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Remembering Chicago’s Fallen on September 11, 2001

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The following tributes were compiled from the individuals’ obituaries, articles, statements from friends and family, and biographies sourced from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We recognize that these are mere glimpses of these individuals’ lives, and that the full scope of each person’s life and legacy can never be contained within a few brief paragraphs. We encourage you to visit the links at the bottom of this page to learn more. We have also included a list of resources for those struggling with grief and loss. To share your own story, please email Amanda at Whether reading this transcript or listening to the podcast episode, please take care, as this may be triggering for some readers and listeners.

Kathy Bantis, 44. Kathy was among the 295 Marsh & McLennan employees who perished in the World Trade Center attacks. Having moved to Seattle in 1993, Kathy was known for her nurturing spirit and had formed deep bonds with her friends, akin to sisterhood. Despite relocating to Chicago in 1999, the distance did little to dilute the close ties she had with her friends; they stayed connected through visits and frequent calls. Kathy was in New York on business, and scouting new homes for an upcoming job promotion, when she was tragically present in the first tower during the attack. Those who remember Kathy reflect on her with mixed emotions, sometimes joy and other times deep sorrow. The impact of her loss has inspired them to cherish relationships more, showing affection openly and making conscious efforts to reach out to loved ones. The aftermath of September 11 may have momentarily paralyzed them with hatred, but love propels them forward.

Jeffrey Collman, 42. A flight attendant hailing from Yorkville IL, Jeffrey was on American Flight 11 when it crashed into the World Trade Center. Typically, Jeffrey worked the Boston-to-San Francisco route, allowing him to commute conveniently to his residence in Navato, California and connect two cities he loved. The reason for his presence on Flight 11 was unforeseen; he opted for an extra shift so he could take time off for his 42nd birthday celebration on September 28. For Jeffrey, travel was pure joy. His journey to becoming a flight attendant was a testament to his determination; after a rejection from United Airlines, he got accepted by American Airlines on his second application. Aside from his love for flying, Jeffrey was an avid tennis enthusiast, even attending the U.S. Open the week before the tragedy.

His partner, Keith Bradkowski, received an unexpected phone call from Jeff the night before the tragedy. On the call, Jeff conveyed his deep love for Keith and eagerly anticipated his return home later that week. That brief conversation, lasting merely three minutes, was the last time they spoke.

The aftermath of the tragedy propelled Bradkowski to lobby for LGBTQ rights, driven by challenges he faced over inheritance rights as a registered domestic partner. With fervor and unwavering determination, he championed California Assembly Bill 2216, which eventually granted these rights to domestic partners. Bradkowski’s advocacy efforts further led to a policy change by American Airlines regarding compensation and benefits to domestic partners of deceased employees.

Collman’s legacy continues through the book, “Jeff’s Way,” published in 2007. It outlines his journey of resilience and strength, especially after a turbulent childhood marked by his mother’s abandonment and a stint in foster care. Despite his tumultuous past, Collman remained an emblem of positivity, ensuring he and Bradkowski never ended a day with lingering anger.

Their relationship was beautifully encapsulated by the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler, a melody that resonates with Bradkowski to this day. Two decades later, he finally penned a heartfelt letter to Midler, expressing gratitude for the song that continuously brings solace and keeps Collman’s spirit alive.

Bradkowski frequently revisits a cherished letter from Collman, penned on their decade-long anniversary. The words serve as a poignant reminder of their undying bond: “I love you truly, Keith Alan Bradkowski…know how much you mean to me now and always.”

Andrea Haberman, 25. Andrea experienced her inaugural business journey to her New York office. In her parents’ Wisconsin residence, a drawer preserved Andrea’s distressed wallet, a partially fused cell phone, her ID, credit cards, checkbook, and house keys, for nearly six years. Time had corroded her eyeglass rims; the lenses nowhere in sight. These common possessions stand as silent testimonials to a life tragically truncated on September 11, 2001, when a commandeered plane hit the World Trade Center’s north tower. On the cusp of matrimony with her college beloved, Andrea was in New York City for the first time, representing the brokerage firm Carr Futures. That fateful morning, she began her day early for work meetings and was conversing with her Chicago office when disaster struck. The remnants of her belongings, still carrying the acrid scent of the tragedy, bring waves of grief to her family. To find solace, they donated these items to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.



