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I know this is supposed to be a real estate blog, but I must make an exception this month and pay tribute to an individual who was a huge part of my childhood, one Chester William “Chet” Coppock.

For those not aware, Chet was the self-proclaimed “Godfather of Sports Talk Radio” and there really is no disputing this fact, as he flat out invented this genre at a time it did not exist. After successful stints as the producer of the 1971 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks radio broadcast, sports anchor at WISH-TV in Indianapolis (where he proudly was voted as both the most and least popular broadcaster on local television) and lead national play-by-play commentator for the Roller Derby, Chet returned home in 1981 and became an icon in the Chicago sports scene. He established a heightened profile when hired as the sports director at NBC-5. After being fired there for “personality conflicts,” Chet transitioned over to WMAQ radio in 1983 and hosted Coppock on Sports, an in-depth, interview driven sports talk show. This was the first of its kind.

Chet hit the peak of his popularity when he moved Coppock on Sports over to the ever-popular Loop AM-1000 in 1988. His show was a who’s who of sports. If you were a big name, you just had to be a guest on Chet’s show. Supplementing his radio work was his starring role in WWF (before it was known as the WWE) events that frequently came to Chicago, as well as hosting shows with Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson. When the talk show ended in the mid-1990’s, Chet moved on to New York for a bit where he hosted the national NBA radio broadcast and did a live nightly television show. He eventually returned to Chicago and wound up his career by hosting Notre Dame radio broadcasts, doing work for the Blackhawks and writing several books.

After learning of Chet’s tragic and untimely death last week, it brought back a flood of memories. My friends and I listened to his radio show religiously and imitated him nonstop. Still do, to this day. So many of Chet’s patented lines became part of our regular vocabulary. Here are a few examples:

• You know you really made it when Chet referred to you by your full name: Michael Keller Ditka, Michael Jeffrey Jordan and of course, who could forget the General, Robert Montgomery Knight
• When you reached the pinnacle of your sport, such as winning a championship, you reached the top of the “big rock candy mountain”
• Everyone he interviewed was “his good friend” even if he barely knew you
• If you are the best in your field, you are the “creme-de-la-crème” and a top performance was “par excellence”
• Ready to go out and celebrate? Go out and “knock down some Drambuie”
• Whenever someone would call into his show, he would answer by saying “your dime, your dance floor”
• The Loop AM-1000 was a 50,000-watt radio station, or as Chet called it “the 50,000-watt blowtorch broadcasting over 38 states and Canada.” No one ever knew if this was true.

Chet was a master promoter and handsomely rewarded for it. Not only was he a spokesperson for Chevrolet, he would invite you regularly to visit Lawry’s Restaurant, home of the “spinning salad bowl” and Bigsby’s Sports Bar and Grill, where you can knock down the Michael Jeffrey Jordan 23-ounce steak.

He went through Diet Cokes like there was no tomorrow. You could often hear him cracking open several during a typical show (as well as occasionally munching on a sandwich). While blatantly eating dinner on air, he would toss out one of his patented lengthy questions which were often longer than the answers from his interviewees. To buy more time so he could finish up his meal, his follow up was always, “Can you amplify upon that?” That was code for, I need more time to finish up what I am doing behind the scenes.

Chet was the first to admit that he was a gimmick, but he was pure Chicago in every sense, from attending 68 consecutive Bears home openers to having legendary Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse as the godfather of his daughter. There are not many 6’6” men who could pull off walking around in a full-length fur coat, but Chet was the one. It so fit his personality. If there ever was a real-life example of Ron Burgundy, he was it.

A few years ago, while at the Greektown Walgreens in the West Loop, I saw Chet there literally right in front of me. I so badly wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much I loved and admired his work…and I completely froze and said nothing. Boy, do I regret that now.

Chet, where ever you may be, I hope you are on top of the Big Rock Candy Mountain in the sky sipping on a giant glass of Diet Coke and knocking down a Michael Jeffrey Jordan 23-ouncer. Thanks for the memories.

Your Reputation Precedes You

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Spring has arrived in Chicago and baseball season is now underway. As we look forward to another exciting campaign, an annual highlight for me is the opportunity to listen to renowned White Sox commentator Steve Stone and his expert analysis. One of his favorite refrains is to tell “all you young players out there watching at home” the proper way to fundamentally handle a situation. To borrow that mantra as it relates to commercial real estate, I would like to share some wisdom with all you young brokers out there.  Your reputation precedes you.  At the end of the day, it is all that you really have to go by in this business. Once it is trashed, good luck trying to succeed.

Common sense dictates that clients and fellow brokers prefer to work with individuals who are honest, hard-working, ethical and will follow through with promises. When you are regarded to have these traits, you will be amazed at how people tend to gravitate your way. Tenants, landlords and brokers alike will be inclined to try and do business with you whenever possible.  Referrals will follow on a regular basis and people will grow to respect you. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.

