largest private art collections in Chicago – the ULCC is sometimes referred to as the “other Art Institute” for this reason. Discounts and amenities abounded: a private gym with personal training priced at less than half the rate of the leading fitness centers, an enormous pool, multiple private pickleball courts, a library that resembles something out of Hogwarts, massively discounted hotel rooms and dining experiences, access to $30 lobster dinners once a week, a cigar bar, an onsite salon, and so much more. That’s to say nothing of the networking opportunities, which I had originally cited as my top reason for joining. The final bill for one month of access to all this? Less than $250.
Physically getting into a “rich people” environment isn’t all that difficult if you can “walk the walk and talk the talk,” as they say, especially in a city like Chicago where all the wealthiest individuals dress in deceptively expensive jeans and t-shirts. A blowout from Drybar is $50 and a quick at-home manicure is $20. Target has knockoff Burberry and Gucci brands, and if you can finagle your way through a conversation about NFTs, you’ll have everyone believing you’re just as New Money as they are.

Belonging often exists in a vacuum.

One question I repeatedly asked during my ULCC interview was whether there were programs designed to diversify the membership pool. I’m a white, blonde, 20-something, so I fit in just fine with most suburban circles, but one of the reasons I moved back to Chicago from LA was the fact that I hated living in a bubble. I didn’t want to just assign a certain percentage of my membership dues to ULCC’s partnership orgs and pat myself on the back for a societal duty fulfilled, I wanted to speak with real people and learn how I could be a better advocate and ally. Unsurprisingly, however, the overwhelming majority of members are middle-aged white men. I did expect to see one or two people from non-white backgrounds, but every single time I stepped foot in the club, the only people of color there were the staff. It felt very much like I had wandered into an 18th-century plantation, and I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to be seen there. The irony was not lost on me: I had spent so long worrying I’d stick out like a sore thumb and that the upper-class crowd would know I’m not “one of them,” but the reality is that as a member, I very much was – I’m privileged, white, wealthy-passing, and I was happy to sit in an exclusive cafe sipping a $12 chai while the only black person in the room stood silently at his post awaiting his next order. It was an environment in which I knew no one would question my belonging, but it was a wake-up call when I found myself wishing I’d fit in just a little less. I remember fixing my hair in a gold-plated mirror and thinking to myself, “oh god, I’m insufferable!”

I had a similar sinking sensation when I had the opportunity to dine at Nobu with my sister. She and I opted for the Chef Nobu Special, which is a uniquely-curated experience starting at a measly $150 per person. The price per person goes up from there, with higher tiers broaching $1,200 and consisting of rare caviar and A5 kobe beef. We were asked to give a few parameters: any allergies or restrictions, anything that particularly caught our eyes, and whether we wanted to include drink pairings with each course. Some of the courses were off-menu specialties, favorites of the chef or experimental dishes usually reserved for adventurous diners.

I have to admit that this was, bar none, the best meal I have ever had in my life. The food was so good that our server had tattoos of some of the dishes, and apparently rapper Drake shouts out Nobu in one of his songs. I can’t blame him – the experience from start to finish was impeccable. I even saved the receipt so I could remember how lucky I was – and am. But I was frustrated to see that the majority of diners didn’t seem as giddy as we were to be there. My sister and I had been looking forward to this dinner for months and had saved up every penny we possibly could. When we arrived, we could barely contain our excitement, and my sister fretted that she wasn’t dressed elegantly enough. Looking around, though, we saw multiple tables of men wearing backwards baseball caps, jeans, and t-shirts with stretched-out necklines. A mother-daughter pair seated near us had clearly picked this place as a last-minute option after a day of running errands. Many people were on their phones the entire meal, barely looking at the $80 wagyu gyoza in front of them. We admired the care and thoughtfulness that was clearly imbued within each hand-crafted dish and took our time to appreciate everything in front of us. But to so many other diners, this was just Thursday.

At first, we were appalled – how could anyone be so blind as to take for granted this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? But then we realized that luxury isn’t a tourist industry; it doesn’t exist for struggling grad students like us who pull couches apart looking for loose change, it exists for C-Suites and dealmakers whose way of life is perpetually elevated. No one was looking at us in an accusatory way or hovering over us to ensure we didn’t dine and dash. No matter how much we insisted that this was a truly special occasion, and one we probably would never be able to afford again, the reality was that we were in the same room as everyone else, enjoying the same food, paying the same market prices. We belonged there because we were there. Somehow, this truth offered nothing but discomfort.

There’s no way to project to the rest of the room that you’re genuinely interested in the preservation of sanctity when it comes to experiencing luxury. When you’re in a glass house, the prisms of reflective light will bathe your face in rainbows regardless of whether you enjoy the sun. When it comes to wealthy circles, at least the ones I temporarily entered, money was social currency as well as actual currency. If you could afford to even consider dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant, then you were welcomed there. I’d like to point out that people of color are treated with far more scrutiny and skepticism than their white counterparts in these spaces, but there are far better sources and stories about that by people who have actually experienced it. My personal experience, with all my privilege, can be summed up thusly: wherever you go, there you are, even if you don’t feel like you deserve it.

Money can’t buy you class.

There exists a notion that wealth is usually intertwined with etiquette. “Old money,” for example, conjures images of large intergenerational estates where families take great care to maintain an illusion of propriety and education. Ladies cross their ankles, not their legs. Men wear ties and remove their hats indoors. “Please” and “thank you” punctuate each sentence, and everyone takes pride in having excellent manners.

What a joke.

Many people blame the influx of Californians to Chicago as the source of abundant shamelessness and impoliteness in traditionally exclusive spaces, and as an ex-Californian I can understand that sentiment, but my experience revealed a much uglier truth: because extreme privilege often shields people from consequences, egregious displays of wealth sometimes beget egregious displays of rudeness. I witnessed a middle-aged, impeccably-dressed woman in the ULCC cafe spread her belongings across several tables and chairs, prop up her iPad and phone like a NASA control center around her, and proceed to watch TikToks for over an hour with the sound turned up. Another woman stood in the middle of the room at a highboy table, drink in hand at 2:30pm, and openly scolded her business partner about a highly confidential financial agreement. On more than one occasion, I heard the phrase “don’t clean that up, it’s the staff’s job to do that for you.” The 18-year double-cask whiskey on the rocks is too cold. That person experiencing homelessness has the gall to stand within 30 feet of this building. The $260 bluefin tuna is too salty. Beach too sandy; water too wet.

Be that a lack of gratitude or self-awareness, the impact it left on me will forever remain negative. I think back to the sanctity of scarcity and the value I project onto others’ wealth. I could never tell someone how to spend their money, but I found that the culture around wealth can be so isolating and downright boring. How can it be that something so highly sought-after is so disappointing? Is that a reality that everyone faces when they reach a certain level of success? Or are there still precious experiences in the world reserved for those who can not only enjoy them, not only appreciate them, but desire to share them?

