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Goodbye, Oak Brook: McDonald’s confirms move to West Loop

McDonald's headquarters in Oak Brook. | Sun-Times file photo

McDonald’s Corp. will move to its corporate headquarters from Oak Brook to downtown Chicago, the company announced Monday.

The move will be concluded by the spring of 2018, the fast-food giant said in a news release.

A lease has been signed at 1045 W. Randolph St., in the West Loop complex that once housed Harpo Studios, home of Oprah Winfrey’s empire. The company said it will “transform the space into a modern setting that fosters collaboration and connectivity.”

The move ends speculation that began nearly two weeks ago with a report in Crain’s Chicago Business.

McDonald's Corp.  has signed a lease to occupy the area that was once home to Oprah Winfrey's production company. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

McDonald’s Corp. has signed a lease to occupy the area that was once home to Oprah Winfrey’s production company. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Oak Brook Village Manager Rick Ginex said he got a call about 9:55 a.m. Monday morning from a McDonald’s executive confirming the move; that was about five minutes before the company issued its news release.

“We understand it was a business decision and they had to play their cards close to the vest. We wish them nothing but the best,” said Ginex, who spoke with McDonald’s Vice President of Facilities and Systems Joe Andress.

“I understand they’ll be working with a broker on their property over the next year and a half and we’re hoping it’s an opportunity for another corporation to move in,” said Ginex, noting that McDonald’s owns several parcels in the village — about 150 acres in all.

“We are a brand on the move in more ways than one,” McDonald’s president and CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. “Moving our headquarters to Chicago is another significant step in our journey to build a better McDonald’s. This world-class environment will continue to drive business momentum by getting us even closer to customers, encouraging innovation and ensuring great talent is excited about where they work.”

The move marks a return to Chicago where the company was headquartered from 1955 to 1971, before the company moved to Oak Brook.

“McDonald’s looks forward to returning to the Chicago community where we started and to building together the next chapter of success in the history of this great company,” said Rick Hernandez, chairman of the board of McDonald’s, said in a written statement. “Today’s announcement is about more than just a new location for us. It is an important investment in our people as we look to create a start-of-the-art company headquarters they can use to move our business forward for many years to come.”

The company’s training ground, “Hamburger University, also will make the move.

The fact that the move had been rumored for months didn’t stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from basking in the glow of his latest corporate relocation coup — one achieved without a public subsidy.

“I want to welcome McDonald’s back to the city of Chicago. A global company like McDonalds’s with a thousand employees sees a global city like Chicago as the right place for their headquarters. They see the talent, the technology and the transportation network for a company like theirs that has a global reach. They have chosen Chicago for its global headquarters like other companies,” the mayor told reporter before attending a graduation for Clemente High School.

“The key point for any company — big, medium or small, wherever you locate — [is] where do you find the best talent? And from Sullivan High School this weekend to Clemente High School to our high schools across the city, to our colleges and universities across the city, we have an incredible workforce with a great work ethic and great talent. Companies like McDonald’s have choices. And they chose Chicago as their headquarters. It speaks volumes to the investments we’re making in the future of this city.”

Emanuel made no mention of the fact that many of Chicago’s recent victories in the corporate relocation game have come at the expense of the suburbs.

The western suburb now has to figure out what to do with the bucolic corporate campus and the hotels and restaurants that fed McDonald’s corporate visitors. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has decried stealing from the suburbs as a zero-sum game. She has argued that economic development needs a more regional approach.

But Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward will now be the home of McDonald’s corporate headquarters, has countered: “The suburbs steal from us. All of our migration out of the city is going to the suburbs. So, we need to do what we have to do to stay competitive.”

But McDonald’s arrival does have a downside its neighbors.

“I told my friends, ‘Oh, there goes free parking,” said a 38-year old software engineer who lives down the block from Harpo Studios and asked not to be identified.

He said other concerns included maintaining dog friendly landscaping and the potential for protests and demonstrations against the giant corporation to become part of daily life.

“But it doesn’t surprise me that they’re moving here. Google set the trend when they moved into the neighborhood . . . Kind of like Oprah did originally.”

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has sought to reassure that it is making changes to its food and service that customers want. | File photo