Vanessa Kolpak, 21. A bright young woman from Lincolnwood, Vanessa was in service for an investment firm stationed in the South Tower of the WTC. The day’s horrors began, and she contacted her mother to assure her safety, only to face the subsequent tower impact. Vanessa’s magnanimous spirit was marked by generosity, laughter, and an unwavering support for others. She illuminated paths with her intellect and ardor for knowledge, enriching the lives of those fortunate enough to know her. With her early education in Chicago, Vanessa graduated with high honors from Georgetown University, majoring in economics and minoring in philosophy and theatre. Just three weeks before 9/11, she commenced her role as a financial researcher at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Her talents extended beyond academia; she was an accomplished violinist, debater, golfer, and a recognized scholar. To honor Vanessa, a teddy bear, crafted from the dress she donned for her job interview, sits in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, adorned with a teal ribbon bearing the words: “Love, Vanessa.”


Suzanne Kondratenko, 27. An alumna of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, Suzanne was on the 92nd floor of the WTC’s South Tower, serving as a consultant for the Chicago-based Aon Corporation. As she descended the stairs, she paused on the 78th floor to assist a woman struggling to breathe, sacrificing her possible escape. Her acts of selflessness were remembered in memorial services in Chicago and at Sacred Heart.

Suzanne’s legacy at the Academy of the Sacred Heart is palpable. A dynamic individual, she served as student body president and always left an indelible mark with her vibrancy. In 2009, the academy named its infant classroom “Suzanne’s Nest” in her memory, a gesture that the Kondratenko family deeply cherishes. Eric Kondratenko, Suzanne’s father, recalls how Suzanne lived life fully and passionately, participating actively in her community. Suzanne’s connection with the academy is profound, with Patricia Kondratenko, Suzanne’s mother, emphasizing that her daughter’s spirit endures within the academy’s walls.


Darya Lin, 32. Raised during Iran’s turbulent times and acquainted with adversity from a young age, Darya showcased her brave heart on September 11. As a senior manager with Keane Consulting Group, Darya chose to stay behind on the 78th floor, attempting to aid a pregnant client while her colleagues sought safety. Darya had a profound awareness of life’s fragility, once leaving a note in a borrowed shoe, aware that it might be a way to identify her should something happen. Having migrated from Iran to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at 11, Darya’s adult life was filled with travels and explorations. Her mother fondly remembers her thoughtful letters written in Persian, expressing gratitude. Darya and Suzanne were together in their final moments.

Both Suzanne and Darya exemplify the essence of selflessness, bravery, and the spirit of living life to its fullest. Their memories serve as lasting reminders of the deep imprints one can leave on the world.

Jeff Mladenik, 43. The Hinsdale native tragically perished on Flight 11. A dedicated leader in the realm of Internet publishing, Mr. Mladenik held the position of interim chief executive officer at eLogic in Los Angeles. But beyond his professional achievements, he was deeply rooted in faith, serving as an associate pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook, where he engaged in meaningful discussions about spirituality in daily life. His impact on those around him was profound. Bill Cirignani, a church member and friend, spoke of Mr. Mladenik’s infectious passion for God, which inspired and rekindled his own faith.

Jeffrey’s life was also marked by his deep devotion to his family. He left behind his wife, Suzanne, two daughters—Kelly and Grace, two sons—Joshua and Daniel, and a baby girl, Hannah, in China whom they were in the process of adopting.

Amidst his demanding work schedule, Jeffrey Mladenik consistently found solace in the scriptures. Friends recall that he often spent his frequent long-haul flights between Boston and Los Angeles engrossed in the Bible. A member of his church said he believes that during the tragic hijacking of Flight 11, Jeff would have had his Bible open, offering solace and prayers to his fellow passengers.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Murphy, 38. Commander Murphy met his tragic end alongside 183 others in the terrorist attack when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. A product of Marian Catholic High School’s 1981 graduating class, Lt. Cmdr. Murphy hailed from Flossmoor, Illinois. He furthered his education with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Mississippi in 1986. At the time of the attack, he was on a brief, two-week Reserve assignment at the Navy Command Center.

His ties to the University of Mississippi ran deep. Glen Murphy, a former teammate from the Ole Miss Rugby Club, remains committed to ensuring that Patrick’s memory is not forgotten. When the Rugby Club marked its 40th anniversary, they paid tribute to Patrick and others from their ranks who have passed.

The Pentagon Memorial Website houses a heartfelt tribute to Lt. Cmdr. Murphy, describing him as a deeply committed individual, placing paramount importance on family, God, and nation. His sacrifice has left an indelible mark on many, from family members to fellow countrymen, who pray for his peaceful repose.