In the $32 Uber ride back to my studio apartment with the broken sink and temperamental radiator, I let down my hair and pulled off my fake eyelashes. Inside that apartment awaited the lounge pants I’ve had since 8th grade and a t-shirt with a mysterious stain that has defied dozens of aggressive spin cycles. It’ll be packaged ramen and generic-brand Walgreens hauls for the foreseeable future, but it was worth it to find this peace: The gift of low expectations pays dividends in the form of pleasant surprises. Perhaps the fur-lined lap of luxury is a nice place to lay my head, but I now know that middle-class mediocrity is my sanctuary.

The Mishegoss of the Loop

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One of my mentors — the late, great Howard Weinstein — was quite proficient in Yiddish. A favorite word of his was mishegoss, meaning “craziness,” or some type of senseless behavior or activity. He often used this expression (in jest, I hope) to describe some of the decisions I made while running the commercial division of Rubloff. As I reflect upon the current state of affairs in the Loop, mishegoss certainly seems like an appropriate description.

As most people familiar with downtown Chicago are aware, the Loop (and the Central Loop in particular) is in chaos right now. Office vacancy is at an all time high, it seems like every other storefront is dark, crime is noticeably up and the overall perception is rather bleak. Numerous properties are in financial trouble and rumored to be on the brink of foreclosure. Many of the classic buildings up and down LaSalle Street have lost their luster from yesteryear. One of many immense challenges facing the City of Chicago right now is how to restore the Loop to the mighty economic engine it once was.

Fortunately, the news is not all bleak. Google’s decision to purchase and renovate the Thompson Center is a gargantuan development, as it is rumored to eventually bring over 1,000 employees back to the city center. Just as significant, although maybe not quite as sexy, is the State of Illinois’ decision to acquire and occupy the former BMO headquarters at 115 South LaSalle. One cannot ask for a better set of notable bookends. It is also encouraging that the city has at least put an initiative out there to revitalize the LaSalle Street corridor by making streetscape improvements, presenting concrete ideas on how to generate more activity and offering economic incentives for owners and developers to convert certain troubled buildings into apartments. Developing 1,000 new residential units with an affordable housing component is certainly a worthy goal.

Here is the problem with this plan. Seemingly every struggling vintage building is rumored to be getting ready to kick out their tenants and convert into apartments. Many people have recently confided in me that they have “inside information” about a building.  If every one of these rumors is true, we are going to end up with half a million new apartments, give or take a few. Is anyone considering how much it will cost to convert some of these older properties into apartments? Nearly all will be a gut and rebuild. Something tells me that the TIF money and tax incentives offered by the city will not make enough of a dent in the total cost.

The other consideration is demand. Do people really want to live in the Loop? I can only imagine the sole appeal is a shortened commute to the office, which is understandable in an era of high gas prices and a crime-ridden CTA . However, if people are not using their offices like they used to and still working remotely 2 – 3 days a week, is living a few blocks from the office really that much of an incentive? Why not just come to the office everyday and stay in your neighborhood laden with restaurants, bars, grocery stores, parks, trees and other similar attractions?

If the residential idea ends up being a bust, or at least not as successful as planned, then what happens to these struggling buildings? Call me crazy, but I believe that more tenants will return to the office on a regular basis as time moves on and there will be a need for affordable office space. In spite of the narrative out there, not every tenant can afford to be in Fulton Market, on Wacker Drive or at the Old Post Office. Many people would love to live in a mansion, own a private jet or drive a 2023 Ferrari. 99% of the population cannot afford this. The same is true with office space. Who wouldn’t want to office in a newly constructed, amenity laden building in one of the most electric neighborhoods in the country? In reality, small tenants and those on a budget can only dream about this. Once everything shakes out and some tenants are displaced, those C-class buildings which do survive will be viable for many years to come.

If not office or residential, what use do some of these downtrodden properties have? We have enough hotels and student housing downtown. What about senior housing? A life sciences building? Perhaps a data center? Do a group of buildings get demolished so a park can be created? The options appear to be limited.

There is one other potential Central Loop bombshell out there. There is talk that Chase is actively scouting the market for a new headquarter building, likely in the West Loop. It is a classic case of “keeping up with the Jones’” as Bank of America and BMO have recently relocated to new properties, so why not Chase? This is understandable to a certain extent, but Chase already occupies an architecturally gorgeous tower which is an important part of the skyline. Exelon, the other large tenant at Chase Tower, just appointed a new CEO who is from Baltimore. As a result, is it really so far-fetched to think that Exelon’s headquarters might be the next to leave our fair city? If so, will the entire building eventually be vacant? This would undo all of the progress that would be gained by Google moving in. The city simply cannot allow this to happen. Treat Chase like a new firm looking to move to the city for the first time and use some of that TIF money and tax breaks to keep them in place. They are a vital cog of the Central Loop machine.

How will all of this mishegoss play out? The next three years will be critical. We are either going to end up with a revived, vibrant Central Loop that will remain an integral part of the city for decades to come, or we will morph into a version of pre-bankruptcy Detroit. It will take a collective effort from government, business leaders and building owners to figure this out. History warns us about betting against Chicago. This is a resilient city which has overcome adversity for hundreds of years. My best guess is that we will do so yet again.

Whiplash from the Past

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The year was 1901, and Chicago was a blossoming city with a booming economy. At the forefront of its success were the lumber and meat industries, and the city was quickly becoming one of the largest manufacturing centers in the entire country. Perhaps one of its most important features was its unparalleled railway system, with nearly 3,000 miles of track laid within the city limits. So optimistic were its residents that property magnate H. H. Honore Jr., whose widow would later become president of a new women-led petroleum company, penned a thoughtful piece in the Tribune praising the city’s commercial real estate market and making predictions for its future. This month, we are going to dissect these predictions like a frog in a high school biology lab. 

Firstly, and perhaps most hilariously, Honore Jr begins his analysis with the following:

“Commercial Chicago, with its inexhaustible and wonderful drinking water, made pure by its drainage canal at a cost of $35,000,000, with the best food market in the country, affording probably the greatest variety, is now in a position to attract the worker as well as the investor.”

We have a hard time imagining anyone describing the River water as wonderful or drinkable, but we concede that Honore was right about Chicago being the best food market in the country. At the very least, we have more variations of deep dish and italian beef than anyone could or should ever desire. 

