Small E-Commerce Firms Now Fueling Rise Of Industrial Sector

The development pipeline for the logistics sector swelled in the past few years as major retailers and other corporations retooled their supply chains and got into e-commerce in a big way, many taking down warehouses of 500K SF or more. But another wave of users is coming into the market: small startups that may have little or no brick-and-mortar presence at all, and which could fuel new construction for years to come.

“It’s lifting the whole warehouse sector to a level we’ve never seen before,” Cushman & Wakefield Executive Director and Chicago Industrial Group Leader David Friedland said.

LogistiCenter at North Avenue

Courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

365 East North Ave., Carol Stream, Ill.

These smaller firms typically don’t consider e-commerce one of their core competencies, he added, and third-party logistics firms that can service this group have a chance for spectacular growth.

“The number of [requests for proposals] that landlords are getting from 3PLs is more than we’ve ever seen.”

ShipFusion, an e-commerce firm in west suburban Chicago, has grown rapidly in the past five years by serving such small firms, expanding from a 25K SF building to a 381K SF e-commerce fulfillment center at 365 East North Ave. in Carol Stream, Illinois, its newly leased U.S. flagship operation. The headquarters was completed by Dermody Properties in 2017 as a spec development, and ShipFusion officials said occupying a new building is key for their operation, which relies on proprietary software to manage the many clients and a large temperature-controlled space to ship perishables.

“You need a strong electrical base to work off of, so going for a cheaper rent on an older building works against you in the long term,” ShipFusion co-founder Brandon Luft said. “This new facility allows us to expand our operations significantly and serve a larger number of e-commerce clients across the globe and the U.S., as they scale their businesses.”

The company’s inventory management software powers the operation, Luft added, as it allows ShipFusion to customize how it ships packages for its array of clients, including many health-related companies selling vitamins or diet powders, as well as firms marketing beauty supplies, books, shoes and other products. That software, developed in-house, lets ShipFusion make small changes for one customer at the last minute, such as adding a gift with each new order, or using updated weather data to properly time the deliveries of sensitive products like food or medicine.

Unlike Amazon and the massive retailers that first fueled the logistics sector’s rise, the relatively small outfits now pouring into the space don’t have the same economies of scale, or back offices stocked with accountants, needed to run such operations, making that proprietary software invaluable, Luft said.

ShipFusion clients have an online portal, for example, where they can see the status of products shipped or amounts billed, or engage in live chats with company staff.

“Many of these firms are not built like traditional retailers, including some that have teams in different cities working remotely, and they can’t commit to large amounts of fixed overhead, so it makes sense for them to work out an agreement and let us handle everything,” Luft said.   

Small E-Commerce Firms Now Fueling Rise Of Industrial Sector

Courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

ShipFusion now operates from two other Carol Stream warehouses totaling about 100K SF, in addition to ones in Toronto and Bell, California, and plans to consolidate the Carol Stream operations into its new headquarters facility. Its new home, which has 36-foot clear heights, includes 40K SF of temperature-controlled space, and more than 8K SF for corporate offices. Luft said the company will only occupy about 30% to 35% of the total space on day one, and then expand into the full building over the next couple of years.

“There is a lot of activity in this space, and it seems like this kind of need is only going to grow,” he said.

Investors have also shown a lot of interest. Dallas-based Colony Capital bought the Carol Stream facility for $32M early last year, according to property data site Reonomy, and a Colony spokesperson said it was then sold to Blackstone as part of a nearly $6B blockbuster deal for hundreds of similar assets scattered across dozens of U.S. markets.

Several other bulk industrial portfolios traded hands last year, bringing Chicago-area investment sales to a total of 44.8M SF, up 38.4% year-over-year, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s latest market report.

And as long as investors stand ready to pour capital into the region, developers will keep on building new product like 365 East North Ave. Although developing big-boxes of more than 500K SF has gone out of style for now, as landlords work to lease up those existing spaces, new construction is going forward on smaller structures across the Chicago region at a rapid pace. 

The average size of new construction declined 5.9% year-over-year, from 394K SF in 2018 to 294K SF in 2019, according to the recent Cushman & Wakefield report.

Deliveries in the Chicago area shot up to 19.8M SF last year, a 70% boost over 2018’s 11.6M SF, and the regional vacancy rate was steady at 4.9%, a 19-year record low, the firm said. Developers had 16.8M SF underway at the end of 2019, 60.7% of it on spec, and 2020 could be one of the strongest years since the industrial building boom began in 2013.

“We think the runway for this sector is really long, especially since the overall amount of consumer purchases made on the internet is still relatively low,” Friedland said. “We don’t see an end in sight, and it’s not just the mega e-commerce guys, it’s driven by companies of all sizes trying to get into this space.”   