Back in his hometown, his memory is etched onto the streetscape. A street sign in Chicago Heights, where Patrick spent his early years, now reads: “Patrick Murphy Way, September 11, 2001.”

Christine Olender, 39. Christine was a native of Chicago with a deep-rooted passion for fashion. From an early age, she was immersed in the fashion world through her parents’ Northwest Side clothing store, Cragin-Hanson. Though she initially attended Mundelein College, her aspirations led her to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. After graduating, Christine chose to remain in New York, gradually transitioning from fashion to hospitality.

For half a decade, she held the role of assistant general manager at Windows on the World, a prestigious restaurant located on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower. In her role, Christine brought a unique blend of creativity and dedication, supervising the morning staff and bringing a tasteful eye to the remodeling of dining spaces. The management, as well as her colleagues, consistently praised her broad knowledge across departments and her unwavering sunny demeanor, making her an invaluable asset to the establishment.

Though she embraced the vibrant life New York offered, Christine never lost her connection to her family in Chicago. Regular surprise visits and frequent phone calls were a testament to her dedication to her family, especially her mother, Stella. The tragic events of September 11th meant that the familiar light on Stella’s answering machine indicating a message from Christine would never blink again. Struggling with the weight of the tragedy, Stella and her son traveled to New York for a memorial service, hoping to find some semblance of closure, even without the discovery of her daughter’s remains.

Christine’s vibrant spirit shone bright in her personal life too. Born on the Fourth of July, she was often referred to as a “little firecracker” by her mother. Yet, as much as the date symbolized celebration, it also highlighted a sense of solitude for her. New York City typically went silent on this day, prompting Christine and her friend, Melissa Trumbull, who shared the same birthday, to create their own traditions. They’d order a strawberry shortcake, pair it with a bottle of champagne from Windows on the World, and celebrate their day together.

Remembered for her practicality (except, apparently, when it came to shoes), Christine’s legacy is one of passion, dedication, and an effervescent spirit that touched everyone she knew.

Lt. Darin Pontell, 26. Arlington Heights native Lieutenant Pontell met a tragic end during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, just as he was concluding his 12-hour duty in the intelligence department. His wife, Devora, fondly remembered him as a beacon of positivity, whose generosity and warmth resonated with all who knew him. Committed to his country, Darin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1998 and was soon designated as an intelligence officer. His exemplary service included deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf aboard the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower, during which he provided crucial intelligence for critical missions. His dedication was recognized with multiple medals, including a posthumous Purple Heart.


Robert Rasmussen, 42. The Hinsdale resident and dedicated financial consultant tragically met his end in the South Tower of the WTC. Robert’s illustrious career spanned from M.A. Mortenson Construction to Coopers & Lybrand and finally, Vestek in 1996. Survived by his wife, three young children, mother Elizabeth, siblings, and a host of relatives, Robert’s loss is deeply felt. His last moments were witnessed by a survivor, whose testimony provided a modicum of closure to his family. Memorials to honor his memory were held in Hawley, MN, and Hinsdale.



Susan Sauer, 49. A Chicago resident and managing director at Marsh Inc., Susan was known not only for her dedication to her profession but also for her deep passion for travel. Determined and goal-oriented, she aimed to visit 50 countries before her 50th birthday and was just two countries short of reaching that milestone. Susan’s adventurous spirit had her planning a unique trip, including a cooking school in Italy and quick stops in Hungary and Wales to achieve her goal. Although questions arose about the technicality of her count, her previous visit to Czechoslovakia lent weight to her claim.

Beyond her work and love for travel, Susan was an ardent golfer, influenced by one of her five cherished nephews who had secured a golf scholarship. Her other pursuits included hiking, needlepoint, and a recent stint at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley. Pictures in her Chicago office revealed her juxtaposed against mountainous terrains, reflecting her love for nature.

A graduate of Wheaton Central High School and Illinois State University, Susan joined Marsh in 1992 and was remembered by colleagues, like Christopher Long, for her constant smile and unwavering positivity. On the fateful day of September 11, while attending a meeting at the World Trade Center, Susan became one of the many Marsh and McLennan employees who tragically went missing. Her absence left a void in the lives of those she touched, both personally and professionally.

Navy Cmdr. Dan F. Shanower, 40. Commander Shanower was a dedicated servant of the nation and native of Naperville, Illinois,who tragically lost his life in the Pentagon. Born on February 7, 1961, he showcased his leadership and spirit from an early age, playing for Naperville Central High School’s varsity soccer team before graduating in 1979. He furthered his education at Carroll College, earning a Bachelor’s in Political Science and interning for Senator Charles Percy in Washington.

