March 18, 2018

The Margin: Changing of guard at Willis Tower highlights turbulent period for Chicago real estate

It’s not just the changing of the guard at Willis (né Sears) Tower. The first quarter of 2015 has been a turbulent time for trophy towers and other notable structures throughout Chicago’s built environment.

It was confirmed Monday that Willis Tower, the world’s tallest building from its completion in 1973 until 1998, is being acquired by Blackstone Group

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 from New York investors Joseph Chetrit and Joseph Moinian and Skokie, Ill.–based American Landmark Properties. They paid $841 million for the tower in 2004, while Blackstone’s purchase price of $1.3 million is, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, set to become the highest ever paid for a U.S. office building outside Manhattan.

For Chicagoans, who’ve only reluctantly learned to identify the 110-story skyscraper by the name of the U.K. insurance broker

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rather than that of the Chicago-area-based retailer

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 , the deal delivers none of the psychic blow that its renaming in 2009, in accord with the terms of the Willis Group lease, did.

But, among Cubs diehards, Opening Day at a bleacher-free Wrigley Field is something else entirely. Off-season renovation work fell behind schedule late last year, and, to add insult to injury, City Hall declined recently to bend the rules — and raise neighborhood ire — by allowing construction to proceed around the clock. It’s been reported that it will be May before the famed bleachers are open; even then, only the left- and center-field sections will be at box-office disposal. The right-field bleachers are slated for June completion.

Even in a sports-mad city, though, ballparks are not held quite as dear as municipal parks. And in Grant Park, dubbed Chicago’s Front Door, and down in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago, that’s what’s at stake.

On the South Side, there’s been controversy over a prospective location for the Obama presidential library, with a U. of C.–led bid requiring acquisition of park land. The matter has grown touchy enough locally that it’s been reported by Melissa Harris of the Chicago Tribune that the announcement of a decision is likely to be withheld until after the April 7 mayoral runoff. (The Chicago Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed, meanwhile, has reported that the Obamas themselves may no longer be planning a return to Chicago in January 2017.)

In Grant Park, meanwhile, the building-upon of Chicago Park District property — all but verboten by local tradition — is again at issue. George Lucas’s decision to locate his visual-arts museum in Chicago was likely predicated on a prime lakefront location and a central role in the city’s Museum Campus, but the project has met with challenges on both legal and aesthetic grounds.

Along the Chicago River, there’s been an even more concentrated tumult.

True, work proceeded apace through an overly wintry winter on the next civic showpiece, the Chicago Riverwalk.

But, elsewhere along the river — whose evolution into the city’s second waterfront was trumpeted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a Monday night debate with challenger Jesus “Chuy” Carcia as a top idea for his second term — the remaining tatters of the Chicago Spire dream, which was to have culminated in the world’s tallest residential structure, were finally swept aside; the Kennedy family has been locked in battle over certain specifics of the high-profile Wolf Point development, according to Crain’s; and a massive, backlit T-R-U-M-P, slapped on the prime river-facing facade of Trump Tower, served as a unifying force in a divided city, with Emanuel calling the signage “architecturally tasteless,” and effectively no one disagreeing.

In the latter incident, the mayor and City Council, faced with widespread outcry about the Trump visual assault, drew a line in the sand. But the city’s new riverfront signage ordinance reluctantly was required to grandfather in the Trump sign. All 2,891 square feet of it.


The Margin: Changing of guard at Willis Tower highlights turbulent period for Chicago real estate

Willis Tower sold for $1.3 billion to Blackstone Group

Blackstone Group, a private equity real estate investor with about $81 billion under management, has reached an agreement to buy Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, the company announced Monday.

The purchase price is $1.3 billion, according to a source.

The deal for the formerly named Sears Tower, said to have been reached over the weekend, would be the highest price ever paid for a U.S. office tower outside of New York. It would also shatter the Chicago record, $850 million, set by last year’s sale of 300 N. LaSalle.

“We are bullish on Chicago as companies expand within and move into the city and look for first-class office space,” Jacob Werner, a managing director in Blackstone’s real estate group, said in a statement. “Moreover, we see great potential in further improving both the building’s retail operations and the tourist experience for one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Chicago.”

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the agreement on MarketWatch, said Blackstone plans to invest heavily in the retail portion of the nation’s second-tallest building and in upgrading its 103rd-floor Skydeck, in hopes the deck will become a cash cow like those of other skyscrapers.