LaSalle Street Landlords Adopt New Uses To Fill Gaping Holes Left By Financial Exodus

The flight of major financial institutions from the Central Loop to glittering new trophy towers a few blocks to the west is hollowing out several buildings along Chicago’s storied LaSalle Street, and filling those empty spaces won’t be easy.

But many observers say the downtown has so many demand drivers that even structures that seem like relics from another era may eventually fill up with a mix of tenants, and change how the city’s best-known business district is used.

LaSalle-1 - City Hall Farmers Market

Courtesy of Cushman & Wakefield

A potential Farmers Market on City Hall’s LaSalle Street side.

Bank of America is leading the exodus to the west. This year, it will vacate more than 800K SF at 135 South LaSalle, a 1930s-era building, and move into 110 North Wacker Drive, a 55-story tower under construction along the Chicago River. Northern Trust also plans a 2020 move, and will leave more than 200K SF at 231 South LaSalle, although it is headed east to 333 South Wabash Ave. The financial district will suffer other big exits in the near future, including BMO Harris Bank, which in 2022 will consolidate three downtown locations into BMO Tower, the new 50-story tower going up next to Union Station, leaving more than 400K SF vacant at 115 South LaSalle St.    

Those leases alone amount to around 1.5M SF on a few blocks of one street, but other areas of the city have seen once-dowdy buildings, such as the Old Post Office, find new users and get new life after rehabs, and experts say LaSalle Street structures have hidden strengths.

“A lot of these buildings were built in the 1920s and 1930s, and many buildings from that era have perfect floor plates for adaptive reuse,” Cushman & Wakefield Managing Director Susan Tjarksen said.

Unlike office towers constructed in the 1970s and 1980s, which typically use glass walls to provide sweeping views, making many difficult to subdivide, most old Central Loop office buildings have dozens of windows on each floor. Tjarksen said that will allow developers to remake these aging structures into small rental apartments, hotel rooms or coworking spaces.

Cushman & Wakefield estimates that downtown LaSalle Street has about 5M SF, and existing vacancies along the street have already pushed the overall Central Loop’s vacancy rate to 15.8%, a historic high and far above the 7.4% recorded in Fulton Market, the downtown’s most vibrant office submarket. A separate report by the company on the city’s Financial District found that the new construction on the blocks to the west played a role in pushing up vacancy.

“Of the 19 tenants occupying 20K SF or greater that relocated from the Central Loop to other submarkets since 2015, all but one left for a Class-A or trophy building,” mostly in the West Loop, according to the report. 

Still, some developers already renovating the street say fears about the upcoming vacancies are overblown.

For one, the financial sector hasn’t disappeared entirely. Prominent banks, including Wintrust, Northern Trust, US Bank, Byline Bank and CIBC, retain space on LaSalle Street. And now new groups are moving in.

“I still think LaSalle Street is ground zero for the CBD,” The Prime Group CEO and Chairman Mike Reschke said. “There has been a big draw to the west, but LaSalle Street will always be a key business center.”

Northern Trust decided to keep its global headquarters at 50 South LaSalle, he pointed out, even though most employees will move off the street, and the surrounding blocks will still be densely packed with office users, as well as top downtown attractions, with LaSalle right at the center. To Reschke, that means hotels serving business travelers and tourists could be the highest and best use for much of the empty space.

“You can walk to any business meeting in 10 to 15 minutes, including ones in all the new towers on Wacker Drive, then walk in the other direction to Millennium Park and The Art Institute, and the third-largest theater district in the world after London and New York,” Reschke said.

The clock facade on the Chicago Board of Trade Building

The clock facade on the Chicago Board of Trade Building

Reschke’s Prime Group developed in 2010 the 610-key JW Marriott Hotel at 208 South LaSalle, and now plans to open a 232-key, ultraluxury hotel in the same building atop the Marriott. Reschke said the hotel, called The Reserve,  will give the Central Loop what it has long needed, a true Five-Star hotel that competes with the ultraluxury hotels that dot River North.

Transforming much of 208 South LaSalle, a renovated landmark constructed in 1914, into hotel rooms was made relatively easy by its 25-by-17-foot bay sizes, each of which makes a perfectly sized luxury hotel room, Reschke added.

“These historic buildings often have very efficient layouts, and not just for hotels,” he said.

One bay at 208 South LaSalle could also become a studio apartment, and two bays combined could be a one-bedroom unit.

Developer CityPads sees the same kind of opportunity in the Clark Adams Building at 105 West Adams, a 41-story office building constructed in 1927 one block east of LaSalle. The company plans to purchase the upper floors of the building and spend about $80M transforming that space into 159 apartments, along with 505 beds in dorm-style co-living spaces, according to a Chicago Tribune report. A Club Quarters hotel occupies the lower floors, and the building’s office space is 50% occupied.