His commendable naval journey began with a commission as an Ensign in 1985. Throughout his illustrious career, CDR Shanower held multiple critical positions, from serving on the U.S.S. Midway to working as a Foreign Service Officer in the Philippines and eventually rising to the rank of Commander in December 2000. His last assignment was in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC, where he provided essential intelligence support to the Navy Secretariat and other key officials.

Throughout his career, CDR Shanower was a recipient of numerous accolades, including the Defense Meritorious Service Award, Navy Commendation Medals, and the Purple Heart. His dedication and service to the country were further acknowledged posthumously by his alma mater, Carroll College, and his high school.

But beyond his remarkable professional achievements, those who knew Dan cherished his warm smile, exceptional sense of humor, and his profound love for the sea, exploration, and writing. His penned reflections, including an emotional piece titled “Freedom Isn’t Free,” illuminated the sacrifices made by military personnel and their belief in a cause greater than themselves.

Leaving behind a legacy of honor, bravery, and commitment, CDR Shanower is survived by his parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. He was laid to rest with solemn honors at Arlington National Cemetery on October 1, 2001.

Mari-Rae Sopper, 35. A lawyer from Washington, D.C., and a native of Palatine, met a tragic end on September 11, 2001, aboard Flight 77, bound for Los Angeles. Born on June 19, 1966, she was setting forth to embrace a dream role as the head coach of the women’s gymnastics team at the University of California Santa Barbara. However, she never arrived; terrorists hijacked her flight, and it crashed into the Pentagon, claiming the lives of 64 individuals on board, as well as 125 in the Pentagon itself.

A star gymnast since her youth, Mari-Rae excelled at Fremd High School in Palatine and was awarded Fremd’s Athlete of the Year in 1984. Her talent ran in the family, with her sister, Tammy, also achieving state honors in the sport. Mari-Rae’s gymnastics journey took her to Iowa State University and later, while pursuing further education and her legal career, she coached at the Colorado Gymnastics Institute and other establishments. Remarkably, she also served at the Pentagon during a stint as a lieutenant in the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, later joining the Supreme Court Bar in Washington, D.C. Her deep passion for gymnastics persisted; she assisted the U.S. Naval Academy women’s gymnastics team and coached at George Washington University.

Before accepting her dream role at Santa Barbara, Mari-Rae practiced law in Washington, D.C. Despite knowing about the program’s imminent closure at UC Santa Barbara and the significant pay cut involved, her dedication to gymnastics prevailed.

Posthumously, she has been honored with various awards and memorials, both in gymnastics and in remembrance of the tragic events of 9/11. The “Mari-Rae Sopper Gymnastics Memorial Fund”, established by her mother, has aided struggling gymnastics programs, and she’s commemorated at events and venues, including the annual “Mari-Rae Sopper Invitational” and the “Mari-Rae Sopper Gymnastics Show”. Additionally, her legacy is etched in memorials across the U.S., such as the National September 11 Memorial in New York and the Pentagon’s light bench memorials.

Mari-Rae’s final resting place is the Arlington National Cemetery, where her name, along with other victims, is inscribed on a dedicated memorial.

Mary Lenz Wieman, 43. The marketing executive at Aon Corp. was working on one of the South Tower’s upper floors when the building was attacked. Her children, Alison and Chris, were at school, and her husband, Marc, was also in Manhattan but managed to escape on foot. The chilling aftermath saw Alison and Chris return home without their mother’s welcoming presence.

Marc, trying to shield the young ones from the harrowing truth, initially told them that their mother might be absent for a few days due to an incident. However, the gravity of the situation was clear to Alison, even at her young age. Chris, who first heard of the attacks at school, clung to the hope that their mother would emerge safe. But as the days turned to weeks, hope began to wane, and the grim reality set in. A haunting token of Mary’s presence that day—a class ring—was eventually found amid the wreckage.

In the aftermath, Rockville Centre’s close-knit community’s support was a bittersweet salve to the family’s wounds. While the town’s compassion was comforting, the perpetual condolences became a poignant reminder of their loss. For Alison, attending Villanova University provided a reprieve, a place where not everyone knew her story.

Years have passed, but Mary’s memory remains alive in her children’s hearts. They cherish memories of her, from family trips to Disney to her vibrant personality that always sought joy and inclusivity. As the 20th anniversary of that fateful day approached, the siblings expressed that the number of years matters little; the void left by their mother’s absence remains deep and unyielding. As Alison prepares for her wedding, the bittersweet realization dawns that she has now lived most of her life without her mother’s guidance and warmth.

