It’s not often that you see a story about adaptive reuse architecture and dogs. Read on and you’ll see how they come together quite well.
When Google began looking for a Midwest headquarters location, there was one condition on which they wouldn’t waver: the building had to be dog-friendly. Fortunately, the Fulton Market Cold Storage building—now reborn as 1K Fulton—will welcome canines with open arms.
In late April, the Google troops and their 200 or so dogs will move into this ultimate rehab. Sterling Bay managing principal Andy Gloor offered some behind-the-scenes background on the conversion to a tech space at a recent Chicago Architecture Foundation program.
The “Post Industrial Chicago” panel discussion featured Gloor; Dan Kraiss, principal of Box Studios; and Eleanor Gorski, assistant commissioner and director of historic preservation for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. Chris Bentley, Midwest editor of Architect’s Newspaper served as the moderator.
Gloor said Sterling Bay began looking for a suitable space for Google five years before they settled on Fulton Market Cold Storage. He was initially concerned about what time of day he should meet Google’s leaders at the site. That’s because during regular business hours, Fulton Market is teeming with meatpacking workers carrying animal carcasses and driving forklifts hither and yon. It’s a far cry from pristine Mountain View, California. Turns out, the Google folks actually liked the gritty feel of Fulton Market.
“They said, ‘it’s OK if it’s not perfect,’” Gloor said. “It was the urban aspect that they really liked.”
The selling point for many tech firms is that they can achieve a suburban office setting in an urban market, he said. Tech companies also want open space, sunlight flooding in offices, and outdoor options (like the massive rooftop deck at 1K Fulton) that adaptive reuse can provide.
Often, those companies use the office environment as a tool to attract talent and build a company identity, said Dan Kraiss. “It celebrates the building’s infrastructure. You can’t build a building with this kind of architecture. And, it helps separate the company from its competition. It’s a space where people want to come to work.”
That’s especially true for quirky companies like Groupon. Kraiss and Box Studio helped rehab the former Montgomery Ward building at 600 West Chicago, where a giant cat piloting a spaceship in an employee lounge raises no eyebrows.
“Groupon was the company that brought the tech boom to Chicago,” Kraiss said. “Now Yelp, Twitter, and Google are here to take advantage of talent in the Midwest. Any hesitancy to go into a landmark building, this dispels that notion.”
Rehabbing an old building is not without challenges, Kraiss said. In one Box project near Armitage, there was no way to retrofit the building and be ADA compliant. It was not just a small problem for the business owner, who became the defendant in a lawsuit over accessibility.
For other buildings, it’s an easy transition. Kraiss pointed to the Threadless Headquarters at 1260 West Madison Street.
“It was previously a FedEx warehouse that was abandoned and vacant and in disrepair,” he said. “Threadless needed a space like this. It had 20,000 square feet retail and warehouse space and was a simple re-do on the exterior. We also created more elaborate entrances. It’s not historic but it’s a smart adaptive reuse.”
Sometimes adaptive reuse can change the character of a neighborhood. Even when the outcome means improvement, it’s not always a smooth transition, Gorski said. Fulton Market (the home of 1K Fulton and the Google dog pack) is a good example. The Randolph Fulton Market Innovation District plan unveiled last April raised the hackles of some of the legacy property owners.
“It created some friction with meatpackers, but that goes back ten years when some of them wanted to stop residential development from coming in,” she said.
The need to create some guidelines for development in Fulton Market grew out of the many requests from companies like Google who wanted to move in. That often required rezoning. When that occurs, Gorski said, the Department of Planning usually refers to the underlying City of Chicago plan. The problem was, there was no plan for Fulton Market.
Hard feelings can also be directed at developers. Gloor said he’s been there.
“There was some friction when we started Google,” he said. “I was extremely unpopular in the neighborhood. Most of the meatpacking companies’ buildings are no longer viable for their original purpose. But the buildings are now selling for more money, so now I’m much more popular.”
Rehabbing an old building definitely takes a leap of faith, the panel agreed. Kraiss said surprises are common.
“You never know what you’re going to find covered up, like old terra cotta tile, or you can pull up nasty shag carpeting and fine beautiful hardwood floors,” he said.
In the case of Fulton Market Cold Storage, the question was what would Sterling Bay find after the building thawed out.
“We buy cosmetically challenged buildings, we buy physically challenged buildings, we buy environmentally challenged buildings, but we’ve never bought a frozen building,” Gloor said. “And let me tell you something, it’s kind of scary. You couldn’t walk into 75 percent of this building where there wasn’t ice, and we talked to structural engineers who told us they couldn’t guarantee that when we thawed it out that there wouldn’t be some serious structural issues.
“So over a period of six months, we thawed the building out and luckily it stands today. We’re 95 percent leased. Google is the anchor tenant. We have Sram, the Chicago-based bicycle parts manufacturing company, and Sandbox, a private equity firm. Also a steakhouse from the BOKA group. BOKA is also bringing Swift and Armour to the building.”
Google—and Google employees’ dogs—will inhabit most of the building. The proximity to the CTA Morgan Street Station will be a plus for them to get to work, but Google also asked Sterling Bay to look at rehabbing neighboring buildings to offer their staff housing options. Google told Gloor they might well be in a position to subsidize the rent so their employees could walk to work. It’s really a throwback idea, not unlike the Pullman District: a company town, albeit one coming from a giant search engine rather than an outfit that made sleeper cars pulled by locomotive engines.