Looking over this year’s Best Places to Work winners, it’s hard not to get nostalgic for the office, pre-COVID. Talk of tricked-out breakrooms, birthday celebrations, impromptu happy hours and rooftop decks has us pining for the days of interacting in real life with co-workers.
Today, most of us are still working from home, unsure when office life (or any part of life) will be back to normal. It will happen, of course, and when it does, these companies are showing the way: providing employees with the perks, amenities, pay and benefits that keep them happy and productive.
A record 14,522 employees participated in our survey about their workplaces this year, well before the virus took hold.
The centerpiece of the modernization project is a massive one-acre outdoor multi-level landscaped terrace, the largest of its kind in the Chicago suburban office market. The space features flexible seating and spacious gathering areas, which is a perfect amenity for tenants in today’s environment. Fire pits and grills add to the casual vibe, and a synthetic lawn area is perfect for outdoor health and wellness programming. Additional improvements include fully renovated lobbies, elevator cabs, common areas, the addition of a game room and a renovated café/tenant lounge with a fireplace and views of the outdoor area.
“The excellent location and wealth of newly upgraded amenities at Continental Tower offers an exceptional choice for tenants seeking best-in-class space in the Chicago suburban office market,” said Peter Gottlieb with Rubenstein Partners.
In 2015, Glenstar invested an initial $30 million highlighted by the construction of a 734-stall parking garage, reconfigured site plan with newly created entrances, canopies and drop-off areas and a renovation of a 23,000-square-foot fitness center run by Midtown Fitness.
“When we began this project, corporate tenants were looking for highly-amenitized buildings with modern interiors and vibrant communities,” said Glenstar’s Michael Klein. “Now everyone’s concern is around safety and social distancing—and we have a robust program in place to address this. Our new amenities, especially our sprawling outdoor areas, provide tenants the opportunity to work outdoors and meet with their colleagues at a safe distance. We are pleased that the improvements we recently completed translate well into our current environment.”
Continental Towers is a three tower office complex located in Northwest suburban Chicago. The buildings sit on 34 acres with unobstructed views in all directions, easy access to the Woodfield Mall and high visibility along I-90. Notable tenants include Verizon and Panasonic.
Glenstar originally acquired Continental Towers in 2013 and recapitalized the project in 2018 with Philadelphia-based Rubenstein Partners, L.P.
The body temperatures of employees Egor Machaca, left, and Nicole Drougas are detected with DuThermX, a fully integrated body temperature measurement system, at Dubak Electrical Group in La Grange on May 4, 2020. Dubak Electrical Group is selling temperature-taking systems for entrances to buildings that can take up to 40 people’s temperatures simultaneously and can be integrated with security systems. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
Masked workers walk through an entrance-only door into the office high-rise, where their temperatures are taken while passing through security.
Lines form in lobbies as elevators bring small groups of workers — each facing a different wall — to their floors.
Touchless doors open into corporate offices, which have been reconfigured to limit close, face-to-face encounters.
Building extras like restaurants, if they’re open, only offer carry-out. Fitness centers and lounges are closed.
DuThermX, a fully integrated body temperature measurement system that is built at Dubak Electrical Group in LaGrange.(Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
The offices that people will return to post-pandemic are a sharp contrast from the collaborative work spaces and amenity filled workplaces they walked out of in mid-March to begin working from home.
Indeed, Chicago’s return to the office is expected to usher in the most dramatic changes in big commercial buildings in nearly two decades. And new technologies are emerging to help make the return safer.
“Just like life after 9/11, when you saw all this security being added in buildings, you’ll see changes happen in our public environments because of the pandemic,” said Karl Heitman, president of Itasca-based Heitman Architects.
While Chicago’s biggest employers and property owners are drawing up plans and strategizing on best practices, they are doing so behind virtual closed doors.
Those decisions will impact 406,000 downtown office workers, according to World Business Chicago.
Arriving at a consensus may not be easy, since COVID-19 responses have largely been left up to city and state leaders. Locally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last month announced the formation of the COVID-19 Recovery Taskforce, which she will co-chair with Sam Skinner, former President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff.
The 2001 terrorist attacks and natural disasters provide some return-to-work precedents, but there has been no event that leaves behind a playbook for the aftermath of a pandemic that effectively shut down the global economy to all but the basics.
Willis Tower and Chase Tower are lit in red in downtown Chicago on May 2, 2020. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)
There’s also an unclear timeline for a vaccine, widespread testing or other medical breakthroughs that would clear the path to a full-fledged return of economic activity. Offices will be among the third phase of businesses to reopen in Illinois, with restrictions on capacity, according to a plan unveiled Tuesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“There just isn’t a standard of practice that employers can turn to and say ‘We’re doing what other employers are doing,’” said Dave Guilmette, president of health solutions for global consulting giant Aon, which advises clients on risk management, health policies and other workplace issues.