As we reflect upon the events of September 11, it is vital to remember that beyond the shadow of that fateful day lies the radiant light of countless lives—lives filled with laughter, love, dreams, and triumphs. These were individuals who touched the hearts of many, who left behind legacies of joy, and who contributed to the tapestry of our shared human experience. While the weight of the tragedy will always linger, let us shift our focus to celebrate the vibrant lives they led, cherishing the moments they shared and the memories they created. In doing so, we not only honor their existence but also ensure that their spirits continue to inspire and uplift us, reminding us of the boundless capacity of the human heart to love, persevere, and hope.

A list of sources for this article, as well as resources for those struggling with grief, are located below.


The Center for Grief Recovery & Therapeutic Services – This organization offers specialized counseling services to help individuals cope with various forms of grief.

Willow House – A nonprofit focused on supporting grieving children, families, schools, and communities through various support services.

Chicago Survivors: This is a local grief and support group for those who have been affected by violence. They primarily service families who have lost loved ones to gang-based crime, but they offer a plethora of resources for anyone struggling to deal with a tragic event.

Sources for this episode include:,_LT,_USN


Unearthing the Forgotten History of Chicago’s Oldest Buildings

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Like many others, I have vivid memories of sitting in my high school history classes, slumping in my chair and using my textbook as a pillow. Old stuff didn’t matter to me back then. My grandparents would reminisce about the good ol’ days and scorn the rapidly-evolving technologies which they never seemed to catch onto. But later on in life, after they had passed away, the only pieces of them that remained were the yellowed pages of books they’d once read, newspapers that once lay sprawled across their ancient breakfast table, aging film from cameras that once captured their love and lives in black and white. As I palmed through these tactile memories, I rediscovered a childlike fascination with the past. Everything obsolete that was once innovative, everything decayed that was once pristine. Rare remnants from ancestors, the only surviving pieces from generations of hardship and survival. I consider myself incredibly lucky that my entire job is to traverse relic after relic of downtown Chicago, investigating the stories that have long been forgotten. The quote-unquote “flight to quality” has encouraged a surface-level thirst for what’s shiny and new, but under the iceberg of Chicago’s architecture lays an endless ocean of history. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite stories from our portfolio of buildings. 

100 N LaSalle

100 N LaSalle is a building unlike any other. Constructed in 1927 by Anker Sverre Graven and Arthur Guy Mayger, this architectural gem was formerly known as The Lawyers Building. In its infancy, 100 North played host to the Cook County Real Estate Board, offering proximate access to City Hall and the Chicago Title and Trust Building. It was constructed from brick with a detailed terra cotta trim, and the lobby was treated with imported marble.

The Lawyers Building was designed to replace the Merchant’s building, which had been built in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Construction broke records when it was determined that the building was erected in less time than any other with equal tonnage and height in the city of Chicago.

In 1932, a 99-year lease was signed to the Reywal Building Corporation in order to keep, quote, “the battalion of sharpshooters, chiselers, and other racketeers who flock around the building,” at bay. Reywal, of course, is Lawyer spelled backward.

Today, 100 North LaSalle has taken on a new life, with renovations to almost every facet of the building. A stunning new lobby with modern finishes, a penthouse suite slated to host an event space, refurbished common corridors, and massive glass walls have turned the Lawyers Building into a highly desirable space where small to midsize companies can enjoy all that the Central Loop has to offer.

819 S Wabash

The Loftrium at 819 S Wabash stands tall and proud in the former Film Row of Chicago, where major movie producers used to house their operations during the Golden Age of cinema. But its exquisite, distinctive appearance belies its rich and storied history, comprising of over a century of drama, betrayal, mystery, hubris, and the pursuit and failure of The American Dream.The story begins with a familiar Chicagoland namesake:

In the mid 1800s, 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 in 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 latter 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.

40 N Wells

The Washington Block sits quietly and modestly on the corner of Washington and Wells (formerly 5th Avenue). Oft-overlooked in favor of more visually striking skyscrapers, 40 N Wells is rich with history. Its walls have seen a wealth of tragedy and triumph since its construction in 1873. The reconstruction boom sought to begin healing the wounds left by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. It was commissioned by Barbara Cure and John P Olinger of Olinger & Ballard, who hoped that The Washington Block would help to extend the Loop’s business district further west.