Honore continues by describing the city’s exponential growth. In 1855, he says, the city had only 60,000 people. In 1901 that number had reached 1.8 million. He predicts that figure to reach 6 million by 1925, and proclaims that by 1950, Chicago will have become the most populous city in the world with more country and people tributary to it than any great city has ever had in the world’s history. 

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you ask, Chicago’s population today is right around 2.5 million. That’s actually a drop of several hundred thousand since the 1920s, and a significantly smaller population than the actual most populous city in the world. That title goes to Tokyo with over 37 million people. That’s okay, maybe Honore has other dreams that have come true. He says, “before the middle of the century its wealth will be beyond parallel. No city in any country affords such opportunity for the young. Labor of all kinds is well paid and in demand. Art and science will flourish and inventive genius will be constantly into play, and will be richly rewarded here, because here business will center, goods will be produced, distributed, and wealth created.” 

Honore actually wasn’t too far off here. Today, Chicago’s gross domestic product, or GDP, is the third largest in the United States and surpasses the total economic output of Switzerland. Last year, Chicago saw a herd of nine unicorns – that’s a privately-held company with a value of over $1 billion. We’re also home to over 6,100 tech companies, hundreds of which were founded just in the last few years. Fulton Market, as you all well know by now, is an absolute hotbed of young tech talent and innovation. We were named the number one city for corporate investment for seven years in a row. And there is no competition for our legendary film, art and music scene. 

Honore goes on to say that to purchase commercial real estate in 1901 is to guarantee yourself an ever-increasing income which will multiply tenfold, particularly in the Central Loop. He says, “there is no city where you can so safely invest money in ground and buildings as in Chicago, and there is no street in Chicago where you can invest money more safely and with as much certainty of increase in the future as on Michigan Avenue. Business men are rapidly occupying it. They are going to the cleanest street in the city.”  

Yeah…that didn’t age well. Chicago’s sublease space availability is about 23% and the direct vacancy rate is right around 21%. For reference, let’s look at the stats for 2002: sublease space in Chicago was up to 28%, and vacancy rates were the highest on record at 19%. Michigan Avenue is floundering, although a handful of new retail leases and subsidized security systems are helping to keep its pretty little head above water. The holiday season will be a major indicator of whether the Mile keeps its Mag, but we’re sure Honore is rolling in his grave.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. He ends by describing Michigan Ave, and Chicago’s business and shopping districts as a whole, as the finest and most promising in the country. He says that many will pick up cheap bits and pieces of it without realizing its full potential, and will see mountains of wealth if they just wait a decade or two. Throughout this piece, Honore does something I haven’t seen much in recent years. He views Chicago through this childlike lens of wonderment and pride. He is naive and overly optimistic, a young hopeful looking wistfully toward the skyline in gratitude for just the opportunity to behold it. Certainly his dreams were warped by privilege and a lack of perspective, but we can’t say they were entirely inaccurate. 

The commercial real estate world still does have value. It’s like a Faberge egg: looking at it, all you see is its elegant fragility, and you’re scared to touch it or even look at it too long for fear of destroying it. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much money someone spent on it. It doesn’t matter that its value is entirely based on some arbitrary conceptualization of opulence and exclusivity. It’s pretty. That’s why we look at it. That’s why we display it. That’s why we enjoy it. Chicago is really f*king pretty. It inspires the same beautifully careless admiration that Honore felt when he sat down to write this piece. Let’s take a second to look up from our listing agreements, close our checkbooks, and see the city the way we might have in 1901. Look at all the possibilities. Look at how far we’ve come. Look at all the places we’ve yet to go. 

Remembering Tom Horwich

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The Chicago real estate community lost another legend last week with the passing of Tom Horwich. While much of Tom’s work was under the radar, his influence on those of us who were fortunate enough to be graced by his presence is completely unparalleled.

For those not aware, Tom was a lifelong Chicagoan born in Hyde Park. He was the grandson of Bernard Horwich (of the Bernard Horwich JCC fame) and his father enjoyed a successful career in real estate. Following in his father’s footsteps, Tom got his start as an industrial broker and eventually transitioned into the office side. Eventually, he took over the family real estate portfolio and later became part owner of the legendary Rubloff brand, which was rechristened as a residential agency.

My very first job in commercial real estate was as the leasing agent for 100 West Monroe, an office building that Tom’s family owned. I got involved at his other property, 30 North Michigan, about a year later. It didn’t take long for me to realize how fortunate I was to be associated with this man. When he found out that my then-employer was having some difficulties, he and his partner Howard Weinstein took me under their collective wing and set me up at Rubloff. They effectively created a newly established commercial division for me to run – a privilege that hundreds of brokers would have relished. It was a rare, highly coveted opportunity to use this name and heaven knows that almost anyone else was more worthy than me: some schmuck just 2 years out of college. But Tom was more concerned with my well-being than with profiting off of this powerful name. If it weren’t for that act, there is no way I would still be in real estate today.

When I think of Tom, very few people exhibited more class, generosity, integrity and kindness. While his family’s long-tenured building ownership was a business, Tom’s concern was always with creating the best possible experience for his tenants. He knew that having happy tenants would help ensure a high occupancy. Every year, he would pick one area of the property to improve, be it new elevators, common corridors, bathrooms or mechanical systems. Each December Tom would send boxes of See’s Chocolates to his tenants for the holidays, a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, but a popular and beloved tradition in his buildings.

Tom always took care of his staff. Everyone who worked for Tom seemed to stay until it was time to retire. He would send each of them gifts several times a year just to show that he was thinking of them. Whenever he would visit the daycare center located in a South Loop building he owned, Tom would come armed with boxes of cookies and other treats for the staff, just to be nice.

As a businessman, Tom was quite sharp and always seemed to know the right thing to do in any situation. He had an uncanny sixth sense about prospective tenants and could always tell if a deal was worth taking a chance on. Even though I questioned some of his decisions, he was right every single time. His philosophy was simple: treat others with respect and always tell them the truth. People may not always like what they hear, but they will respect and appreciate your transparency. This lesson has been one of many which shaped my career.

Tom and I were able to frequently keep in touch even after he sold Rubloff and his two buildings. Each year, he would ask me to run a database search to ensure that he was getting a fair deal on his 400-square-foot office renewal. He was always quick to give important life advice (as well as constant pestering about when I would get married and within 30 days after that happened, when we would start having kids) during our frequent  lunches at Manny’s. I also cannot forget to mention my annual Bears tickets courtesy of Tom, two seats at the 50-yard line for the home opener.

Tom was involved with numerous charities and repeatedly gave back to his community. He always shied away from recognition, but those around him knew what he was all about. He was an amazing listener, had a fabulous memory and always had a joke ready. Whenever Tom spoke, his words really meant something, and his actions always reflected those words. Rest in peace, my good friend. You will be missed, but your lessons will be everlasting.

