Chicago Sets Strict Timeline for New Owner of Old Post Office

Developer 601W Cos. has until June 1 to complete the acquisition of the iconic Windy City building.
Rendering of proposed redevelopment plan for Chicago’s Old Main Post Office

Rendering of proposed redevelopment plan for Chicago’s Old Main Post Office

Chicago—Just months after threatening eminent domain to spur development of the vacant and decaying old Post Office site in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is flexing his muscles again by setting a strict timeframe for a private sale and redevelopment of the 2.5 million-square-foot structure and adjoining properties.

The tentative settlement between the city and 601W Cos., the proposed buyer of the 11.1-acre site along the Eisenhower Expressway, gives the new developer until June 1 to complete the acquisition from current owner, International Property Developers North America. The city would also require approval of a formal redevelopment plan, including a budget, economic disclosures and financing arrangements, site plans, timelines, phasing and other construction details, according to a city press release.

“This agreement establishes a strict timeline for the sale and a plan to redevelop the Old Main Post Office and turn it into an economic driver for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said in a prepared statement. “The sooner we conclude this process the sooner we can create thousands of jobs and generate economic opportunities for residents throughout Chicago, while restoring an iconic gateway to the city.”

Under the tentative settlement, the city would suspend its plan to acquire the building from IPDNA and the Request for Proposals (RFP) that was issued for its mixed-use redevelopment. If 601W doesn’t meet the June 1 deadline, the city would immediately restart the RFP and acquisition process.

David Reifman, Planning and Development Commissioner, acknowledged there were other major Chicago developers interested in responding to the RFP, but the city wants to give 601W a chance to meet the conditions outlined in the tentative settlement.

“The buyer appears to be an experienced and commercial property owner with the expertise and financial capacity to meet our goals for the building, so we’re providing strict terms and conditions for a purchase to close in a timely fashion and a redevelopment plan that’s satisfactory to the city to move forward,” Emanuel said.

IPDNA purchased the old Post Office complex in 2009 and announced a $1.5 billion mixed-use redevelopment plan three years ago but little work has been done at the site bounded by Van Buren, Canal and Harrison streets and the Chicago River. The city has issued more than 20 building code citations since 2012 for numerous structural, safety and hazardous conditions.

In February, tired of waiting for IPDNA, owned by British developer Bill Davies, to begin redevelopment of the site, the Emanuel administration notified Davies that it intended to issue a RFP for another company to take over the development. The city’s Community Development Commission set a March 8 meeting to consider starting the eminent domain process and a RFP. The city had hoped to choose a qualified developer by summer.

About a month later, IPDNA announced the property was to be sold to 601W, a New York-based investment group which already owns several major assets in Chicago, including the Aon Center, Prudential Center, 600 W. Chicago, 111 W. Jackson, the Civic Opera Building and 180 N. LaSalle. A sale price was not disclosed but IPDNA noted in a prepared statement that a sale contract had been executed in mid-March after “lengthy and complex negotiations.”

But city officials seemed to believe their plan to take the site by eminent domain and find a new developer spurred IPDNA to make a deal of its own.

“Today’s announcement is a direct result of the city seeking control of the property,” Alderman Danny Solis said in the city’s news release. “I’m optimistic this agreement will help the post office achieve its modern potential with one or more uses that contribute to the vitality of the South Loop.”

Mark Karasick, a 601W principal, told Crain’s Chicago Business that it planned to close on the purchase by June 1 and meet all the city’s requirements. He likened the old Post Office property to the Starrett-Lehigh Building, a 2.3 million-square-foot industrial property on Manhattan’s West Side that it bought in 1998 and turned into a successful office building before selling it in 2011 for $920 million.

The iconic post office building was built in phases between 1921 and 1932 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been vacant since the city’s main post office relocated in 1995.