Conversely, once you acquire a reputation of being dishonest, deceptive, lazy and/or all about the commission, word will travel fast. The commercial real estate industry is relatively small and tight-knit.  It has a barber shop component to it where fellow brokers like to sit around and gossip from time-to-time. If you rub enough people the wrong way, it will eventually all catch up to you.  After all, you know what they say about karma.

Don’t get me wrong, this business can be really difficult sometimes.  Brokers work on commission and there are plenty of spells where deals are few and far between.  We all have to make a living and plenty of us have families to support. Hence, it can be awfully tempting to take the easy way out, step on some toes and hold back on sharing critical information in order to get a deal done.  In spite of it all, ethical behavior must always win out.  If you tell a lie, it will come back and bite you, usually twice as hard.  Businesses want to work with people who have their best interest in mind, not those who only care about the size of their commission.

Undoubtedly, there have been instances where I have cost myself money by being overly candid.  I could have easy told a white lie or kept some details to myself just to get a deal done. On other occasions, I could have easily pushed tenants towards longer-term leases for no other reason than to pad my pocketbook and probably gotten away with it. Still, I refuse to act this way.  I simply have too much respect for people and the extreme effort they put forth towards establishing a successful business. Without exception, the number one rule to live by in business is the Golden Rule.  Plus, the internal guilt I would feel (thanks, mom) would render me useless for days.

So, all you young brokers out there, I cannot urge you strongly enough to do learn this lesson early in your career and never forget it.  After all, you do not want to have people feeling like they need a shower after they have an encounter with you. Sure, you will strike out or commit an error from time-to-time, but in the long run, there will be plenty of home runs that you can build upon.

Oh, and one more thing. To a particular broker out there who might be reading this blog and wondering if it is being directed towards him or her, it sure is, buddy.


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So here we are nearing the end of February and this winter really seems to be dragging on, way more so than most. As I just start to get over my third cold in the last three months, I feel like I am usually seeing the light at the end of the tunnel by now, especially with spring training officially underway. Well, that theoretical tunnel is nowhere to be found.

Sure, Chicago winters are never a treat and I should be used to Mother Nature’s wrath by now after spending my entire life here, but this one seems particularly brutal. As I get older, I now understand why people I once mocked at a younger age choose to become Arizona or Florida snowbirds for the winter. The latest rendition of the polar vortex was excruciating and the continuous cycle of snow, ice, slush, freezing rain, wind chill warnings and winter weather advisories are just wearing me down.

Of course, it is more than the weather that has contributed to this long winter season. Consider some of the headlines making news over the past few weeks. On a national level, we have experienced an unnecessary government shut down, a seemingly never-ending investigation into Russian collusion, an alleged national emergency at the southern US border, a massive divide in our nation growing wider by the day and Amazon being spurned by New York (or vice versa) along with the realization that this entire Amazon HQ2 search was a gigantic waste of time and energy. In Chicago, we have witnessed another senseless mass shooting in Aurora causing loss of innocent lives, no let-up in the ridiculous amounts of shootings and crime around town, the apparently fraudulent saga of Jussie Smollett, a mess of a mayoral campaign with no clear front runner, corrupt aldermen being investigated by the FBI, and yet another lawsuit trying to stop what would be a transformation addition to Chicago in the Obama Presidential Center (didn’t we learn from the Lucas Museum debacle?). Last but not least, we cannot forget Sterling Bay’s battle to get the Lincoln Yards development approved amidst neighborhood backlash.

Do I dare even bring up the Chicago sports scene?  It will be a long while before I am over the Cody Parkey “double doink” debacle and these feelings were exasperated after watching the most uninspiring Super Bowl ever played. Now we have the Bulls being just good enough to fail in their “Dyin for Zion” pursuit and the Blackhawks alternating from being a candidate for the first pick in the draft to sneaking into the playoffs and likely losing in the first round.  Meanwhile, the Cubs are dealing with all of kinds of off the field distractions and as for the Sox, damn you, Manny Machado!

Are you still there? Have I depressed you enough yet? While it is so easy to let all of these things get you down, believe it or not, there is still some good out there to help us push through. For example, how about the group of good Samaritans who pooled their money together and put over 70 homeless people up in a hotel for all three nights of the polar vortex.  Then there are the relatively small, but still meaningful, acts of kindness like a group of people I witnessed running to assist a man at Ogilvie Transportation Center who tripped and fell and, in the process, dropped a gigantic box filled with Girl Scout cookies on the train tracks (all were successfully rescued, as it would be a tragedy to let a perfectly good box of Tagalongs go to waste). Next, there was a real estate broker I recently completed a deal with who donated 100% of his sizable commission to the not-for-profit group he represented. The funds were used to benefit a number of underprivileged children in their quest for a better education. These acts of kindness, no matter the size, still give me hope that all is not lost with the world. Will everything suddenly get better once temperatures start to rise and the sun begins to shine more frequently? Probably not, but at least our collective demeanors will be brighter. After all, there is no better city in America than Chicago in the summer (until we have our first 90-degree day and I start complaining again about the heat and humidity). Till then, to quote the great Steve Perry of Journey fame, “Don’t stop believin’.”