Three Terrifyingly True Tales from the Loop

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This month, in honor of Halloween, we’re bringing you three terrifyingly true stories from our very own portfolio. Amongst the glamor and glory of Chicago’s business district is the very real and very sinister past that lurks beneath the surface. So sit back, grab your favorite cider, and settle in for three tales that will chill you and thrill you.

The Cursed Past of 819 S Wabash

Our first spooky story comes from the South Loop, at the now-revered Loftrium building. Today, this brick and timber loft is notorious for its wide-open feel, its natural aesthetic, and its proximity to multiple universities and colleges. But its roots run rotten and deep into a long, tragic history full of grief and mystique. The story begins with a familiar Chicagoland namesake:

The Gurnee family settled in Chicago to establish a saddle-and-whip store. The latter quickly gained influence via political connections, and achieved success through real estate developments across the state. In 1869, Amelia Gurnee married Joseph Armour, the owner of a massively successful grain merchant company. In the years following the Great Chicago Fire, however, their marriage fell apart, and Amelia died of an undisclosed cause. Shortly thereafter, the widower Joseph began to develop a mysterious illness and spent much of his time receiving extensive treatments at local spas.

A few years later, Joseph married his widow’s sister, Carrie, and quietly moved back to Chicago after a quick European wedding. Joseph’s health continued to decline, and a series of illness began to plague the Gurnee-Armour family. In rapid succession, Carrie’s father, her son, and her husband all passed away.Carrie was the sole inheritor of $3 million cash and bonds, as well as her late husband’s share of his company. Two years later, she became acquainted with and married Charles Munn, who had strong business connections with the Dows and their extremely successful freight brokerage and grain commission company. The Dows company and Munn family had worked together in New York not long after the Munns immigrated from Ireland, and became close even after the latter moved to Chicago.

Carrie and Charles Munn had two children and quickly worked their way up the social ladder with the help of the Dows. Their family frequented Newport, New York City, Mancester, St. Augustine, and Palm Beach. With their success came mansions, vacations, and exclusive access to the famed Chicago Club and Union Club. But even legendary wealth couldn’t protect them from tuberculosis, which unexpectedly killed Charles at age 50. During the Gurnee-Munn’s time in Chicago, Carrie had become acquainted with the son of a supreme Court justice and “Chicago’s first lawyer,” Arthur Caton. Caton’s wife had famously maintained a lengthy affair with Marshall Field, whom she later married. Caton had died of unknown causes during their marriage, and Field, too, dropped dead just five months after his wedding to the former Mrs. Caton.The Gurnee-Munn children often held playdates with the Caton children at the White House, where the eldest Munn befriended Robert Todd Lincoln. Through a series of high-society teas and meetings, Carrie successfully commissioned the construction of the Munn Building at 819 S Wabash. She also financed a nearby building which was regarded as “the world’s largest music house.”

During their time in Washington D.C., Carrie’s daughter and namesake became close with Ethel Roosevelt and spurred rumors that she was due to be engaged to Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. She instead married Reginald Boardman of Boston, but stayed close with the Roosevelt family.

Carrie Munn suffered a stroke in 1912 and was confined to her Washington home, where her children stayed by her side for months. Carrie survived the stroke, but was killed in a tragic car accident when her limousine inexplicably crashed into a telephone pole only a year later. Her estate was carried out by her children, at which time S. Karpen & Bros signed a 99-year lease at 819 S Wabash. The building has since changed hands several times over the past century, and at one point ironically hosted a coffin factory. But today, the building boasts almost all of its original charm: namely, a massive central atrium whose light reflects off every surface, not unlike its original creator. The Gurnee-Munn family continued to make headlines for their luxurious lifestyles, with one Munn child becoming one of the first people to film their wedding day. The others went on to be fashion icons, developers, and eventually retirees — some settled in their former vacation towns, and others’ fates were lost to time.

The once-gilded age of the Munns trickled slowly into grit, and then was again revived in the mid-20th century when the South Loop underwent revitalization efforts by developers and played host to dozens of major film companies. Another handful of decades later, yet another transition attempted to rebrand the area into a desirable location for professional service firms. The only remnant of its glitzy and glamorous past is the pale, haunting ghost signs boasting colorful, flashy ads across its facade. Its rich history may be buried, but 819 S Wabash stands strong over 100 years on.

The Tragic Origins of 117 N Jefferson

Our next story is a lesser-known chapter of an infamous tale: the Haymarket bombing. At 117 N Jefferson currently stands a modernized office building, another brick and timber remnant of the previous owner’s glitzy and glamorous lifestyle, now home to a host of professional service tenants none of the wiser about its true origins.

On May 4, 1886, a group of pro-union activists organized to protest the tragic death of several workers during a labor lockout the previous day. Speakers stood over the crowd and shared ideas for improving working conditions, ways to prioritize safety and improve work-life balances for those with families, and other vital issues the government had yet to address. 

The protest was relatively peaceful – sure, participants were rightfully riled up by the injustice, but the environment was one of mourning, and of hope for a better future. It was also significantly smaller than intended – only 2,500 people attended rather than the expected 20,000, and only 200 remained when police began storming the meeting despite the fact that Mayor Harrison had given explicit permission for the meeting to occur. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a bomb exploded. 

To this day, no one knows who threw it. No one knows why. No one has ever claimed responsibility. But the bombing resulted in dozens of deaths, with only one directly attributed to the bomb itself – the others were solely from the chaos that occurred as a result. Many prominent men in the labor movement were scapegoated and eventually killed for their supposed participation in the protest, and conspiracy theories abounded regarding the true identity of the bomber. 

Chicago’s underground anarchist community consisted of more than just laborers, they included individuals from all tax brackets, and many witnesses went on the prove that none of the convicted men had been the one to throw the bomb. At the trial it came to light that a detective had infiltrated an anarchists meeting and falsely testified that the group intended to cause destruction and violence. Six months later, as one of the activists stood at the gallows moments away from his death, his final words rang out: >”There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.” Some speculate that an anti-labor movement counter-protester was the one to throw the bomb, and although this individual has never been found, his ghost – and the spirit of all those who suffered at his hands – still walk those West Loop streets, waiting, still, for justice.

The Woeful Beginnings of 226 S Wabash

Our final story takes place along a wide stretch of Wabash avenue, starting with 226 S Wabash. Here stands one of three office buildings called the Wabash Trio, which attract tenants for their wide open layouts and efficient floor plates. At the base of 226 is a casual pub famous for its pizza…but also for its sordid history. 

