clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rooftop park awaits crowds at Old Post Office

The building is far from fully occupied, but planners expect more tenants will use the amenity once COVID-19 fears abate.

The 3.5-acre, green rooftop terrace at The Old Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St., Monday morning, Sept. 21, 2020.
The 3.5-acre, green rooftop terrace at The Old Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St., Monday morning, Sept. 21, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Promoters of the Old Post Office, an imposing trophy from a real estate boom now muted by the pandemic, showed off its newest attraction Monday for current and potential corporate customers who might not be ready to appreciate it.

It’s a 3.5-acre landscaped rooftop now open to tenants and their guests. With a contoured palette of plants, a running track, basketball and paddle ball courts and three bee colonies to service the wildflowers. Its planners said while it has been in the works for two years, the rooftop park has the post-COVID virtue of providing outdoor space for people tired of their desks.

For now, the chances of the rooftop getting crowded are slight.

Of the companies who have moved to the building, only about 10% of the employees are present, said Brian Whiting, CEO of the Telos Group, the leasing agent. But he said the cavernous landmark still has been a hit in the marketplace, with 81% of its roughly 2.3 million rentable square feet spoken for.

The rooftop and other building features will be there when things revert to near normal, he said. “The whole real estate market right now is on a decision hold,” he said. “Unless you have to make a decision, you’re not going to make a decision. I don’t expect that to change unless there’s better clarity and to me that means there has to be pretty wide-scale inoculations going on.”

Whiting said none of the signed tenants have backed out or tried to scale back their space needs, despite the pandemic’s affect on office demand.

Financially vexed Uber is keeping its commitment for 460,000 square feet, but has offered 65,000 of it for sublease, Whiting said.

Brian Whiting, CEO of the Telos Group, at the green rooftop at the Old Post Office.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Art Deco building at 433 W. Van Buren St. has been a draw for corporate users desiring generously apportioned floors. Cboe Global Markets, operator of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, is moving in its headquarters and Whiting said PepsiCo is on its way.

Indeed, drilling and pounding from construction crews could be heard in the building Monday, even if its ample lobby had little activity. Security staff in the morning stood around with little to vex them, escalators rolled with no one aboard and ’70s rock echoed from the sound system.

Thirteen floors above, on the roof that spans the Eisenhower Expressway, sedum, sage and other fall bloomers showed their colors. The space is available for weddings and other events, and the building plans eventually to add an outdoor bistro.

Scott Kurinsky, executive vice president of BEAR Construction, at the 3.5-acre rooftop garden at the Old Post Office.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“Give it a year and I think you’ll see a lot of people out here,” said Sheryl Schulze, principal of the architecture firm Gensler, which led the building’s redesign. “The building is of its time right now in terms of the health crisis.”

Schulze cited surveys showing 60% of office workers want to come back on a flexible schedule. Designers and landlords are responding with moveable workstations and smaller allotments of “speculative” space, perhaps 5,000 square feet, that can be leased to a new company for just a couple of years, not the longer terms normally required, Schulze said.

Reinforcing the rooftop and bringing in the landscaping, a job that required 3,000 helicopter lifts, cost more than $19 million, said Scott Kurinsky, executive vice president of BEAR Construction. It’s a crown of vegetation for owner 601W, which, with JP Morgan Chase, has spent more than $930 million to buy and renovate the building.

Sheryl Schulze, principal at Gensler’s Repositioning & Landlord Services, poses for a portrait on the 3.5-acre, green rooftop terrace at The Old Post Office at 433 W. Van Buren St., Monday morning, Sept. 21, 2020.
Sheryl Schulze, principal at Gensler’s Repositioning & Landlord Services, poses for a portrait on the new rooftop of the Old Post Office,
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

On a sunny day, Kurinsky beamed as he talked about the two-year effort to turn a regular old, if gigantic, roof into something like a backyard from a suburban estate. It involved 300 truckloads of dirt and 5,000 cubic yards of Geofoam, an environmentally friendly material used to shape the contours. Was this his most interesting assignment?

“It beats every other project combined,” he said. “This is not like anything I thought I’d ever be doing in my career. As a kid from Bolingbrook driving over this expressway coming in to the city all those years — seeing the building abandoned, and then all the crazy plans to make it a casino and hotel that never happened — to actually be a part of it is something that I never would have dreamed of in my life.”