Jonathan Gray, Blackstone’s head of real estate, told MarketWatch that the company hopes “to really make this more of a comprehensive tourist attraction” as well as an office building.

The Skydeck is among the tower’s regular revenue streams. It reaped about $25 million in admissions revenue in 2014, an amount that has been climbing annually. Its broadcast antennas brought in more than $13 million in the 12 months ended in November.

The Tribune reported Friday that Blackstone was in talks to buy Willis Tower and has previously reported that commercial real estate broker Eastdil Secured, which is handling the Willis Tower sale, was not marketing the property because of ongoing negotiations with a potential buyer.

Blackstone is best known in Chicago for buying a portfolio of properties assembled by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell. Blackstone’s purchase of Equity Office Properties Trust for $39 billion in 2007 was the largest private equity deal in history, according to The New York Times.

Real estate magnate Joseph Chetrit, developer Joseph Moinian and Skokie-based American Landmark Properties bought the tower for $840 million in 2004, a record then. Last year, 300 N. LaSalle sold for $850 million.

Eastdil had advertised untapped revenue streams for Willis’ new owners, including selling naming rights to the Skydeck and building a hotel on the property’s southwest corner at South Wacker Drive and West Jackson Boulevard.

The tower, completed in 1973 as the Sears Tower, is 84 percent leased, down 1 percentage point from March 2009, when Willis announced it had acquired naming rights.

Blackstone’s real estate business was formed in 1991. Among its holdings is the Hilton hotel chain. The firm’s seventh real estate fund will own Willis Tower.


Twitter @chiconfidential

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

Original article: 

Willis Tower sold for $1.3 billion to Blackstone Group

Loss of historic Royal Hotel brings people of Yampa together

— Residents of the small South Routt Town of Yampa have signed on to take the first steps toward reinvigorating the town in the wake of the January fire that claimed an historical landmark and gathering place, the Royal Hotel.

More than 60 people packed into the Yampa Ladies Aid Hall Thursday night to listen to local economic development experts Jane Blackstone, Tracy Barnett, Carl Steidtmann and Noreen Moore, who urged the group to set small, affordable goals to gradually begin to breathe some new life into a historic Western town.

“It was inspiring to me to see that kind of community turnout and caring,” Blackstone, Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association economic development director, said Friday. “They have very authentic Western heritage and a real experience for people visiting this part of the world. They have a lot to build on.”

She added that at the end of the meeting, a significant number of those in attendance signed their names to three projects lists.

They’ll rally to create a new mural on the side of a building, plant their own flower barrels and tackle a list of fix-up projects. That includes refurbishing the picket fences with entry arches that are a recognizable design element in front of homes around town.

Yampa had a population of 429 in 2013, down from 443 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We talked about their strengths and things they could do,” Barnett, director of Mainstreet Steamboat, said. “I spoke about how you can start with baby steps — a Saturday afternoon painting party. You can get wooden pallets and make planter boxes with very little money, that will show there is a community and start building on that. It activates the streets and shows there is community pride. Once things get fixed up, then somebody else starts to care.”

Accomplishing small improvements becomes tangible evidence of positive change, Blackstone said.

When the 109-year-old Royal Hotel burned down in Yampa Jan. 5, the town lost a community-gathering place as well as a source of property and sales tax revenues in a municipality that has budgeted to raise about $110,000 this year from those two sources combined.

County Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who lives outside Yampa, said this week that he is actively encouraging the town to find a way to clean up the charred beams and rubble of the hotel, which still mar the downtown commercial district.

One of the remaining flagship businesses in the town is Montgomery’s General Merchandise, which harkens back to another era with its diverse merchandise and its reliance on an old-fashioned manual cash register.

Barnett said people who attended the meeting lamented the disappearance of a sign advertising Montgomery’s from Colorado Highway 131 (which runs right by Yampa without affording a view of the little historic downtown) because it was found to have been improperly placed on county property.

Not far from Montgomery’s, the historic Crossans’ Market building is being restored with grants from the State Historical Fund. The main floor, with 60-year-old retail fixtures and advertising signs in place, will serve as a historical display, while the upstairs will serve as town offices.

There is also enthusiasm among a community of artists living in Yampa for establishing a gallery in an empty building not far from the beginning of Routt County Road 7. The road leaves directly from Yampa’s commercial district and winds up the Bear River to all of the hiking, fishing, camping and hunting in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Blackstone said that during a recent presentation to the South Routt Economic Development Council in Phippsburg, she urged that board’s members to work to define the narratives they can tell about their region. Those stories are needed to help prospective visitors understand the memorable experiences they could have in South Routt.