Above the bar and tables is a brothel that has long been sealed off from view, accessed only by a tiny cramped crawlspace on the second floor. An underground tunnel system winds underneath the building and is rumored to have acted as a stashing place for Al Capone’s bootlegging business. Further down Wabash, just down the road from several of our South Loop buildings, is the site of the original Four Deuces. This building at 2222 S Wabash played host to multiple gambling circles which often devolved into violence, and even murder. A secret passageway allowed saloon patrons to enter one way and brothel patrons to enter in the other. Some historians believe that there was once a trap door and basement where rival gangsters and thieves were taken for nefarious purposes. The concrete remains of the Four Deuces can still be seen crumbled under the L tracks, and 226 S Wabash still stands tall and proud among its slightly-more-innocent sisters. Capone’s mark on Chicago permeates deep into the city’s blood, and some say the spirits of his loyal followers stalk the length of Wabash to this very day.

For more haunted history and true tales about downtown Chicago, subscribe to our newsletter and check out our podcast at the links below. 



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The ABCs of DEI in CRE

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In the business world, there are a few buzzwords that regularly make their rounds in corporate conversation. Words like “synergy.” “Circling back.” “Putting a pin in it.” “Tabling it.” “Seamlessness.” “Frictionless.” “Collaboration.” And for the most part, these words hold little water. They’re just filler that’s meant to make you sound smart. But there are other words, too — words like diversity, equity, inclusiveness, accessibility. Those are thrown around with relative weightlessness, but they’re some of the heaviest and densest topics of conversation that a business can have. Most of us like to believe that we’re self-aware and in tune with the controversial goings-on in the communities around us, but the truth is that even the most empathetic, pure-hearted person can often miss what’s right in front of them. When the conversations do happen, they’re often limited to hypotheticals and theoretical discussions — we should  be doing this, we plan on doing that. And in fairness, we can’t solve inequality overnight. Frankly I’m not sure if we can ever solve something like that. Even now, I’m certain that this episode will miss much of the nuance involved in tackling racial, social, and physical inequality, despite my best efforts to be inclusive. So I hope you’ll take the following with a hearty grain of salt and understand that I’m coming from a place of my own privilege, and that sometimes there are no easy answers.

DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You’ll see it a lot in think pieces from real estate firms, many of which have created presentations and workshops for executives to take stock of their implicit biases and work to enact meaningful change. A lot of us would like to believe that DEI is at the forefront of our minds, but let’s be honest — when we sit down at our desks with our mugs of coffee and about a hundred unread emails, the last thing we’re contemplating is the socioeconomic complications stemming from centuries of oppression and violence. That’s because DEI is really, really complicated. It’s incredibly overwhelming even if your entire job is to promote inclusion and accessibility. Jessica Edgerton from Leading Real Estate Companies of the World said it best when she described DEI as not a sprint nor a marathon, rather, a constant journey forward with no specific finish line. And although Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu preceded Jessica by over a thousand years, he too laid the foundation for change in real estate when he said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. With that in mind, let’s take the first step.

One of the most important things we can do for DEI as commercial real estate professionals is to actually get people in the room who can provide insight on issues surrounding inclusivity. There really is no such thing as colorblindness — it’s undeniable that our modern society is at the mercy of centuries of systemic oppression for non-white folks — but some proactive change can come from blind review practices. One example is using a  software system that hides candidates names and emails from their application to ensure that recruiters aren’t being affected by unconscious bias when reviewing applicants. Studies show that candidates with Anglo-Saxon, Americanized names tend to receive nearly 50% more callbacks than those with, quote, “black-sounding” names. Some companies even use voice-altering software and AI to mask candidates’ gender and racial presentation, which can help ensure that opportunities are being presented to the best possible candidates, regardless of how they look or sound. Perhaps there’s room to extend this to RFPs, so that minority-owned businesses are given unbiased consideration for leasing a space as their white counterparts. Commercial real state is predominantly white and male, with fewer than 1% of executive jobs going to women of color. Men of color fare only marginally better at 1.3%. Only 0.7% of real estate investment firms are owned by women, and only 2% are minority-owned. To help combat this disparity, CRE firms and training institutes should be going out of their way to recruit at historically black colleges and universities, getting in front of networking groups for non-white professionals, even designing scholarships and mentorship programs specifically for non-white students interested in CRE to shadow experienced peers in the industry. Furthermore, training courses should reconsider the language used in their materials — how many property law hypotheticals about married couples include the traditional structure of a man and woman? It may not mean anything to some of the people in the room, but LGBTQIA+ students will benefit from seeing themselves represented, even if it’s just a few questions on the broker exam.  We should be seeking out alternate perspectives from people not currently in the boardroom, not just waiting until there’s controversy or an unfavorable audit. 

Next, let’s talk accessibility. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that retail businesses must provide access for people with disabilities when constructing new facilities. When we hear that, we tend to conjure images of wheelchair ramps and handrails for staircases, but it goes so much deeper than that. Smaller tenants with fewer resources will not always have the budget to make their spaces compliant. When presenting a space to a prospect, accessibility should be top of mind, not an afterthought. How high are the counters in the space? Will people with mobility limitations be able to navigate the current buildout? Can the bathrooms accommodate not only wheelchairs, but people with joint or balance issues? What about the conference room? And what about the lighting? People with sensory sensitivities may struggle with overly bright lights or floors that creak with every step. When we show offices, are we giving any consideration to designating space for nursing mothers, or assuming they’ll just have to nurse in a public bathroom or storage closet? And when was the last time you evaluated your marketing and business materials? Certain fonts and colors can be difficult to see for people with visual impairments, and sometimes screen-readers can’t interpret the words on the page. In your promotional videos, use closed captioning and provide a transcript whenever possible. Websites should be designed with modulation and functionality in mind, meaning pop-ups, flashing content, and drop-down menus should be easily navigated and hidden when needed. Web developers should ensure that pages can be accessed via the tab button rather than needing a mouse click.  Photos and videos of spaces should be brightly lit with color contrast, and size dimensions should be included whenever possible. You don’t want to wait until your client shows up for a tour to discover that they physically can’t fit their assistive equipment through the front door. You don’t have to advertise the fact that you care about accessibility — in a perfect world, that will shine through and be apparent without having to draw additional attention to it. 

Two or three steps into a thousand-mile journey may not seem significant, but if it makes a difference to even one person, then it matters. There are no downsides to making people feel heard and represented. There are no downsides to allocating funds towards uplifting underrepresented individuals with in and outside of your firm. Identifying disparities in the way you conduct business can be intimidating and even embarrassing, but it’s absolutely essential for creating a more equitable environment and attracting top talent to your firms, and high-quality businesses to your offices and retail spaces. Businesses which contribute to the beautiful, diverse, ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-resilient landscape of this city.