His firm is the anchor tenant in Chicago’s third-tallest skyscraper, which serves as Aon’s U.S. headquarters. Aon is talking with 20 of Chicago’s biggest employers, as well as building owners and local authorities, to establish a cohesive plan for the Chicago area, which is home to some of the world’s largest corporations, Guilmette said.
“You’re going to need to look to businesses to take the lead,” Guilmette said.
Real estate brokerages, architecture firms and firms are creating their own guidelines.
Ideas discussed include having everyone in an office walk in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction like one-way traffic on a road, moving desks so they don’t face one another, installing barriers between work stations and reducing crowds in highly populated areas like cafeterias and conference rooms. Employers also must decide whether masks or other face coverings will be mandatory.
Employer-provided meals and community refrigerators could be among the many casualties, at least initially, said Michelle Osburn, workplace practice leader and associate principal at architecture firm Perkins and Will.
“In the near term, it’s not about radical changes,” Osburn said. “It’s understanding protocols around things like food and beverage. What are we going to do about coffee?”
Early goals also will include making employees comfortable with their commutes and navigating tight areas such as elevators, she said.
Workers’ top concerns include office cleanliness, returning to public transportation and proximity of coworkers, according to a workplace survey of 110 North American companies by commercial real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle. Among workers who typically take trains or buses to work, 28% said they will seek an alternate form of transportation when they return to the office, according to JLL.
How quickly workers regain trust in public transportation could have a lasting impact on commuting patterns, residential markets, and where companies ultimately choose to locate.
And the idea of only allowing four or five people in an elevator at a time could create a major bottleneck in the lobby of a skyscraper such as the 110-story Willis Tower, where 15,000 people work each day.
“A lot of big, high-rise office buildings are struggling with that,” said Michael Cornicelli, executive vice president of BOMA/Chicago, an association of 240 downtown buildings.
Chicago-based GlenStar Properties got its first look at elevator etiquette May 1, when workers returned to the Dallas-area office properties it owns.
There has been strong compliance to new rules, such as exterior doors designated for entrance or exit only, GlenStar co-founder and managing director Michael Klein said. Elevators are limited to four passengers, each facing a different direction marked on the floor, he said.
Texas’ return to the office has been a trial run for the eventual reopening of GlenStar’s buildings in Chicago, where it owns the Chicago Board of Trade Building and 55 East Monroe. GlenStar also owns Chicago office complexes near O’Hare International and in suburbs including Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows.
The re-entry process in Chicago could move slowly. Companies are expected to bring in a small percentage of workers initially, while staggering start and end times to further limit crowds.
While landlords and employers map out their plans, new technology is emerging to help them. One area where there’s keen interest is assessing who might be coming to work sick.
La Grange-based Dubak Electrical Group recently unveiled a system that allows as many as 40 employees’ temperatures to be taken simultaneously, using an entryway similar to a metal detector. Results are integrated into a facility’s security system.
A body temperature of employee Nicole Drougas is detected with DuThermX, a fully integrated body temperature measurement system at Dubak Electrical Group in LaGrange on May 4, 2020. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
As groups of people walk through the entrance to a warehouse, office building, sports venue or airport security checkpoint, a high temperature sets off an alarm. The person with a fever can be pulled aside immediately, or the system can be used to alert building management, security, and the ill employee’s human resources department by email and text message.
Dubak’s system, DuThermX, which is patent pending, can quickly identify an office worker who already has a fever, but it doesn’t capture people who are asymptomatic, said Chief Operating Officer Nick Dubak.
Widespread temperature-taking already is emerging in food processing plants, distribution centers and warehouse settings. It would be new in corporate offices.
“This is the new normal,” Dubak said. “This cuts the anxiety of coming back to work, which is something we need to solve from a business perspective.”
The company already has 150 orders from Denver to the East Coast, Dubak said. Several systems already are in use in the Chicago area, Dubak said, but he declined to specify locations.
The family owned firm sped up the system’s development in January, when it became apparent the virus would have a major impact on the United States, Dubak said.
“I think this is a tool where we can start looking at the data and spotting trends,” he said. “You can use that data to enhance sanitation or take seasonal approaches to the unknown. Today we have COVID-19. What’s next tomorrow?”
Meanwhile, Zebra Technologies is developing a contact-tracing device that could ensure social-distancing policies are followed in the workplace.
The company already has equipped some of its own workers in research and development and warehouse facilities with devices that issue an alert when workers get too close. The device also would be able to track data on workers’ movements so that if an employee tested positive for COVID-19, the company could determine who may have been exposed, said Chief Financial Officer Olivier Leonetti.
The device, called Zebra MotionWorks Proximity, will be used primarily in distribution centers but has the potential to be used in offices and other workplaces, the company said.
Experts have mixed opinions on whether temperature checkpoints will become commonplace in Chicago. And using technology to closely monitor the flow of people in an office or more broadly through contact tracing is viewed as effective but also controversial.
“There’s a really important question about contact tracing that will need to be thought through,” Aon’s Guilmette said. “We know the technology works. We don’t have policy at the government level or the business level, and there are privacy issues associated with it.”
