Ken Griffin pulling Citadel out of Chicago

Making good on threats, the richest man in Illinois said he is taking his companies to Miami.

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Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin announced Thursday he’s moving his family and the headquarters of Citadel to Miami.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Ken Griffin, the richest Illinoisan, is taking his family, his billions of dollars and his companies and leaving Chicago.

He made the announcement Thursday in a memo to employees. Griffin said the headquarters of his Citadel hedge fund and his trading firm, Citadel Securities, will move to Miami, what he called a “vibrant, growing metropolis that embodies the American Dream.”

The move is expected to take several years. The firms have more than 1,000 employees in Chicago and while some are expected to remain, how many is unknown.

Griffin’s announcement said he has moved his family to Miami. He offered no parting shots at Chicago or Illinois but has been unsparing in his comments about surging downtown-area crime and about local tax and regulatory policies. He has made threats to leave for months.

With a net worth estimated by Forbes at more than $25 billion. Griffin has been Chicago’s leading philanthropist, donating about $500 million to local causes with plans to give more, but he’s also been noted for his heavy spending on politicians. He has dumped $50 million into the campaign of Richard Irvin, running in the Republican primary for governor but faring poorly in a recent Sun-Times/WBEZ poll.

“Chicago will continue to be important to the future of Citadel, as many of our colleagues have deep ties to Illinois,” Griffin said in his memo to employees. “Over the past year, however, many of our Chicago teams have asked to relocate to Miami, New York and our other offices around the world.”

Griffin called Chicago a “remarkable home” for Citadel and he praised past support from political and business leaders. But he has said in other forums that rising crime has made it harder to attract top talent to Citadel, resulting in the firms adding to their headcounts in other cities while trimming it in Chicago.

He said the new headquarters will be on Brickell Bay, in Miami’s business district. Citadel said it has retained Chicago developer Sterling Bay to manage the project. It plans to lease space in Miami until the building is finished. Griffin was not made available for an interview.

His announcement comes on the heels of the Chicago region losing the corporate headquarters of Boeing and Caterpillar, a worrisome trend balanced slightly by news this week that one of three companies cereal and snacks maker Kellogg will split into, the largest, will be based in Chicago. And in a win for the city at the expense of the suburbs, Abbott said it will move 450 headquarters workers downtown from Lake County.

In April, Griffin expanded on the crime issue in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “If people aren’t safe here, they’re not going to live here,” he said. “I’ve had multiple colleagues mugged at gunpoint. I’ve had a colleague stabbed on the way to work. Countless issues of burglary. I mean, that’s a really difficult backdrop with which to draw talent to your city from.”

Griffin has said carjackers accosted his security detail but failed to get his vehicle.

Citadel executives have cited crimes near the homes of several employees and also noted that the headquarters at 131 S. Dearborn St. was vandalized during the downtown riots of 2020.

Griffin has assailed Gov. J.B. Pritzker for having no strategy to deal with the crime wave. It has become an Illinois war of the billionaires, with Pritzker spending millions in his own right to campaign for re-election.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker, Emily Bittner, did not address Griffin’s departure directly. She said, “Countless companies are choosing Illinois as their home, as we continue to lead the nation in corporate relocations and had a record number of business start-ups in the past year.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said, “Citadel leadership has been signaling for some time an enhanced presence in Florida, and while this announcement is not surprising, it is still disappointing. We thank the Citadel team for their contributions to our city and their many philanthropic commitments, particularly around education, arts and culture and public safety. We know Citadel will maintain a significant presence in Chicago and their story would not be possible without the great strengths of our city.”

Public records on crime bolster Griffin’s argument about safety. Miami-Dade County, with about 2.7 million people, is close to Chicago in population, but last year had fewer than one-third of the murders, records show. The medical examiner’s office for Miami-Dade County said there were 245 murders in 2021, while Chicago police reported more than 800.

So far this year, both jurisdictions have reported declines in the pace of murders. Robberies, however, are up substantially in both areas, according to authorities.

But factors other than crime may be at play for Griffin. Florida has no state income tax, which will benefit any worker who chooses to relocate, but especially those with high salaries. It’s also possible that Griffin will find the Sunshine State’s politics more to his liking.

Griffin was born in Daytona Beach, Florida, and later moved to Boca Raton, closer to Miami. Several media outlets have reported on his habit of buying ultra-expensive homes in areas where Citadel has offices, including several properties on Miami’s Star Island. The Wall Street Journal in 2020 said his various purchases totaled more than $1 billion.

Locally, evidence of his spending remains in other ways. With his $125 million donation in hand, the Museum of Science and Industry has said it will name itself after Griffin, although it has not implemented that change. There was no word from the museum on whether Griffin’s exit from Chicago affects that plan.

He supported the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab’s research into the cause of violence. Griffin paid for the construction of 50 miniature soccer fields across the city and made it possible to separate bicyclists and runners along the Lakefront Trail. His largesse supported programs for food donations during the pandemic.

Griffin founded the Citadel hedge fund in Chicago in 1990. It became one of the most successful alternative investment vehicles for wealthy people and institutions. The company said it has continued to perform well this year despite a bear market, with assets up 13% through May.

His Citadel Securities, founded in 2002, has become the world’s top market-maker, which are firms assigned to continuously buy and sell stocks to ensure ease of trading. In January, the company got an outside minority investment that valued the entire enterprise at $22 billion.

Contributing: Frank Main

Ken Griffin’s philanthropy

Citadel says Ken Griffin has donated more than $600 million to educational, cultural, medical and civic organizations over the past 30 years.

Some of his donations:

May 2022 — $25 million to launch two academies at the University of Chicago that will provide six months of training to police leaders here and across the country and to people who run violence interruption groups.

March 2020 — Griffin and partners in his financial companies donated $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools and $1.5 million to the Chicagoland Food Pantry to deliver breakfast and lunch to city kids at home while their schools are closed due to the pandemic.

October 2019 — The Museum of Science and Industry will now be called the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry after a donation of $125 million from the Chicago billionaire. It’s the largest single gift in the history of the museum, which opened in 1933.

April 2018 — A $10 million grant from Griffin underwrote the collaboration of the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago Crime Lab through 2019, with some of the money to go to an “innovation fund.” The money also helped improve services for officers, including training, stress management and mental health treatment.

December 2017 — The Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund donated $3 million to pave the way for construction of 50 miniature soccer fields across the city over the next five years. The announcement was at Gage Park as part of a nationwide campaign by the U.S. Soccer Foundation known as, “It’s Everyone’s Game.”

December 2016 — Griffin donates $12 million to complete a project that separates runners from cyclists along the entire 18-mile length of the lakefront trail.

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