Designed by the Baumann cousins, the building became the first signifacnt example of an isolated pier foundation, which was a major advance in developing adequate stable foundations for the city’s infamously compressible soil. Multiple ornate textured surfaces, punch-open windows, carved hoods, and a timely Victorian influence characterized the internal and external aesthetic of the building. An optimistic report shortly following the building’s construction stated that “this building, with those occupying the other three corners, (all of which are very beautiful,) combines to form a series of the most attractive business corners on the South Side of the Chicago River, and virtually does away with all rumors regarding the low value of business property in the location named. It probably has enhanced the price of real estate at least 25 percent within the past six months, and no doubt this figure will be doubled within the next twelve months.”

Unfortunately, such optimism was misplaced. In the late 1800s, 4-5 story skyscrapers fell out of favor, and the construction of the El line further detracted from interest. Nearly all buildings with similar construction were demolished by the early 1900s for later replacement by 10+ story buildings, including all of the Baumanns’ buildings… except one.

The Washington Block survived by sheer luck due to its isolated location at the time. It flew under the radar for decades, which made it a highly desirable location for speakeasies and surreptitious gambling sites. In the 1920s and 30s, The Washington Block saw multiple police raids and dozens of arrests, particularly in t he wake of the 1919 Black Sox scandal which uncovered a massive gambling scheme that slithered through Chicago’s dark underbelly. Gambling and prohibition raids plagued the Central Loop, with business-owners and agents facing arrest nearly every day at 40 North Wells. Were that not enough, a 1926 investigation revealed a massive health scam on the part of a medical tenant who prescribed unnecessary procedures and expensive snake oil drugs to unsuspecting patients seeking help for, well, “lost manhood” issues. The quack doctor lost his license, but not before draining many innocent patients of their time, money, and self-esteem.In the 1950s, the building faced yet another scandal: its contemporary remodeling removed many of the historically significant finishes, shearing off the original metal facings, stonework, and cresting, replacing nearly all of the interior features on the ground floor except for the original spiral staircase which can be admired even today. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that developers began reforming the original tooling and keystones that made The Washington Block so attractive.

In 1997, the building was designated a Chicago landmark, and signified as “Red” by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. A red designation is only awarded to structures that are architecturally or historically significant in the context of the City, the State of Illinois, or the country. A red designation is a major honor, and signifies long-awaited recognition for a building that had been overlooked and under-appreciated, abused and ignored, for over a century.

Today, The Washington Block is a distinguished and distinctive home for small-to-midsized tenants, boasting stunning hardwood floors, 12-foot ceilings, and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the hustle and bustle of the city. 

218 S Wabash

The tale of 218 S Wabash begins in 1899. A devastating fire caused by a freak accident turns the original McClurg Building into unrecognizable ruins, which then froze over in the subzero temperatures, making restoration efforts impossible. Hundreds of rare and priceless books from the first-floor bookstore are destroyed beyond repair. The remains of the building are torn down and the new McClurg building, the one we know and love today, is constructed. In 1926, scandal strikes. Two families, led by their respective patriarchs, conspire to steal from the tenants at 218 S Wabash. Fred Pauli and Joseph Kelly, each of whom were hired maintenance staff at the building, recruited their wives and children to assist in the organized theft of merchandise from the building’s wholesale jeweler tenant. They are held on what would be nearly $50,000 bond and charged.

In 1978, During a city council meeting to discuss the induction of landmark status to several buildings, including 218 S Wabash, multiple city officials walked out in protest of how such “ineffective, cumbersome” processes were handled. The hearing for landmark designation of the McClurg building is delayed when the building’s attorney requests more time to gather witnesses to speak against landmark designation.

In 1999, The McClurg Building is among multiple terra cotta- laden buildings in Chicago that are flagged as potentially dangerous to pedestrians after multiple incidents of falling structures peeling off of skyscrapers. Several passers-by are injured as a result of improper maintenance to the buildings, causing concern not only for the people of Chicago, but also for the future of these inherently delicate landmarks.

The problems continued in 2007 when 3 people are injured in a series of fires at 218 S Wabash and 228 S Wabash, which are investigated as possible cases of arson. The fires are contained, but temporarily displaced the city’s most acclaimed dance troupe, the Hubbard Street Dance Company.