While navigating tricky ethical and legal issues, many corporations also are laying off workers, renegotiating leases and slashing other spending. It’s unclear how long the economy might take to recover.
With those conditions in mind, Chicago-based Big Construction recently circulated a pricing list for a wide ranges of office upgrades, ranging from automatically opening doors and hand-sanitizing stations to heftier projects like new air circulation systems.
“We’ve gotten more of a response than I expected,” CEO Tony Iannessa said. “A lot of clients are thinking about this and taking it very seriously.”
For office tenants, short-term changes can buy time to assess the long-term implications of COVID-19.
“Nobody knows what the future of the office looks like,” Iannessa said.
The pandemic threatens to reverse some office trends that have emerged in recent years, such as bench-style seating with workers in close proximity; the popularity of co-working spaces; and wide-open layouts with few private offices or barriers.
Time will tell whether the new realities might slow the migration of tenants to downtown Chicago from the suburbs, or the proliferation of high-end amenities open to all workers in an office tower.
“The tenant lounge, who’s going to that?” said Savills broker Joe Learner, who represents office tenants. “The fitness center, who’s going to that? All these amenities that were big attracters to those buildings, and that cost a lot of capital to create, those spaces are now challenged.”
Stay-at-home orders also are creating new habits. Workplace experts believe recent months have served as a trial run toward more people working from home.
“I think every company is certainly evaluating now, how does remote working fit into the overall business plan?” said Osburn at Perkins and Will. “It’s not really a one size fits all. Some people come in for collaboration and some come in to focus because they can’t focus at home.
“Every client is thinking about it, and even the ones who thought they had it figured out are rethinking it.”
Work-from-home policies could create more demand for unassigned seating, or “hoteling,” while reducing overall demand for office space.
“We’re trying not to knee-jerk react,” said GlenStar’s Klein. “I don’t think there will be extremes where everybody moves to the suburbs or everyone goes to private offices. Changes will be incremental. In the end, people want to be together.”
Source: Chicago Tribune
MiSUMi USA is relocating its corporate headquarters operations into nearly 48,000 square feet of space at 1475 E. Woodfield Road in Glenstar’s Schaumburg Corporate Center here.
The firm signed a 47,716-square-foot lease deal at the 1-million-square-foot, three-building, Class A office complex.
Newmark Knight Frank’s senior managing director Paul Buckingham and managing directors Brian Reaney and Matt Frazee represented MiSUMi USA in the transaction. Glenstar’s Dave Trumpy and Bill Saviski represented the building ownership in the transaction.
MiSUMi USA plans to take occupancy of its new space in June of this year. The firm is relocating from 1717 Penny Lane in Schaumburg, where it currently leases 32,000 square feet.
“We are thrilled to be moving our North American headquarters to the beautifully redeveloped Schaumburg Corporate Center,” says VP of human resources for MiSUMi USA Randy Yu. “Glenstar’s investment in the building has created what will be a second-to-none experience for our employees.”
Chicago-based Glenstar, who acquired the asset located adjacent to the Woodfield Mall in 2017 for more than $70 million, has since completed a $30-million redevelopment of the property to include a new 500-car parking garage, a 10,000-square-foot state-of-the-art conference center as well as upgrades to the building’s common corridors, washrooms and elevators. In addition, Glenstar renovated the four-story atrium, fitness center, building lobbies, entrances and canopies at the complex.
Steve Wright, left, and Roger Heerema of Wright Heerema Architects
If you ask Steve Wright how to revive an outdated suburban office building to cater to millennials, the answer starts with plants.
At the former OfficeMax headquarters in Naperville, his architecture firm and developer Franklin Partners cut away portions of large trees, put in new smaller ones and strategically replanted some flower beds as part of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment to make the 350,000-square-foot property more appealing to a variety of companies.
“It gives a little better scale to the entrance not to have it be shrouded in landscaping,” says the principal of Chicago-based Wright Heerema Architects. “And we updated the plant material for today’s tastes. There’s no petunias anymore.”
Horticulture isn’t necessarily Wright’s specialty, but knowing what will help convince a company in 2020 to lease an office in the suburbs is. The firm has worked with landlords to redesign more than two dozen suburban office properties over the past three years, projects totaling an estimated $80 million in capital improvements ranging from six-figure face-lifts to a $30 million overhaul.
It’s one of several design and consulting firms helping landlords redraw properties in the suburban office market as it recovers from a decade of high-profile companies uprooting for downtown in pursuit of young talent.
After the suburbs lost 2.5 million square feet of office tenants in 2017 and 2018 combined, companies reversed that trend last year by adding back more than 1 million square feet of net new leasing, the most for any year since 2015, according to data from brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads
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Many pockets of the suburbs are still grappling with high vacancy and landlords having a hard time justifying big renovations out of fear they won’t recoup their investments through higher rents. But the recent demand momentum is spurring more landlords to plow capital into well-located suburban office buildings, some proving there’s money to be made if updates are done right. And they’re relying on firms like Wright Heerema to show them how the next generation of suburban workspace should look.
