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Fulton Market office project tries new tactics to fight germs

Opening this summer, the building incorporates changes for the coronavirus.

A rendering of the Fulton East building, 215 N. Peoria St., showing its balconies and rooftop open space.
A rendering of the Fulton East building, 215 N. Peoria St., showing its balconies and rooftop open space.
Parkside Realty

Thanks to quick thinking, and maybe fancy footwork, an office building coming in Fulton Market has a plausible claim to being the nation’s first new multi-story structure designed with a pandemic in mind.

That in itself is an achievement, as the building is due to open in late July, and it wasn’t until late February that the coronavirus grabbed most Americans’ attention, for all the global harm it already caused.

Called Fulton East, the 12-story building is going up at 215 N. Peoria St. Construction started about a year ago. So how could its design possibly be influenced by a global infection?

Credit developer Robert Wislow for recognizing the real estate market was being disrupted, and potential office tenants will have a new set of concerns surrounding health and safety. Wislow, chairman of Parkside Realty, had a building well under way, yet he could still adapt it to the coronavirus. The timing worked.

“It’s our belief that when you develop a new building, you have a fiduciary obligation to make it up to date,” said Wislow, who is partners in the deal with Parkside Vice Chairman Camille Julmy. In work dating back to the 1970s, they built the former U.S. Equities into one of the city’s largest real-estate services firms before selling it to CBRE in 2014.

So there are decades of experience there with changing tastes. Wislow said once the coronavirus hit, he knew he had to find sources of new ideas and technology for his building, and that doing so would make it more attractive to tenants. He got help from his construction firm, Clayco, and architect Lamar Johnson of Lamar Johnson Collaborative, among others.

Clayco Executive Chairman Bob Clark credited Wislow with a “leading edge” mindset. “He really jumped into action quickly, starting with that very first weekend in March,” before the disaster declaration and stay-at-home orders in Illinois, Clark said.

Several ideas emerged, including the one involving footwork. It has to do with the new bane of many high-rise occupants — the elevator trip. You have to push buttons that other people have pushed.

Wislow turned to Canada-based MAD Elevator — an unfortunate name, but the company is certainly successful — which was rolling out a design that calls for controlling an elevator with your feet. You summon it by pushing an up or down foot pedal; inside the cab, you use your feet to hit a large button mounted near the floor.

MAD calls it the Toe-To-Go system that reduces the spread of germs. Wislow said Fulton East will be its first new-construction installation. Those disinclined or unable to use their feet still can use touch screens, which are easier to wipe down than old-school buttons.

There also is the building’s use of a ventilation innovation called airPHX from an eponymously named company in McLean, Virginia. Used in hospitals, dental clinics and elsewhere, airPHX is a patented use of plasma technology to sanitize air and work surfaces. It’s getting its first workout in an office high-rise at Fulton East.

Robert Wislow, chairman of Parkside Realty
Provided

Although the washrooms were already painted, Wislow spent the money to redo them once he found Sherwin-Williams has something called Paint Shield, an EPA-registered product shown to kill bacteria on its surface within two hours. Wislow said the washrooms will have to be repainted every four years. And each one will have one more fixture than city code requires, the better for social distancing.

Other features of the building are more familiar, or will be as white-collar employees go back to work. They include touch-free temperature checks and a key fob access and security system.

In all, the late changes added “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to a $40 million project, Wislow said. “It wasn’t a matter of money. It was the right thing to do,” he said. His 90,000-square-foot building will have a boutique feel that he believes will appeal to companies that want to avoid a dense setting.

The construction is being done “on spec,” which means there are no signed tenants. Wislow’s betting that once the building is done, prospects will be wowed by the natural light, smaller floor layouts that they won’t have to share with other companies and access to the outdoors. Each floor will have a private balcony, and there will be a tenants-only rooftop garden.

Is it the best time to open an office building? Wislow said he trusts in the appeal of Fulton Market, the hottest area before the virus struck. Clark concurred, saying the current crisis is different from the 2008-09 recession, when credit markets froze. “Capital sources are pausing right now. But there’s an enormous amount of liquidity ready, and that’s a big difference from the last recession,” Clark said.

Bob Clark, executive chairman of Clayco
Provided