In 2021, The McClurg Building’s sister, 228 S Wabash, is severely damaged after city staple Central Camera is destroyed and looted, suffering at total loss. Smoke damage permeates the Wabash Trio, but 218 S Wabash survives the ordeal mostly unharmed. Today, the beloved building has undergone a series of renovations, including a new lobby, restoration of the original flooring, upgraded ceilings, new light fixtures, and improved layouts. 218 S Wabash is revered by the Tribune as, quote, “a beautifully proportioned, early Chicago School commercial office structure … with very simple but elegantly scaled ornament.” 

Finally, we’d like to share a few shorter stories:

850 S Wabash

In the 1960s, this South Loop building played host to a local committee that planned and protected anti-war and Black liberation  demonstrations, advocating for peace during a turbulent time in the country’s history. Looking at it now, you would never guess that this area was once used as cheap housing for people needing a temporary shelter that wouldn’t ask many questions. But several decades and $40 million later, luxury apartment leases at the building were literally flying off the shelves. Additionally, the hotel portion was once the home of Charles J. Glover, a universally beloved lifetime bachelor who spent his post-WWII retirement years volunteering at local hospitals to provide cheer and companionship to recovering veterans and sick patients. 850 S Wabash isn’t just a dramatically-different office building with high ceilings and prime access to Chicago’s best dining and convenient transportation. It’s also an unofficial landmark for a slew of positive, joyful events from its modest pre-development days.

230 W Huron

Although this River North brick and timber loft has become an attractive hub for small tech tenants and high-end retailers, its early days bore perhaps one of the most quintessential Chicagoan inventions ever created: the dual-purpose hot dog and bun warmer machine, patented by The Ernest Reich Company. The company also filed several other patents for appliances you may use every day: the Chop-O-Matic food chopper, the Tearless Mincer, and the Double Sifter. Some say that when you take a tour of 230 W Huron, your stomach will growl in homage to Mr. Reich’s culinary genius. 

Nonprofit Shoutout

If any of these stories resonated with you, we’d love to take you on a tour so you can see for yourself just how special these buildings are. We also encourage you to contribute to Preservation Chicago, the only nonprofit in the city dedicated to preserving and protecting Chicago’s architectural heritage through outreach, education, and partnership. By donating and volunteering with Preservation Chicago, you can help strengthen the foundation of this city and uphold its centuries-old legacy. Check out their website and learn more by clicking here.

How to be Disabled in Chicago

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It is a uniquely difficult experience to watch your own body devolve from something you previously perceived as strong and resilient to something that barely passes for functioning. The first few doctors just want to cut you open, and several of them do, subjecting your already-aching body to a series of invasive and painful procedures. In one instance, the doctor who performs such a procedure ghosts you as soon as he receives your copay. Putting aside all the complexities of finding a provider who accepts your insurance, believes that you’re suffering, and puts forth a genuine plan of action, you find you’re struggling just to get through the day. You make the decision to work from home for awhile, and soon you realize that it is almost impossible to be a broker when you yourself are broken. 

We would all like to believe that Chicago is a progressive utopia of social awareness and justice. We’d like to believe that we’ve come a long way in respect to accessibility. The truth is that most places in the world, and specifically in Chicago, are a nightmare for people with physical disabilities. The physical and emotional toll of living and working in Chicago whilst battling a chronic, crippling condition is enormous, and that’s to say nothing of the financial burden. The City offers handicap services such as refueling assistance and free mobility devices, but not only does the approval process take weeks if not months, but those services are limited to six hours per week and assessed on an individual basis. During that process you’re compelled to share the intimate details of your disability and defend the thesis of your suffering to convince the assessor to approve your application for assistance. For months, I had been told that I was too young to be this sick, and that I must be faking it for attention. Instead of subjecting myself to another gaslighting session, I opted to try to find my own help. $85 for pickup and drop-off wash-and-fold laundry service. $100 for weekly meal delivery. $2,500 for a motorized wheelchair, or $150 for a bare-bones manual one. Thousands of dollars in medical bills. My school doesn’t offer any kind of assistance to get to and from class, and the nearest parking garage is two blocks away, so my only option is to spend hundreds of dollars on Uber rides which can pick me up and drop me off directly in front of the entrance. And thousands of dollars in missed opportunities due to being too unwell to handle showings at work. 