“We’re creating a sense of community, so that people don’t feel left out being in the suburbs,” says Wright, who has spent four decades designing offices in the Chicago suburbs. Today it is taking on revamps of buildings it helped design when they were new a generation ago, when many corporate giants were operating out of large, single-tenant buildings meant to be more “stately” than welcoming, he says.
That means taking cues from urban trends: natural wood and neutral color tones are in and marble isn’t, for example. But making a sprawling suburban office campus appealing to a company chasing a generation of employees that highly value the experience of their workday requires far more than making a 30-year-old tenant lounge look like something out of the West Loop.
For one, grand front desks typically found just inside the entrance of office properties built in the 1980s and 1990s no longer work. Those are being hidden and replaced by amenities that generate the most activity, like coffee bars, fitness centers and conferencing space. “It’s not unlike walking into a hotel,” says principal Roger Heerema. “There’s a feeling of life that is immediately apparent.”
Strategic use of light fixtures and canopies over entrances make a difference, he says, as does making sure tenants are actually noticing them. At the Westwood, a half-empty, two-building office complex being renovated in west suburban Lisle, the tenant lounge is located near a main visitor entrance. So Wright Heerema designed new lounges for both buildings near second entrances where most employees come and go.
The lobby of Presidents Plaza before, inset, and after its renovation.
At Presidents Plaza near O’Hare International Airport, a reclaimed-wood-clad coffee bar that becomes a regular bar by 4 p.m. each day is now a lobby focal point, and a jumble of planters and trees in its main atrium have been replaced by a minimalist collection of lounge seating, part of a $20 million renovation by Chicago-based developer GlenStar.
The payoff: Tenants have recently leased space at Presidents Plaza for $24 per square foot before taxes and operating expenses, or about 25 percent more than those that signed two years ago, according to the property’s owners.
In the suburbs’ corporate heyday, office buildings “were machines for working—you packed people into them,” says OKW Architects Chairman and CEO Jon Talty. “That attitude has changed profoundly. The lifeless machines need to have meaning to them to be relevant.”
Talty says the trick is to try to use materials and designs that are equal parts “timeless” in style, appealing to today’s tenants and also cost-effective enough that they could be totally redone again in 10 years.
The new Denver-based owner of the former Sara Lee headquarters in Downers Grove recently hired OKW to design another round of upgrades even though the previous landlord spent $7.4 million over the past several years on updates that helped refill the 13-story building with new tenants.
“It’s fashion, to a certain degree,” says Talty, whose firm helped redesign the former Nokia Siemens campus in Arlington Heights for financial services firm HSBC. “The three-button suit is out and we’ve got to move to the next thing.”
Some revamped suburban office buildings are still hunting for tenants. The former OfficeMax home—rebranded as the Shuman—has leased or is finalizing deals with half a dozen companies for about 25 percent of the building. They’re betting demand will grow as more millennials move to the suburbs and downtown rents keep rising.
But many outmoded office properties will be better off repurposed rather than revived with new amenities, Talty says. Especially as companies lay out offices more efficiently to squeeze more people into smaller spaces than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
“They’re not all going to be repositioned,” he says. “The better ones will be, and the weaker ones are going to have to become something else.”
Top tier is the descriptor most used for an office asset located at 59010 North Central Expressway. Glenstar recently acquired Premier Place, a 457,000-square-foot class-A office building, with a 62,000-square-foot Life Time Fitness club. The sale price was not disclosed.
After spending more than $50 million and 14 months in construction, owners of one of North Dallas’ biggest office campuses are pulling the wraps off the redo.
The 14-acre Energy Square at North Central Expressway and University Drive has as much office space as a downtown skyscraper but spread among five buildings. The office towers were built over 50 years ago and were divided by parking lots, loading docks and driveways.
Energy Square owners GlenStar Properties and USAA Real Estate reworked the entire block, connecting the high-rises with a new entry drive, landscaped plaza areas and shared amenities.
“We are 98.5% done,” said GlenStar principal Matthew Omundson. “We are finishing all the details like artwork and furniture. We put our tenants through a lot with the construction. The response we’ve gotten now that it has been delivered is very positive.”
The office towers are more than 80% percent leased with new deals in the works since redevelopment is wrapping up. Additions to the campus include a large tenant conference center, a fitness center with rooftop patios and multiple outdoor gathering spaces for workers. Fitness facilities alone total 10,000 square feet.
“We have close to 4,000 people working in this campus,” Omundson said. “We needed to do something large enough to accommodate them.”
All of the buildings have gotten new eatery additions, ranging from snack bars to full-scale restaurants.
“We have four on-site food options and we have two more to be signed up soon,” he said.
Public areas in the office buildings have large seating areas with fireplaces, big screen TVs and indoor and outdoor lounge areas. “Every building has a brand-new lobby,” Omundson said.
The campus is visually connected by Brad Oldham’s outdoor art sculptures, and extensive landscaping designed by Studio Outside.
