Developer who saved Medinah Temple buys it again

Albert Friedman needs to replace Bloomingdale’s in the River North landmark.

SHARE Developer who saved Medinah Temple buys it again
The Medinah Temple building, 600 N. Wabash Ave.

Albert Friedman, chairman of Friedman Properties, said he has purchased the 107-year-old Medinah Temple building at 600 N. Wabash Ave. from Macy’s, owner of Bloomingdale’s.

Courtesy of Friedman Properties

The developer who helped save Chicago’s Medinah Temple nearly 20 years ago has bought the beloved landmark and is evaluating what’s next for it after the Bloomingdale’s Home Store departs and leaves it empty.

Albert Friedman, chairman of Friedman Properties, said he has purchased the 107-year-old building from Macy’s, owner of Bloomingdale’s. He said he’s received proposals from potential tenants for its 140,000 square feet, some who want a floor or two and others who want the whole building.

Picking the right user means making guesses about consumer demand. With shoppers spending more time online rather than in physical stores, another large retailer might not be right for Medinah Temple.

“We’re listening to a lot of ideas, and I’ve found that the more ideas you get, the more opportunity you have,” Friedman said. He declined to confirm a reported purchase price of $25 million.

Whatever happens, Friedman said the building’s stained-glass windows, onion domes and intricate details are safe. “We want to keep the building in its current form and respect its architectural integrity,” he said. “When you go into this building, you are awestruck.”

In the late 1990s, a developer wanted to drop a high-rise into the middle of the building and hollow out its base for parking decks. Chicagoans, many with childhood memories of seeing the annual Shrine Circus or other exhibitions at Medinah Temple, were horrified and sent protest letters to Mayor Richard M. Daley. There was urgency because the Shriners fraternal organization, which erected the building, could no longer support it.

While preservationist groups largely dismissed Medinah Temple, 600 N. Wabash Ave., as a grungy mishmash of Middle Eastern styles, the Daley administration took up the building’s cause. With a subsidy from tax increment financing, it negotiated a deal with Friedman to save the building and the adjacent Tree Studios.

Medinah Temple became an official city landmark in 2001. Bloomingdale’s opened there in 2003 after the place got a thorough scrubbing and refurbishment. Friedman recalled that the stained-glass windows took three workers three years to finish.

Friedman, River North’s most active landlord and developer, eventually kept ownership of the land but spun off the building to the retailer, which invested heavily to convert the old 4,300-seat auditorium into four levels of home furniture.

“It was the highest and best use of the property at the time,” Friedman said. “But what does the next generation’s use look like? Nothing remains the same.”

Macy’s spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz, in confirming the building’s sale, said, “We are delighted to have served the River North community for the last 16 years, and we look forward to continuing to do so as we consolidate the Home store into the nearby Bloomingdale’s at the 900 North Michigan Shops.” She said the transition should be finished by mid-2020.

Medinah Temple shares a city block with Tree Studios, office space designed for artists, complete with a shared courtyard as an inspirational retreat. Friedman, who also restored Tree Studios, said the office space is 100 percent occupied and shows that the River North block still has strong commercial appeal.

Friedman said an entertainment use might be an option for Medinah Temple. He said he had discussions years ago with the Sundance Film Festival and Cirque du Soleil, but those weren’t productive, in part, because of building code violations in the old auditorium.

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