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Former futures trading floor to become a substation

The sale of a onetime epicenter of the Chicago Board of Trade to ComEd underscores how times have changed in technology and investing.

Statues representing industry and agriculture adorn a plaza leading to 333 S. La Salle St., a former trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Statues representing industry and agriculture adorn a plaza leading to 333 S. La Salle St., a former trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

In a property deal that marks a literal power transfer, an old hub for futures trading in Chicago will become a ComEd substation.

The utility has purchased the building at 333 S. La Salle St., formerly the largest trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. The site has been little used for years because the old open-outcry pits — where brokers and speculators did business via hand signals — have been replaced by electronic markets.

ComEd bought the 300,000-square-foot building for $39.5 million, closing the deal in November, according to Cook County deed records. The seller was CME Group, owner of the Chicago futures markets, including the old Board of Trade.

ComEd spokesman John Schoen said the investment will enable the utility to meet increasing demands for electricity in downtown Chicago. The renovated building, five stories tall, will accommodate “a new substation and potential corporate administrative office space,” he said. “All construction work will take place in the interior of the building. The facade will remain essentially as is.”

Schoen said construction will start late in 2023, with the substation expected to be in service in 2026.

CME closed most of its trading floors for futures in 2015, keeping a few pits open for complicated options markets. But it shuttered those with the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Last May, it announced all but one of those pits would be closed for good.

The last holdout deals in Eurodollar options. CME spokeswoman Laurie Bischel said that pit will move this year just west to 141 W. Jackson Blvd., the former headquarters of the Chicago Board of Trade and still known by its rooftop statue of Ceres, the goddess of grain.

In contrast, the 333 S. La Salle building was a hangar big enough for a 747. It opened to hoopla and internal discord in 1997, with Wayne Messmer signing the national anthem and Mayor Richard M. Daley ringing the opening bell.

At the time, Board of Trade officials said the $182 million project, with 27,000 miles of cable, would allow the pits to go toe-to-toe with nascent markets for electronic trading. Some exchange members had doubts. Within a few years, the business began going digital and traders abandoned the place for desktops.

Former Board of Trade Chairman Patrick Arbor spearheaded the project, which detractors called the “arboretum.” Reached Monday, Arbor said the facility was the last great trading floor to be built and worked well for a time before succumbing as a “60,000-square-foot trading flop.”

“It’s very sad,” Arbor said. “It’s all because of one word: technology.” He said he and other exchange leaders were slow to appreciate how fast electronic markets would develop. Now, the old trading floor will help run the systems that put it out of business.

“Midway through the construction cycle in 1995, I started using the internet and said, ‘Wow, this is really something,’” Arbor said.

CME Group issued no statement of its own about the sale of property that figured in its history.

Traders crowd the pits during a tour of the Chicago Board of Trade’s facility in 1997.
Chicago Sun Times