“We have more than a mile of steel planter boxes,” Omundson said.
Architect Gensler, which relocated its regional office to the project, redesigned the buildings. Whiting-Turner was the general contractor.
The redevelopment also included a fix-up of the landmark Meadows Building, one of Dallas’ first “suburban” office towers. The other three office towers were constructed in 1974, 1981 and 1986.
JLL’s Jeff Eckert, Blake Shipley and Haley Hullett are leading the leasing efforts for the property.
GlenStar and USAA Real Estate paid about $150 million in 2015 for the three towers. The historic Meadows Buildings was purchased later from a West Coast owner. The property is USAA Real Estate’s largest holding in North Texas.
“When we acquired this project, I said USAA Real Estate could not be more pleased to be part of this exciting renaissance of Energy Square and the Meadows Building,” Len O’Donnell, president and CEO, said in a statement. “And today, I am extremely pleased that our partnership has delivered on that renaissance. There isn’t anything like it along Central Expressway.”
GlenStar plans to celebrate the project completion with a series of entertainment gatherings.
“Those are the type of events that now that we have the space we will be providing,” Omundson said. “It’s what the employers and workforces are looking for today.”
One of North Texas’ busiest architects is moving its local offices into a landmark Dallas building.
Award-winning design firm Gensler plans to relocate its regional office into the historic Meadows Building on North Central Expressway. The 63-year-old blue tile tower is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and was one of Dallas’ first suburban office buildings.
Gensler is taking 45,000 square feet of offices in the two-story wing of the project that fronts on Greenville Avenue.
The Meadows Building and the adjoining three-building Energy Square office complex are all undergoing a more than $50 million renovation by owners GlenStar Properties and USAA Real Estate Company.
Gensler is the architect for the project renovation.
“Now we get to experience the campus, not just as a design partner, but as a tenant as well,” Cindy Simpson, co-managing director of Gensler’s Dallas office, said in a prepared statement. “As architects, the ability to breathe new life into a building is very meaningful to us.
“With The Meadows being such a significant part of the history of Dallas, we’re excited to be a part of the next chapter of its story.”
Gensler’s Dallas office of more than 20 years has been in the Lincoln Centre complex at the southeast corner of LBJ Freeway and the Dallas North Tollway. The operation has doubled in size in the past two years.
The firm will move its 233 employees to the Meadows Building after the renovation is complete.
Dallas-based historic preservation architect Architexas is working on the exterior renovation of the Meadows Building, built by legendary Dallas oilman Algur Meadows in 1955.
The tower and the connected office wing, where Gensler will locate, are constructed of pink marble, red brick and blue terra cotta tile. The building is next door to DART’s Lovers Lane commuter rail station.
Gensler’s renovation plans for the two-story wing include restoration of the original rooftop graphics.
CBRE’s Jeff Ellerman and Scott Hobbs negotiated Gensler’s lease with Cushman & Wakefield’s Randy Cooper.
GlenStar and its partner USAA Real Estate have owned the Meadows Building since 2015.
The real estate investors have started renovation of the 14-acre Energy Square high-rise complex next door, which will include the work on the Meadows Building.
The three Energy Square towers and the Meadows Building will be connected all on one level with a new park, pedestrian areas and a boulevard running through the middle of the development.
Gensler’s new master plan for Energy Square will add more tenant amenities, pedestrian areas and outdoor lounge areas.
A new “jewel box glass enclosed building” will house a 10,000-square-foot fitness center with a rooftop terrace.
Gensler has recently done a long string of major Dallas-area projects, including Plano’s new Legacy West Urban Village, the Dallas Cowboys’ Star in Frisco, the new Federal Aviation Administration regional headquarters in North Fort Worth and The Dallas Morning News’ new offices in downtown Dallas.
Chicago-based developer/investor, GlenStar, and real estate investment adviser, Rubenstein Partners, have announced plans for a $15 million capital improvement campaign at Continental Towers, a 910,796-square-foot office complex located at 1701 Golf Road in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. It’s the second of a two-phase redevelopment project initiated in 2015.
“Our modernization and capital improvement plan for Continental Towers is intended to comprehensively update and reposition an already exceptional asset,” said Peter Gottlieb with Rubenstein Partners. “We feel we have a unique opportunity to further enhance a well-located building in the attractive northwest Chicago suburban office market and ensure that it continues to stand out from other properties in the region for years to come.”
At the heart of phase two is a reimagined outdoor terrace that will transform the concrete plaza into nearly an acre of multi-level landscaped space featuring a lounge, grilling and gathering areas, fire pits and a synthetic lawn area for health and wellness activities. In addition, the property’s café and amenity center is also getting a top to bottom makeover and will be connected to the new terrace, creating a unique indoor/outdoor entertainment space. New lobbies, elevator cabs and landscaping at the buildings will also be a part of phase two.
“We are building on previous campaigns to ensure that our tenants have the most up-to-date, activated amenities in the suburbs,” said GlenStar’s managing principal, Michael Klein.