Refining the stories embedded in Yampa’s history could also become one of the next steps in the little town’s revival, she said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

See original article here: 

Loss of historic Royal Hotel brings people of Yampa together

6 affordable housing developments to share $2M

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) – Six groups that are developing nearly 150 affordable dwellings across Rhode Island are sharing over $2 million in federal funds for the projects.

Rhode Island Housing announced Tuesday the recipients of the second round of this year’s HOME funds. They include Church Community Housing Corp.; Habitat for Humanity South County; Neighborworks Blackstone River Valley Fernwood; Omni Development Corp.; Sankofa Apartments; and Washington County Community Development Corp.

The board approved the funds last month. It will help develop 145 homes and apartments in Burrillville, Exeter, Providence, North Kingstown and Tiverton.

The federal HOME program is the largest block grant to state and local governments to support housing for low- and moderate-income families. The money can be used to acquire property, rehabilitate existing properties or build new homes.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Original article: 

6 affordable housing developments to share $2M

Marshall catcher Mitch Blackstone commits to Cornell

After a productive summer with the Diamond Skills 17U travel team, Marshall senior Mitch Blackstone spent the month of August in the United Kingdom with his family. It offered him time away from baseball and the heightened recruiting interest he received.

Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth and Cornell all wanted Blackstone on their campus upon his graduation in 2015, but he felt a special bond with Cornell. And when he arrived back in Northern Virginia from his European tour, the Big Red offered him a spot.

After learning of the offer, he submitted his transcript to the Ivy League school, and last Wednesday Cornell Coach Bill Walkenbach texted Blackstone to ask whether he was going to commit. Soon after Blackstone called Walkenbach to give his oral commitment to Cornell.

“I was impressed with everything about the school and the baseball program,” Blackstone said. “I figured Cornell was my number one choice, and the best offer you could get in my mind.”


Blackstone, the Conference 13 player of the year, 5A North region player of the year and first team all-state selection, has gone from a 5-foot-8 eighth grader to a 6-foot-3, 190-pound dynamo at the plate. He hit .511 with seven home runs and 29 RBI. Walkenbach began courting the standout catcher in the middle of July after he came to see Blackstone at an invitational at Catholic University. On the weekend of July 26, Blackstone took his visit to its Ithaca, N.Y., campus.

‘”I thought the baseball facilities were really nice, and I knew with it being Cornell I had a high expectation of what it would be,” Blackstone said. “The school is beautiful. It was drizzling while I was there, but I figured if I loved it on a not-so-good day, then on its best days it would be  an incredible experience.”

Blackstone is versatile enough to play catcher, first base and in the outfield. However, he spends most of his time behind home plate with the Statesmen. Blackstone said Cornell recruited him as a utility player, and he’s willing to play wherever he’s needed on the field for the Big Red.

“Personally, I’m most comfortable at catcher because I have been playing there for 10 years,” Blackstone said. “It’s my more natural position, and the game has come easy for me behind the plate. If I had to move I would do it, obviously it would be a learning curve, but I feel confident enough to take on the new position.”

The commitment to Cornell means there is a possibility he could face his older brother, Kent, whorecently transferred to George Mason. Last season, the Big Red traveled to Fairfax for a two-game series with the Patriots that the two teams split.

“If we played against each other, that would be one heck of an experience,” Blackstone said. “I remember playing with him as a freshman and he was the shortstop. Seems like that was yesterday.”

NUMBER CRUNCH: 3 Seventh-ranked South River scored three goals in just less than two minutes to edge No. 4 Broadneck 4-3 in field hockey. Broadneck jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, but South River battled back in a thriller between the Anne Arundel rivals.

BREAKFAST LINKS  –In his first game as Quince Orchard’s head coach, John Kelley wins a 22-19 thriller against Clarksburg. Read about what his day was like leading up to and then getting his first win. –DuVal G/F Edward Polite committed to Radford and became the first player from Prince George’s County Class 4A to commit to a Division I school in the class of 2015. –As you prepare for another big slate of Friday night games check out the Post Top 20 and our Coaches’ Poll.

PHOTOS OF THE DAY:  Take a look at this gallery of Quince Orchard football Coach John Kelley’s day as he prepared for his first ever game.