In search of new digs for their headquarters, Walgreen Co. has scouted the hulking cement block that formerly housed the Main Post Office in the South Loop.
But the Deerfield-based drugstore chain isn’t tipping their hand.
The company told Crain’s Chicago Business it was “not engaged with developers on any new locations for our corporate headquarters.”
But Crain’s reports that British developer Bill Davies, who owns the building, has negotiated with Walgreen without reaching an agreement.
A source tells the Sun-Times that Walgreen reps were at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in January expressing interest in the post office, but discussions — described as preliminary — never broached job numbers or state incentives.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s spokeswoman, Sarah Hamilton, had no comment on the matter when reached Thursday afternoon, but a City Hall source characterized speculation about the move “very premature,” noting that Emanuel has steered clear of huge subsidies in his hunt for corporate relocations.
A Walgreen spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment.
The building is in Ald. Bob Fioretti’s (2nd) ward, but in 2015, when a ward remap takes effect, it will fall in Ald. Danny Solis’ (25th) ward.
Solis has not had any discussions with Walgreen and knows of no talks between the city and Walgreen, he said Thursday.
“I’d be disappointed if the city was talking to them and hadn’t talked to me about it,” said Solis, an Emanuel ally. “Do I want somebody in the post office, a big corporation like Walgreen’s, yes. But I will hold off until I see how many jobs and how much tax revenue it would bring and balance it off” before deciding on a giant subsidy, he said.
Fioretti (2nd) said that if the company were to relocate to the post office, at 433 W. Van Buren St., which has been vacant since 1995, it would become “the most visible headquarters in the world” because it sits next to the Chicago River and atop Amtrak and Metra tracks, as well as the Eisenhower Expressway.
It would be the “final piece of vibrancy to the South Loop and West Loop if we could have a good corporate headquarters, but the question is at what price?” Fioretti said.
Many have had big plans for the building, none of which have worked out. The Richard M. Daley administration granted TIF subsidies of more than $51 million to a project aimed at turning it into residential properties, but the plan fell through. The building has also been kicked around as the location for a long discussed Chicago casino.
Fioretti said he has walked around the building with city inspectors on a number of occasions to make certain its owner was keeping it up to code. He hinted strongly the building needs substantial work.
“I would hope that Walgreens would say ‘We don’t need a subsidy, we just want the location,’” Fioretti said. “Every time a corporation comes here we say ‘Sure. Whatever you want.’ But we ought to do an analysis to determine if we should give them any subsidy,” he said.
“But I don’t think we should be talking about giving them the subsidy or not until they are seriously at the table with Mr. Davies,” Fioretti said.
Walgreen has come under pressure from some large shareholders to relocate to Europe to reduce tax costs. A group of investors and Walgreen executives met in Paris a month ago, where investors suggested the company use its takeover of Swiss-based Alliance Boots to move its base.
“We regularly meet with our investors and always welcome their input,” the company said last month. “Over the past year, we have made significant progress in our strategic partnership with Alliance Boots as we move toward the window for exercising the second step of our transaction.
“Our focus is always on analyzing and doing what is in the best long-term interest of our company and its shareholders, and when we have something more definitive to announce about our future structure and strategies, we will do so.”
Walgreen bought 45 percent of Alliance Boots, which runs Europe’s largest pharmacy chain, in 2012, with an option to buy the rest in 2015.
Contributing: Mitch Dudek