The new campaign follows completion of phase one, a $30 million project that saw construction of new 734-stall parking garage; exterior improvements including new drive-ups, drop-offs, canopies and lighting; a full renovation of the 22,000-square-foot, on-site fitness center run by Midtown Health Club; corridor and restroom renovations and various mechanical upgrades.
Work began on phase two in June and is scheduled to be complete by the second quarter of 2020, by which time, GlenStar will have invested more than $200 million over the past five years repositioning and modernizing office projects, with a focus on unique amenities and programs that enhance and redefine the tenant office experience. GlenStar’s portfolio currently stands at over 8 million square feet.
Rubenstein has invested in more than 21 million square feet of office real estate assets throughout the United States since 2005. The firm, including its predecessor company, has nearly a 50-year history as a vertically integrated owner and operator, with the office asset class serving as their exclusive investment focus over the last 20 years.
Continental Towers is a three-tower office complex located in northwest suburban Chicago. The buildings sit on a 34-acre corporate campus that provides tenants with unobstructed views in all directions, easy access to the Woodfield Mall and high visibility along I-90. GlenStar originally acquired the property in 2013 and recapitalized the project in 2018 with Rubenstein.
Developer GlenStar Properties is best known for revamping older office properties that need an extra kick to compete for Class-A tenants, and it recently decided to bring that strategy to the Dallas metro area, its first operation outside the Chicago region.
Although GlenStar officials were impressed with the Dallas-Fort Worth economy, and the health of the local office market, assembling a portfolio down there happened almost by accident.
“About three years ago, Matt Omundson from our office was relocating down there, and he asked whether we would ever consider opening a Dallas office,” Managing Principal Michael Klein told Bisnow.
The answer was a definite yes, and Omundson, one of the firm’s principals, starting looking for properties that fit the GlenStar approach.
Klein added that GlenStar would never have considered acquisitions in a market so far from Chicago unless it had an established presence, as renovating older office properties such as Energy Square, built between the 1950s and the 1980s, typically requires a lot of care and attention.
“We’ve got a good feel for the market in Chicago, but now we also feel that Dallas is a second home,” he said.
The move to Dallas doesn’t mean the firm will stop expanding in Chicago. GlenStar still has a long list of projects underway in the Windy City, especially in the suburbs, where it has ownership stakes in a number of properties once considered moribund.
By the end of 2019, GlenStar will have invested more than $200M over five years repositioning and modernizing office spaces, including a $20M reboot of President’s Plaza in Chicago near O’Hare International Airport, which it will finish this summer, and the renovation of Continental Towers, a 911K SF complex in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, where occupancy rose from just over 50% to 93%.
It also recently purchased 10 acres near President’s Plaza, and launched a 150K SF build-to-suit on a portion of the site for an unnamed buyer. Klein said GlenStar could use the remainder for up to 600K SF of office if it finds the right tenants.
The company is known for adding modern amenities to bland properties, including new health clubs, yoga centers, glass-walled atriums and new restaurants.
Klein said it now wants to do more, both in Chicago and Dallas, and provide tenants and their employees with active communities that will attract people outside work hours. That means GlenStar properties will increasingly host book clubs, wine tastings, financial advice seminars and other events.
“That’s what we’re spending a lot of our time on now,” Klein said.
A suburban Chicago office park landlord is offering free Lyft rides to and from local commuter rail stations for its tenants’ employees, helping address companies’ need to attract workers who live in the city.
Chicago-based GlenStar Properties is teaming up with the agency that oversees public transportation in the region to offer the perk at the Bannockburn Lakes complex north of the city, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“We knew we had to increase occupancy, and one way to do that was to make a connection to the train stations,” GlenStar’s Dave Brannigan told the Tribune.
A shuttle-bus service for the five-building complex was eliminated before GlenStar took over in 2015. At the time, the complex was 50 percent occupied, though GlenStar has since added tenants.
GlenStar didn’t want to re-start the shuttle because of costs, however, which is when the Regional Transportation Authority suggested the Lyft program. The pilot program with Lyft launched in March, and the RTA is picking up 25 percent of the cost, up to $30,000. Brannigan said the landlord would monitor the program to determine whether the service will be ongoing and could even consider launching it at other properties.
One employee told the Tribune the perk saves her $25 a day in cab or ride-sharing fares between the complex and a train station five miles away. [Chicago Tribune] — John O’Brien
Angelo Gordon is entering Chicago’s hottest suburban office submarket. The New York-based investor agreed to buy Presidents Plaza for $148M, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. A joint venture of Glenstar Properties and PGIM Real Estate acquired the 835K SF property in 2006 for $129M, according to Cook County records. GlenStar will retain a minority stake in the buildings and continue to handle leasing duties on behalf of ownership. The GlenStar-PGIM JV is cashing out at a time where office space is tight, and investor interest is at a premium, near O’Hare. For Angelo Gordon, Presidents Plaza offers an opportunity to dramatically increase rent spreads. According to a marketing flyer from JLL, the property is 92% leased, but in-place rents are 13.1% below market value. Overall Class-A office vacancy in the O’Hare submarket ended the year at 12.9%, while Class-A office rents rose to $25.47/SF, according to MB Real Estate’s Q4 2017 suburban market overview. Presidents Plaza benefits from many of the same factors driving downtown office investment. It has good ownership in place, spent $6M to upgrade landscaping and common areas, and is a transit-oriented development, with the Cumberland Avenue Blue Line ‘L’ station a few blocks east. Anchor tenants include True Value, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and AIM Specialty Health.