2019 Predictions

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Happy New Year! As we welcome in 2019, it’s time again to dust off the crystal ball and predict what lies ahead for the new year.  Before we begin, let’s take a look back and see how my 2018 guesses playout out:

1) The market will keep marching forward at a slow and steady pace. Average rents will remain consistent with 2017 levels. However, modest vacancy increases will help put tenants on a more level playing field, which[ might even lead to an advantage in certain circumstances. For the most part though, we will be at equilibrium.  Ding-ding-ding! This is exactly what happened.

2) Sales activity will start to slightly pick up towards the end of 2018 due to lowered seller expectations and prices creeping downward. Those who have been sitting on the sidelines will start to get back in the game.  Not exactly. Activity remained steady and there is no sign of prices going down anytime soon. Those on the sidelines generally stayed put.

3) The Tribune Tower redevelopment plans will be announced and feature luxury apartments on the upper floors and a hotel on the lower half. The first two floors will be leased to a significant (and surprising) national retailer which will continue to accelerate the shift in retail activity towards the Chicago River and Millennium Park. The luxury apartments (and condos) as well as the hotel are happening, but no announcement of any retail tenants just yet.

4) As part of the ongoing Willis Tower renovation, Willis will give up its naming rights. Will the Sears name be restored? Nope, instead the building will be rechristened after its largest tenant. Welcome, United Tower.  This was very wrong.  Spoiler alert: I am not giving up on this idea just yet.

5) No new office developments will be announced, as there is more than enough going on now to satisfy every tenant currently in the market for the next few years.  A huge swing and a miss, as Salesforce Tower Chicago and BMO Tower will be joining the skyline in about 2 years.

6) After being declared a finalist, Amazon will ultimately not select Chicago for its HQ2. Atlanta will be declared the big winner.  Atlanta?  What in the world was I thinking?

7) As a strong consolation prize, Chicago will attract a significant corporate headquarter that will relocate here from another Midwest city. This tenant will become the anchor of the Old Post Office.  Nope, although Chicago did do well in continuing to lure several new tenants from both the suburbs and other cities. The Post Office landed two significant users in Walgreens and Ferrara.

8) With Amazon out of the picture, Goose Island, the River District, and believe it or not, Fulton Market, will struggle to find tenants. Of course, Lincoln Yards will not, because Sterling Bay.  No struggles at all from Fulton Market, but the other developments are still in the planning stages and yet to land any office tenants.

9) Plans will be announced to shut down and demolish the Thompson Center by the end of 2019. No firm redevelopment plans will be announced and the site will end up sitting vacant for an extended period of time. However, the State of Illinois’ search for new office space will provide a nice little boost to the market towards the end of the year.   Nah, this was essentially a non-story in 2018.

10) Take two on this prediction. Spurred on by the legalization of sports betting, plans will be announced for the former Michael Reese Hospital site to be redeveloped into a casino and entertainment complex…… which will include a grocery store.  No dice here, as Mayor Emanuel pushes the casino for the southeast side.

Okay, so 2018 was not one of my better efforts. Let’s see if I can improve upon my psychic abilities for 2019.  Here we go.

1) After an extended period of growth, leasing activity will begin to slow across the board in downtown Chicago. There will not be a full-blown collapse by any stretch, but absorption will be down and concessions will increase as competition becomes fiercer to attract tenants. Rents will generally remain steady as owners still struggle to cope with the unprecedented property tax increases.

2) A slowing market combined with a weakening economy will bring on the first group of distressed sales downtown in quite some time. This will be the first step in sales prices becoming a bit more reasonable as compared to the past few years.

3) An owner of multiple downtown office buildings will put their portfolio up for sale and exit the Chicago market.

4) Some cracks will begin to appear in the co-working phenomena. WeWork will tap the brakes on expansion in 2019, while two of their competitors merge together and another shuts down entirely.

5) None of the planned developments on the outskirts of downtown (Lincoln Yards, The 78, Burnham Lakefront, River District) will be successful in landing an anchor office tenant. One of the developers, citing economic concerns, will completely shelve their project for several more years.

6) While these planned developments struggle, the Fulton Market locomotive keeps on chugging, as another major corporation will announce plans to relocate their operation to a new Sterling Bay-developed property in the district.

7) Certain segments of retail will continue to struggle, but the Mag Mile starts to rebound. Multiple new, non-traditional concepts will sign leases and set up shop on North Michigan Avenue, all at significantly lower rents than in the past.

8) Speaking of North Michigan Avenue, the former Hancock Building will land a new anchor tenant of the tech variety and gain naming rights to this iconic property as part of the deal.

9) While on the topic of naming rights, let’s try this one again.  The Willis Tower will have a new name by this time next year.

10) A well-known tenant in the tech industry who occupies a significant portion of their building will substantially scale back in 2019 and put their space up for sublease.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2019!