The pulses of skyscraper nerds across the Midwest quickened a couple of weeks ago when we published news that the Chicago Loop would get its first new office building in seven years. Then they got past the headline and saw that 200 West Randolph, the project proposed by Beitler Real Estate Services and Next Realty isn’t a super tower, but a regular office building.
But it’s a darned good office building.
J. Paul Beitler describes his shiny new baby as, “something that can be built that’s not high in the area of risk.” That means that the building’s 25 floors are good enough for the corner of West Randolph Street and North Wells Street. Not every building has to be a superstar, and in this economy, that’s still true.
Mr. Beitler’s vision for the building is for it to serve the modest needs of modest companies. Ones that are moving into, or back to, Chicago that need a place to land until they become successful and grow and can slap their names on towers of their own. He notes that even though there are good signs in the real estate market lately, there really aren’t a bunch of big-name companies looking for huge swaths of office space to move into. Right now the market is in the mid range, a sentiment we’ve seen echoed by other developers, including the ones behind the Old Saint Pat’s Tower (625 West Adams Street) in the West Loop.
But what 200 West Randolph lacks in height, it is intended to make up for in neighborhood transformation. That little corner of the Loop is a dark, grotty place. And its position on the edge of the city’s theater district makes Chicago look scary to the thousands of visitors who come here every summer. Heck, I used to live a block away from there and even I would keep an eye out when walking around there late at night.
200 West Randolph is intended to be light, airy, beautiful, and transformative. The light-filled lobby should spill brightness into the dark recesses of Wells Street. A completely rebuilt sidewalk with huge planters will include embedded lights and trees big enough to mask the L from people walking by. If you haven’t been around there lately, what’s on that corner right now is a parking garage that reeks of decades of vagrant urine, a fast food joint, and a vacant retail space. The sidewalk is cracked and broken, and there are three places where cars and people intersect on the sidewalk.
And while the developers are hoping for LEED Silver certification, they’re not going the green roof route. 200 West Randolph will have no green roof at all. It’s an interesting turn in the age of greenwashing in which green roofs are increasingly being called a “fad,” a “scam,” and worse in architectural and environmental circles.
Mr. Beitler says, “People put trays out there [on the roof] and they look real pretty and then they die.” He notes that some developers seem to use green roofs as a gimmick to ask the city for height bonuses, and then they don’t maintain the plants and allow them to die.
He seems to be on to something. Pop up to the observation decks of the John Hancock Center or the Willis Tower with a pair of binoculars on a sunny summer day and you’ll see any number of supposedly green roofs that are brown from neglect. To our knowledge, there is no city mechanism for enforcing green roof maintenance, and it’s not like the city can take back six floors of a skyscraper.
The whole facade of the building will be glass. Visual glass where people look through, and white glass to mask the structural elements. The idea is that when the windows are cleaned, the entire building gets cleaned. Unlike other buildings that use stone mixed with glass, there will be no stone elements to get streaked or stained while the glass remains shiny.
And on the ground floor, the building will be especially glassy. Famous glass artist Dale Chihuly is working on sketches of three new glass sculptures for the building. All will be visible to the public from the street. The first will be placed inside the lobby at the Randolph and Wells corner. The other will be at the opposite end of the building, facing Randolph Street, and the third will be a series of glass panels arranged as a large window wall. Think of them as a large-scale version of the Chegal windows on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Now imagine not having to pay $18-$23 to look at art in a building built on public land and funded with your own tax dollars. The estimated 200,000 people who walk down Randolph Street each day will be able to enjoy this art for free.
Mr. Beitler is especially excited about the art installation. He has a history of commissioning big names from the modern art world to adorn his buildings.
More notes on the building:
- Architect: James DeStefano
- Architect: Mary Ann Van Hook
- Developer plans to use ginkgo biloba trees to help hide the L tracks. The trees grow vertically very slowly, but grow outward very quickly, and like city environments.
- Developer is hoping a restaurant will take the retail space.
- Rooftop terrace faces west so that evening events will not send noise directly into neighboring residential buildings.
- 510 public parking spaces will be removed when the current parking garage is demolished.
- There will be no public parking in the new building.
- 135 tenant-only parking spaces.
- Parking spaces are being kept because right now the bulk of companies that can afford new offices are law firms, which tend to not keep the same hours as the CTA.
- The parking garage portion of the building will be on the first three floors, meaning the first office floor will be on the fourth level — above the L tracks.
- Very hard to rent offices that face into the L. People don’t like the noise and visual distraction.
- Construction should take 16-18 months.
- Construction can proceed once financing is secured.
- Financing can be secured once 100,000 square feet is leased.