The shopping mall food courts of old that housed the same old national fast food chains (“hey, let’s grab a gray pad of meat on a bun followed by corporate cookie”) begat a blitz of lively, delightful and convenient food destinations called food halls.
In typical Chicago fashion, we improved the concept by riffing on America’s great market halls (Boston’s 1742 Faneuil Hall and the century-old Grand Central Market in LA, for example), added just a smidge of mall food court – for convenience and speed – and filled the spaces with the inimitable eats of both established, emerging and one-off Chicago eateries.
Chicagoans and visitors now find themselves saying, “Hey let’s grab labneh on local bread with a side of greens” or “I must have some Southern fried catfish and collard greens.” Wander Forum 55, Revival Food Hall, Wells Street Market, Chicago French Market or Foodlife in Water Tower Place.
Some of the eating atriums don’t necessarily house offspring of Chicago restaurants (see the ethnically specific Eataly, Mitsuwa or Seafood City for Filipino food lovers) but they are just as fun, even more surprising and serve as a mini-international travel jaunt. The trend hasn’t peaked, either, with largest food hall opening in 2019 in the Fulton Market district.
GlenStar Properties, LLC and its joint venture partner Angelo Gordon & Co., L.P., have launched a $20 million dollar renovation campaign at the two-building, 830,479-square-foot President’s Plaza located at 8600 and 8700 W. Bryn Mawr in the Chicago O’Hare submarket. Ownership expects the project to be completed in the second quarter 2019.
“We have an exceptional opportunity to capitalize on the property’s unique ‘urban/suburban’ location with a contemporary refresh of the buildings,” said GlenStar principal Michael Klein.
President’s Plaza is one of the most well-connected properties in the metro area when it comes to transportation and accessibility. It is served directly by the CTA Blue Line and is less than one mile from O’Hare International Airport. With the convergence of multiple expressways at its location, President’s Plaza is easily reachable from the city and all of suburban Chicago.
GlenStar’s extensive rehab includes a full gut lobby refresh at both buildings, renovation of the fitness center operated by Midtown Athletic Club and a refreshed deli operated by Compass Group. A new tenant lounge will feature a full-service coffee café and beer/wine bar for tenant use. It will connect to the patio for indoor/outdoor entertaining/functions/activities. Other areas that will be improved include passenger elevator interiors, restrooms, corridors, a new lobby stairwell and the conference center, which will under go a physical and technological overhaul.
“At a time when tenants are flocking to buildings with significant amenities packages, we have a property with terrific bones that we can transform with a modern and inviting interior aesthetic while at the same time build a complete work/life community,” said Klein.
Major President’s Plaza tenants include True Value, American Imaging Management and Lafarge North America. Occupancy today stands at 94.4 percent. The O’Hare office market is one of the tightest in the metro area with vacancy at Class A trophy assets at 5.6 percent. Rent in those same buildings has grown 23 percent since 2015.
Portions of the suburban office market may be in the doldrums, but a set of well-located, elite properties are in high demand, and the owners are willing to spend what it takes to retain top tenants.
GlenStar Properties and its joint venture partner Angelo Gordon & Co. have launched a $20M renovation campaign at President’s Plaza, a two-building, 830K SF complex at 8600 and 8700 West Bryn Mawr in Chicago’s O’Hare submarket. The owners expect to complete the project in the second quarter.
The previous ownership team, which included GlenStar, already spent $15M on recent renovations, but company officials have set their sights higher.
“At the end of the day, we want to have the best buildings in the O’Hare submarket, maybe even the best in the suburbs,” GlenStar principal Michael Klein said. GlenStar and Angelo Gordon bought the buildings for $147M earlier this year.
Michael Klein is trying to make the suburbs cool. By the end of next year, his Chicago-based development firm, GlenStar Properties, will have spent more than $100 million over five years modernizing major office properties in Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, Bannockburn and near O’Hare International Airport with big new amenities to appeal to young workers.
On the way out from GlenStar’s buildings are decorative planters, dark granite flooring and walls, pastel colors and cafeterias that scream late-20th-century suburbia, replaced by reclaimed wood, neutral tones, outdoor patios, sleek bars and furnishings that suggest Wicker Park lounge rather than Woodfield Mall.
It’s a gamble few suburban office landlords are taking after years of companies bolting to the city in search of young talent, and with large blocks of outdated empty space holding back rent growth in many parts of the suburbs. Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades and many companies beefing up headcount, office vacancy in the Chicago suburbs at the end of the third quarter was 23.7 percent, its highest mark since 2014, according to data from real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle.