When you are finally able to secure a wheelchair, you find you can’t maneuver it around your apartment. The threshold of every door is lifted just enough to make it impossible to push yourself over it without losing purchase, and every hallway is just a bit too tight of a squeeze. The gaps in the elevator trap your wheels so you nearly somersault out of your chair. The walkway from your lobby to the sidewalk is all stairs – no ramp, no handrail – and the only access to your garage is via a steep driveway covered in cracks and various detritus that sticks to your wheels and gets tracked back into your apartment. Out in the world, wheelchair ramps are few and far between. The ones that do exist are in abysmal condition. Most buildings lack a handicap button on the door, so you have to wait until someone takes pity on you and lets you in, or, like me, you McGyver your cane into a makeshift claw and pull the door open that way. Sidewalks are a mess of shattered concrete that resembles a stairmaster, with slabs sticking out every which way. More than once you have to turn around and find alternate routes because a tree is situated in the middle of the walkway, or a mailbox has cut your available rolling space in half. On the days you’re able to recruit a friend to take you outside and enjoy the sunshine, you narrowly escape several catastrophic injuries just getting to the lakefront bike trail, and that’s to say nothing of actually rolling along that trail. When you arrive back home, your apartment’s only elevator is being repaired, so you sit in your lobby staring daggers into the repairman’s back, telepathically willing him to work quickly so you can get upstairs and get back in bed. I signed my apartment lease before any of my health problems reared their ugly heads, so accessibility didn’t even occur to me at the time. Neither I nor any of my friends or family expected it to be so hard for me to get to and from work, let alone in and out of my apartment.  

14% of Chicagoans report having some kind of disability, with most of those requiring some kind of assistive device. Why, then, is accessibility such an afterthought? In many buildings, installing a wheelchair ramp or lift can cost upwards of $100,000, and installing just one handicap-accessible door can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000. That’s to say nothing of the cost to repair and replace broken sidewalk slabs, which, let’s be honest, has never been a city priority. Disabilities can be incredibly isolating if for no other reason than it’s just easier to stay home rather than try to navigate the world from a seated position. Most people perceive the need to be so small and niche that it’s not worth the expense of implementing accommodations, or they assume that the disabled population consists only of those who are well past retirement age, so it’s a waste of time and effort to consider accessible upgrades in office spaces. They don’t see thousands of wheelchair-bound or cane-wielding businesspeople out and about, so they assume they don’t exist in significant numbers. But in reality, 10% of Chicagoans aged 35 to 64 report having a disability, and many of those Chicagoans grapple with the reality every day that the world is not designed to accommodate them. So instead, like me, they stay home. 

The problem is self-perpetuating. Push it under the rug, table it for another time, we’ll get to it when we can justify the cost. The solution is universal design, with all kinds of people in mind, including those who require a little extra help to get around. Lower call buttons on elevators. Small, $50 ramps installed on all door thresholds. Wider hallways, elevators, and doors. Modernized, adaptable turnstiles. Abundant seating. Handrails on all stairways. Designated handicap street parking. Automatic handicap door openers. Rugs or flooring with a little bit of traction to minimize slip-and-fall risk. Adjustable lighting with lower light switches. Or, at the very least, onsite management to assist tenants who unexpectedly experience physical hardship and require accessibility upgrades. 

Right now is the perfect time to reassess the tenant experience. Landlords and owners are willing to create tenant lounges, install new lighting and flooring, invest in elaborate decor and modern furniture, glass walls, frosted windows, custom murals, and high-tech digital directories. Each of those can cost far more than a few small changes to make a building more accessible to tenants and visitors. While everyone is downsizing and consolidating, and tenants have their pick of the litter when it comes to office space, I implore you all to consider this: a million dollars in renovations and redecoration means absolutely nothing if your tenants can’t access their office. It is worth your time and money to cater to the 10% of Chicagoans who otherwise couldn’t possibly consider your building. Today, I challenge you to sit in your rolling desk chair and attempt to get yourself to the closest bus stop without getting up. Do that just once, remembering that I, too, believed I would never need to worry about overcoming such a challenge, and then look me in the eye and tell me your building is optimized for your tenants. Go ahead, I dare you. 

In the spirit of practicing what I preach, I’d like to shout out Access Living of Chicago, which is the leading nonprofit for disabled civil rights. Access Living provides advocacy, training, support, and education for individuals with disabilities and their families, as well as for employers who seek to improve their company’s accessibility initiatives. The organization’s website features a comprehensive guide to the CTA’s accessibility options, including free ride permits, paratransit resources, and other helpful information – most of which is nonexistent or extremely difficult to find on the City of Chicago’s website. Similarly, Devices 4 the Disabled, that’s with the number 4, accepts donations of mobility equipment, including walkers, wheelchairs, lifts, crutches, and scooters, each of which are given to individuals who otherwise could not afford them. 

Sources and Resources:


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. 

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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.