In addition to the minority-focused commercial real estate nonprofits we’ve listed below, we wanted to give another important cause the spotlight this month. The Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago needs our help to support their mission of the 3Rs for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona: that’s Rescue, Relief, and Rebuild. Additionally, the Red Cross of Chicago is mobilizing its volunteer groups to send relief efforts to Florida, where Hurricane Ian has caused record-breaking devastation to tens of thousands of people. These deadly storms are only going to continue as climate change ravages the world, so we ask that you also consider donating to the Chicago Community Climate Partnership, which aims to tackle climate crises through community partnerships and educational workshops. We all have a responsibility to look out for each other and to step up in times of desperation. We know money might be tight right now , so each of these orgs have volunteer opportunities that cost nothing and mean everything. 

Sources and notes:

Transforming The Loop

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For those of us who have emotionally, professionally or financially invested in downtown Chicago, the last two years have been difficult to stomach.

From the moment you arrived to well after you departed, the Loop that I fondly remember was bursting with energy. There was an unmistakable buzz that very few locales around the world could replicate. The immense and diverse crowds of office workers, residents, restaurant goers, shoppers, students and tourists all intermingled to make downtown Chicago a truly distinctive place.

Today is a vastly different landscape: sparsely populated streets, dark storefronts, half-filled office buildings and rampant crime. This is not the Loop we have grown to adore. In order for Chicago to be the successful, world-class city that it strives to be, it all must start with a healthy and thriving downtown. Without that, we are just another town. Something must change fast.

The immediate answer to turn the tide is a concerted effort on the part of the City of Chicago and all the key stakeholders to collectively map the next path forward for the Loop. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is the most critical time in the history of our city since the Chicago Fire. Everyone who works, lives, owns property or has clients here should want to get involved in this effort to reimagine downtown Chicago and the role it will play for years to come.

How do we accomplish this admittedly gargantuan task? Here are a few ideas:

1) Let’s begin with the Thompson Center. It is wonderful that Michael Reschke has stepped in with a perfectly fine vision to keep this notorious structure alive. However, there is nothing going on here which will change the trajectory of the Loop. Meanwhile, the five sites mentioned for the proposed Chicago casino have drawn significant community opposition and all present challenges. Frankly, each is uninspiring and non-transformational. Therefore, I must ask once again, why is the Thompson Center site not being mentioned as the home of the casino? Is this not an obvious solution? A combination casino-entertainment complex and hotel at this location would be a slam dunk in terms of restoring Central Loop activity and spurring new and meaningful development nearby.

2) The city desperately needs to develop an initiative to encourage smaller shop owners from neighborhoods all over the city, as well as startups, to lease the many vacant storefronts in downtown Chicago. In order to assist with the likely rent gap between what the tenant can realistically afford and what the landlord expects to get, the city needs to either subsidize landlords or offer substantial tax breaks to encourage more variety, or both. As businesses grow over time, so will the rental rates. Downtown rents have generally priced out the “little guy” over the years. Has there ever been a better time to reverse this trend? Creative, entrepreneurial retailers will add a new and unique character to the Loop.

3) Inevitably, several Loop office towers are not going to survive post-Covid life and will need to be reimagined. Many of these are faced with significant deferred maintenance and high vacancy, and have accordingly outlived their usefulness as office buildings. The cost of renovating will be hefty, and the rents obtained when the work is complete will not be enough of a return to justify the expenditure. These properties should be ripe for residential conversions. Those that survive and remain as office buildings will need to adapt and modernize. The need for affordable office space will always be present and not every tenant desires a plethora of amenities. Some are perfectly fine with reasonable prices and convenient locations. Perhaps a subsidy and/or tax break approach is needed here, too, to help keep these older buildings viable.

4) If the Loop is truly going to transform into a genuine mixed-use neighborhood, another park is needed in the central district or on the western edge. It needs to be something unique in order to draw visitors, perhaps akin to a mini-Bryant Park in Manhattan. Some ideas include a mini-golf course, outdoor art gallery or a  live music venue.  Certainly space constraints will be a factor, but it might be time to revisit an idea that Steve Fifield had several years ago which involved “capping” the Kennedy Expressway and creating a 15-acre park running between Lake and Adams Streets. Now that would be transformational!

5) Along the same lines, more communal areas are needed where people can gather and linger.  Maybe park-like medians need to be built in the middle of LaSalle Street with benches where people can grab a sandwich or coffee from a nearby storefront window or food truck and gather and relax.

6) Chicago absolutely must get this crime problem under control, both on the streets and on buses and trains. All one needs to do is walk around or take an L ride to see that things have changed. At one time, the Loop felt like the safest part of the city. That is no longer the case. If people do not feel safe coming downtown, they simply won’t. It is way too easy to work from home or somewhere else. If employees are victims of a crime, it is just a matter of time before businesses start to bail and look to go elsewhere, whether it be the suburbs or a different state altogether.

Reimagining the Loop and implementing an action plan is no easy task and will need to be a well-organized, joint effort between public and private entities. The first step is to form some sort of organization which will start developing concrete ideas, determine how to finance each one and finally put everything in motion. It could take years to get there, but in the long run, a better, more sustainable and inclusive Loop can emerge. Together, we can make this happen.

For the Love of All That is Holy, Please Stop Predicting the Future of the Office

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I’m really tired of reading the same articles over and over again. Every week, there’s a new “think piece” about the so-called future of the office. Every word-count-hungry Hemingway with a blog seems to be milking the city’s anxieties for all they’re worth – which, as it turns out, is about the price of a Crain’s subscription. In the pursuit of answering the unanswerable questions of what the future holds for commercial real estate professionals and their clients, hundreds of outlets have tried and failed to provide meaningful insight that extends beyond some variation of “people want their dogs with them, and they don’t want to sit two feet from Cathy in HR with the sinus infection.” Rather than combing through any more of this doom-scroll bait, we can save you some time by summarizing the reality of the CRE state of affairs: 

No one has any clue what’s going to happen or when. We’ll adapt anyway.

The concept of adapting a workplace structure to adhere to employee needs is not new. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, office managers set out masks and sanitizing stations and implemented open-air concepts wherever possible. New buildings were heavily modernized and redesigned to increase ventilation and encourage social distancing. Despite an even more severe economic downturn than 2020 and even more drastic unemployment rates, the economy recovered and sparked widespread innovation and job creation. The truth is that we already know how CRE professionals can improve leasing activity – it just takes time, money, and creativity, which is in short supply for building owners who fear change. Time and again, we find that early adopters who invest in the future of their own products end up far better off than those who prefer to “wait it out” in hopes that someone will be desperate enough to take the deal.