GlenStar Properties’ 55 E. Monroe has been recognized by the industry’s leading organizations for best practices in the areas of telecommunications connectivity, energy performance and sustainability, earning WiredScore, ENERGY STAR and LEED, Gold certifications in 2018.
WiredScore, the first and only certification process in commercial real estate that identifies strong internet connectivity, has certified 55 E. Monroe Gold, one of only a handful of downtown properties to achieve WiredScore certification. One of the most well-connected properties in the entire CBD, 55 E. Monroe offers multiple fiber providers for tenants, adistributed antenna system that helps ensure uninterrupted wireless and cell phone coverage, as well as dark fiber service, which allow tenants to connect directly to their internal corporate networks and systems.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 ENERGY STAR certification for superior energy performance has given 55 E. Monroe a score of 82—up from 76 over the past year. This improvement is due to several changes that ownership implemented, including a lighting conversion of T12 fluorescents to LEDs, ongoing participation in the MCBx Energy Efficiency Program and implementation of monitoring-based commissioning and an upgrade of HVAC systems with wireless DDC technology.
As one of the early adaptors of the LEED Dynamic Plaque program, 55 E. Monroe earned LEED Gold certification. The USGBC’s LEED program is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, available for virtually all building, community and home project types. LEED provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings and certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.
“We are extremely pleased to achieve this trifecta of industry performance recognition,” said Chuck Fendrich, 55 E. Monroe’s vice president and general manager. “Certification is an excellent way for us to distinguish our tenant services in the industry.”
55 E. Monroe is a 1.5-million-square-foot, 39-story, mixed-use property in Chicago. It is managed by GlenStar Properties, a Chicago-based commercial real estate company that provides property development, investment, leasing and management services to corporate and institutional real estate owners.
The Lincolnshire Village Board approved plans for a massive sports facility next to Interstate 94, a project that will include basketball and squash courts, an Olympic swimming pool, an indoor turf field and two ice rinks.
St. James plans to open the 450,000-square-foot complex on a 40-acre property at I-94 and Half Day Road formerly occupied by Medline. It would be the second sports and recreation facility for St. James, a recreation company that plans to open its first one outside Washington next month.
The property’s developer, Chicago-based GlenStar Properties, had proposed also building a Topgolf driving range on the site but dropped that plan amid opposition from Lincolnshire residents. Though some residents raised concerns about GlenStar’s revised plan, citing increased traffic and other issues, the village board approved the development last night.
“Our goal is to bring the premium, dynamic and scaled experience that is the St. James to every major market in the country,” St. James co-founder and co-CEO Craig Dixon said in a statement. “With our expansion to Chicago, people who are passionate about sports, wellness and active fun in two of the largest markets in the country will have an opportunity to pursue their passions in a wholly unique way.”
About the only thing missing from the project is a curling rink. Expected to open in 2020, the complex also will include batting cages, a gymnastics center, a climbing wall, fitness center, spa, water park and zip lines.
The company purchased Continental Towers in a joint venture with GlenStar, the former owner of the property, which will remain as operating partner.
CT Acquisitions, a joint venture between Rubenstein Partners and GlenStar Properties, has acquired Continental Towers, a 910,796-square-foot office property in Rolling Meadows, Ill. The closing price was $121.5 million, more than twice the price GlenStar paid in 2013, Yardi Matrix data shows. The new owner announced more than $20 million in upcoming renovations, aiming to transform the asset into a top-of-the line office center in Northwest Chicago.
The upgrades will target the two-acre plaza deck, lobbies, café and amenity space. They follow several other improvements which GlenStar has been continuously adding to the property over the past five years, including building a parking garage for up to 734 vehicles, repositioning the entryway and renovating the fitness center, restrooms and corridor. According to Rubenstein, the total cost of improvements has mounted to $30 million. As a result, occupancy has increased from 55 to 90 percent, with companies such as Verizon and Panasonic signing the tenant roster.
The suburban office center was completed in 1982 at 1701 Golf Road and encompasses three buildings, which are all LEED certified to the Silver level. In addition to the office segment, the property incorporates a 22,000-square-foot health club, as well as dining and retail space. The campus spans 34 acres and it can be accessed via Interstate 90. Woodfield Mall is located within 3 miles from the property, while O’Hare International Airport is 10 miles away.
In January, Rubenstein made another important office acquisition in the Midwest, by adding the $132.7 million Precedent Office Park to its portfolio.
The suburban properties which do the best are typically larger assets that are well-capitalized and have top-flight amenities.
CHICAGO—Another renovated suburban office complex has changed hands, one of several to do so recently as properties that once struggled now fill up with tenants and attract investor interest. CT Acquisitions, LLC, a partnership between Philadelphia-based Rubenstein Partners and Chicago-based GlenStar, has acquired Continental Towers, a 911,341-square-foot campus located in Rolling Meadows, IL, for $121.5 million.