As for timing, we should know by now to ignore predictions of “the Big Return,” which has been repeatedly pushed back due to the inception and spread of different COVID variants. Each company will determine for itself what the best course of action is. Working from home may benefit many people, but it’s counterproductive to assume that this will become “the new normal.” Yes, many businesses have realized that most of their employees can perform their jobs outside of the office. It’s not a question of how work can continue with people working from home, nor is it a question of what will entice those people back into the office. The question that employers should be asking is: “how can I innovate my company in such a way that utilizes my office as more than just a surveilled holding pen for my employees’ bodies?” 

Employees have always craved flexibility and comfortable amenities. The COVID pandemic didn’t make them more demanding – it only gave them more leverage to refuse to accept current standards for the typical workplace. The mid-1900s had employees focused on self-determination, encouraged to work independently except for the rare team meeting. Later, the “open plan” workspace fell into favor, still consisting of rows and rows of desks, but adding warm elements and cork ceilings to limit noise pollution and increase productivity. As women began entering the workplace, modular furniture and semi-flexible workstations met the increased need for privacy and “modesty.” That desire for privacy increased until cubicle farms were the norm, standing several feet high and surrounding employees on nearly all sides. Finally, the early aughts saw a complete rejection of privacy, encouraging creative layouts and breakout spaces rather than confining employees to their 5 or 10 square feet of space. The only difference between these gradual shifts in standards and post-Covid workplace standards is that the proliferation of technology makes it difficult to compete with employees’ homes. If workers can still make money and keep their jobs without leaving the house, why wouldn’t they?

Employees who want to work from home most or all of the time are not going to change their minds. Employees who want to come back to the office probably have already done so, or are planning to do so in the near future. No amount of koi ponds or rooftop dog parks are going to convince people to give up rolling out of bed at 9am, dusting the Dorito crumbs off their sweatpants, and answering emails from their $400 gaming chair. Instead of concerning themselves with enticement and amenities, employers should take a utilitarian approach to regenerating interest in the concept of an in-office workday. Collaboration spaces and private offices alike should be designed to challenge and inspire employees, not just appear aesthetically pleasing. If employees aren’t utilizing the company ping-pong table, get rid of it and consider what kind of installations would actually benefit the company. 

Perhaps it’s as simple as leasing an office with a medical tenant on another floor so that employees have quick access to primary care, or offering subsidies for employees who take advantage of the gym just around the corner. Maybe it’s the responsibility of the company owner to identify new ways to monetize their services that require the physical presence of team members, such as hosting focus groups or product testing and demonstrations. Maybe it requires revisiting company communication strategies to identify whether there is a genuine need to eliminate Zoom calls in favor of face-to-face meetings. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the concept of the 9-5 schedule, and instead implement a 24-hour access system that allows employees to choose the hours they’d like to come in, in case they’re more productive as night owls than early birds. Maybe it’s a matter of leasing smaller, more department-oriented spaces in multiple convenient locations around the city, so commutes are shortened significantly and the company footprint remains more or less the same. Or maybe, with the exception of special circumstances, companies could pay higher salaries to in-person employees. Regardless of the solution, we need to stop waiting on “the Big Return.” It’s already happening right now – and it’s more like “The Slow, Reluctant Trickle.” 

All of this is to say that it is counterproductive and borderline useless to constantly monitor the latest news about how and when the city will recover from Covid. Chicago is as Chicago does; through resilience, innovation, creativity, and the willingness to invest in ourselves, the CRE industry will recover at its own pace in due time. Instead of hyper-fixating on some vague, hazy conception of the future dreamed up by those with a significant stake in manipulating the public image of the market, focus instead on the present needs and goals of your business. And for the love of God, stop publishing your predictions. 

The Office (R)evolution

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In your wildest imagination, could you have even foreseen a scenario in which the streets of Downtown Chicago would be zapped of its trademark energy, office buildings would generally sit dormant, and the concept of office space altogether would be openly debated as to its necessity? For most commercial real estate professionals, this is a scene straight out of The Day After Tomorrow. COVID-19 hit and this nightmare became reality. Nearly two years later, questions regarding how the office will be impacted on a long-term basis are really no closer to being answered.

Sure, a standard office has metamorphosed over time, but it has always been viewed as a constant and generally a necessity for most businesses. We have witnessed significant changes to offices sizes and their locations within the suite (interior versus along the window line) and a favor toward more open space. Corporate stuffiness has yielded to ping-pong tables and beer kegs. Dropped ceilings have been replaced with exposed ceilings. But however different the office became over time, it was always still there.

Yet at the onset of the pandemic when firms were forced to go remote, many firms survived and some even thrived. Then several firms gave up their offices altogether, hence the record amount of sublease space hitting the market. Can you imagine if this pandemic had hit in 1980 instead of 2020? The business might have never recovered. Talk of completely junking it all in favor of working from home would have been nothing short of blasphemous in the days before computers and internet.

Fortunately for those of us trying to put kids through school and making sure the mortgage is paid every month, it became apparent as time went on that remote work is not a long-term solution. On occasion and in certain situations, it is completely fine. Truthfully, there really isn’t a need for everyone to be in the office every single day. How offices are utilized is changing again, probably more radically than in the past, but that is okay. We can work with this.

A byproduct of all this is the Downtown Chicago has taken a pretty significant hit. With the exception of the seemingly indestructible Fulton Market, it is a challenge to find a building which has not experienced some pain. Occupancy is down across the board, operating costs and taxes are rising to levels never before seen, and many tenants understandably remain noncommittal with respect to their long-term plans. While these challenges abound, there are still some sizable leases getting signed (Exhibit A – Kirkland & Ellis 662,000 SF at Salesforce Tower) and properties selling at record high prices (like 110 North Wacker and just about everything in Fulton Market). Why is this, you ask? Because it will take a heck of a lot more than a pandemic to destroy the foundational base of Downtown Chicago. Too much money has been invested up to this point and too many people believe in the sustainability of our city. However, like the office itself, Downtown too will need to evolve in order to thrive for the next generation.

The recovery and evolution are interrelated, and it will take years for this to play out. The first step to recovery is getting workers back to the office on at least a semi-regular basis. Realistically, we have no chance of seeing a significant return until Spring 2022 at the earliest. Between the holidays, Omicron, and the cold and snowy winter weather, there are all sorts of valid excuses to delay the “Great Return.” If a manager or business owner has already been getting resistance from workers who wish to continue working remotely, good luck trying to persuade a return on a January morning when the temperature is 2 degrees with 6 inches of snow on the ground. Sorry, but a complimentary catered breakfast will not be enough, not matter how good the bagels might be.

Of course, this projected Spring return is contingent upon you-know-what getting under control. Every time it looks like we are over the proverbial hump, another variant gets in the way. What letter in the Greek alphabet comes after Omicron? Eventually, we will reach a point where around 75% of the workforce is using their office at least some of the week. This will be a significant milestone, as workers will start experiencing tangible evidence of the benefits of the personal interaction and collaboration which cannot be replicated over Zoom.

Once we learn to live with the virus as a regular part of life, we will then settle into the hybrid work routine. Some may choose to work 3 days in the office and 2 days at home. Others will come in just for meetings, perhaps when special projects are ongoing or during busy times each year (such as tax season for accountants, or summer for event coordinators). Slowly but surely, the attendance numbers will creep up over time. As soon as a co-worker who has been working predominantly from home witnesses another who has been going in 4 or 5 times per week get a promotion, this fear of missing out might encourage others to come in more regularly.

If getting people back to the office is the first step of the recovery, the second involves firms figuring out how to use their offices once back inside. Will there be a preference for more private offices and less open area? Will there be less personal space and more communal areas? Will these changes create a need for less square footage or possibly more to accommodate spacing out? Once there are some concrete answers to these questions — and it could legitimately take another two years or so to get to this point – only then we will see this so-called “new normal” kick in. At this point, we will see a greater level of comfort for entering into longer term leases.

Of course, the office evolution is multifaceted. Along with the aforementioned, the next key question is exactly where tenants will want to office: downtown versus suburbs, direct space versus coworking, new construction versus second generation space. If the choice continues to be downtown, are we looking at traditional markets such as the Central or East Loop? Or is it all Fulton Market from this point forward? If so, what happens to the older buildings? We will explore this topic in depth in our next blog.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest progress and pitfalls of the Chicago commercial real estate market. Subscribe to our weekly podcast, the CowCast, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For more information on Willard Jones and our offerings, contact Jonathan Zimmerman at 312.263.8787.


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As we all try to cope with our new world and everything it entails, I sincerely hope that you and your families are staying healthy and sane during this unparalleled time. Our hearts go out to everyone who has tragically lost a family member, friend or colleague. As trying as this experience is, it has been heartening to see people come together and make personal sacrifices for the common good. More so, our everlasting respect, gratitude and admiration go out to the many healthcare workers, first responders, delivery drivers, grocery store workers and the other essential employees who are heroically keeping our country together.

As for how this relates to downtown Chicago commercial real estate, never in a million years could I have imagined a scenario like this taking place. In my college economic classes, we never learned about a scenario where the economy suddenly came to a screeching halt. I know firsthand that there are a lot of businesses suffering permanent damage from this ordeal who may never recover. Those which do will likely never be the same.

As we hopefully creep closer to a return to whatever our new normal will entail and pray for the rapid development of a vaccine, I suppose it is time to start thinking ahead to what office life and downtown real estate will be like. I have been getting tons of questions about where the market is going and the truth is, I have no idea how this will play out. There really is no history to use as a guide. My suspicion is that things will remain quite unsettled and difficult until a vaccine is developed. If and when that occurs, I can see a recovery beginning at that point.

So many thoughts and questions have crossed my mind over the past month. Here are a few to ponder:

• How will showings work both near and short term? Will doors have to be left open in advance so no one has to touch anything? Can only 1 or 2 people tour at a time while others wait in the lobby? Will elevator access be limited? Will it be okay to pass out floorplans and marketing folders to prospects or do these now need to be emailed in advance? Should we just do guided video tours on Skype indefinitely?

• One trivial positive of this experience is that it could lead to the end of the handshake. Will something else replace it? I am not into the elbow bump and fist bumps still require hand contact. Will we bow? Flash the peace sign? Wave? Point? Nothing at all? One thing we all can agree on is no kissing on the cheek:

• I completely understand the need for facemasks, but what will the etiquette be? Do these get removed once you enter the building and establish proper distancing? When walking from one building to the next on tours, will it be possible to talk with clients or too difficult to hear one another? Will I continuously bump into people and things when my glasses inevitably fog up?

• Will hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes become a standard item in every lobby? Will security guards take your temperature before letting you inside? Will everyone who looks at space get a free bottle of hand sanitizer and a face mask with the building logo plastered on it?

• Will people be hesitant to enter an elevator with more than 2 people? Will people start using the stairs more frequently?

• How will office layouts be impacted? Will tenants need to downsize for economic reasons or end up needing more square footage to accomplish social distancing? Will workstations have to be reconfigured and will it be economically feasible to completely change these configurations in the middle of a lease? Is open space a thing of the past? Is benching dead? Will private offices make a comeback? Will wider corridors be necessary?

• Will firms need to divide their staff into “Team A” and “Team B” where A works in the office one week while B works at home, then vice-versa?

• What will the psychological effect on an office be when an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and everyone has to start working from home again? Hypothetically, what if a broker schedules a multi-building tour and the prospect tests positive for COVID-19? Will all of the building agents be out of commission for the next 2 weeks in quarantine?

• Will a building be tagged as undesirable if a case is diagnosed? Will buildings with medical clinics that do testing become stigmatized?

• How badly will this situation impact the office market and economy in general? Will this be a short-term hit followed by a strong comeback or will this cause permanent damage? What if so many firms have successfully mastered the art of working from home that they decide to make it a permanent part of their business? What if many of the laid off and furloughed workers are never rehired?

• Will suburban or neighborhood satellite offices become more popular to cut down on commutes?

• Will people be afraid to take public transit? If so, will this lead to more vehicular traffic and longer commutes? Will employees need to begin staggering hours as a result?

• How will coworking be impacted? Will the rate of default be so prevalent that it ultimately metamorphosizes into an amenity which buildings have to offer to land or retain tenants? Will the operators go away and simply become third party management agents for the facility?

• With the likely downturn in the market, how will real estate companies fare? Will there be an exodus of brokers leaving the industry? Will there be a consolidation of firms? Will the small shops be able to survive?

• Will the unsung heroes who have been keeping our buildings safe and clean finally be recognized for the fine and essential work they do?

• What new technology will result from COVID-19? Elevator buttons that do not have to be touched? Automatic door openers and closers? Advances in HVAC technology?

• Will furniture be constructed differently using materials that are more germ resistant? Will disposable desk pads become more common?

• Will tenants demand more cleaning and other services several times per day which cause operating expenses to increase? Will more staff be needed? Will the operating expense increases offset any rent reductions caused by the down market?

• Will buildings need to add onsite nurses like in schools? Will having an immediate care health clinic become as desirable of an amenity as a Starbucks in the building?

• Speaking of amenities, will anyone be utilizing fitness centers, take a building yoga class or sit in a collaborative lobby area, at least for a while?

There is a lot to digest. I will not even attempt to speculate how it ultimately will play out, but I do look forward to commencing whatever our new routine will be so I can find out. Until then, keep the faith and stay well.