That kind of mixed-use is what Reschke said will be LaSalle Street’s future, after the departures of all those big banks, although it could take three to five years to lease up that space.

“We’re still going to be the financial district, but we will also have arts, entertainment, restaurants and residential all together,” he said.

The Prime Group will open The Reserve in late 2020 or early 2021, and Reschke said it also plans to open two restaurants at 208 South LaSalle, one on the ground floor, and the other on the 21st floor.    

One change Reschke does not want to see is the proposal, floated by the Cushman & Wakefield study, for an elevated walkway. Styled after New York City’s popular High Line, it would cover much of LaSalle, and he said he is worried such a project would kill the celebrated views that made this part of LaSalle so popular with Hollywood filmmakers and tourists.

“That is an absolutely crazy idea; we have one of the most historic streets in the U.S., perfectly framed by the iconic architecture of the Board of Trade Building,” he said.

The Board of Trade Building sits at LaSalle’s southern end, and its recent past may provide a template to revive the rest of the street, Glenstar Properties Managing Principal Michael Klein said. His firm, along with then-partner USAA Real Estate, bought the Art Deco structure in 2012 for $152M, when it was about 65% leased, with almost all of the tenants connected in some way to the Chicago Board of Trade.

Companies devoted to that work had been the building’s mainstay since the CBOT began operating there in 1930, but times had changed. 

“It was clear that the trading industry had changed, and you saw far less floor trading,” he said.

LaSalle Street Landlords Adopt New Uses To Fill Gaping Holes Left By Financial Exodus

LaSalle Street

The partners then set about bringing the building into the modern age.

A $35M rehab opened up the lobby and other historic spaces, provided refreshed corridors, bathrooms, a rooftop deck, new elevators and a tech upgrade that secured a Platinum rating from WiredScore, a company that created an international rating for connectivity in commercial buildings.

The building is now about 80% occupied, and fewer than 50% of the tenants have a connection to the trading industry. The rest are a diverse collection of logistics firms, high-tech startups, law firms and real estate companies, among others.

Klein recognizes not every building on LaSalle Street can follow the same path. The CBOT building’s Art Deco design and location makes it attractive for modern office users, while some of the other buildings, both on LaSalle and the nearby blocks, will need more radical rethinks, and start hosting hotels or apartments.

“It’s going to be a combination of all of these things, with some people doing as we’ve done, while others will do adaptive reuses,” he said.

As the owner of 231 South LaSalle St., a 1M SF building constructed in 1924 and slated to lose Northern Trust this year, Boston-based Beacon Capital Partners faces one of those dilemmas. But Managing Director Greg O’Neal said LaSalle Street no longer depends on retaining the massive financial institutions that historically settled there. Tech firms and coworking companies, among other sectors, have started eyeing spaces, most of which offer better value than the Class-A towers to the west.

According to the Cushman & Wakefield report, on average tenants that left the Central Loop pay $33.70 per SF in their new locations, compared to the $26.40 per SF they paid in the Central Loop.

“That’s a lot of money for small, growing companies, and it’s a big competitive advantage for landlords on LaSalle Street,” Reschke said.  

The change can already be seen on the top floors of 231 South LaSalle, where coworking firm Industrious occupies more than 50K SF. Although coworking, tech and other startups have helped make new neighborhoods like West Loop and Fulton Market trendy, Industrious officials said the Central Loop is also a good fit.

“The area surrounding South LaSalle St. is a fairly traditional central business district, but with an up-and-coming cool factor,” according to Industrious Director of Real Estate Doug Feinberg. “It’s the marriage of two things Industrious looks for in signing new locations: a prominent business hub and desirability.”

The space Industrious now uses had been unoccupied mechanical floors, but the company built it out into a penthouse-style area with a private outdoor patio for members.  

“While we are seeing more of the West Loop is gaining momentum, the market for Central Loop isn’t going anywhere,” Feinberg said. “Landlords are adapting and finding new ways to drive traffic and maintain activity.”

Decline In The Number Of Available Jobs Could Be A Warning Sign For CRE

Decline In The Number Of Available Jobs Could Be A Warning Sign For CRE

Courtesy of JLL

The monthly number of open positions in the U.S.

It’s just a small decline, and in a few months, it may prove to be a forgotten statistical blip. But with so many observers believing the U.S. is at the tail end of a long recovery, any economic clouds are often looked at as the first sign of a recession, and the recent drop in the number of open U.S. jobs caused the economists at JLL to take notice.

After peaking at about 7.5 million in March, the number of open positions declined to roughly 6.8 million in November, according to JLL Chief Economist Ryan Severino. The labor market overall remains quite robust, so a decline in open positions is no reason to panic. The same statistic stalled in much of 2015 and 2016, only to start trending upward once again, and that could still happen.

Severino said the number bears watching over the next quarter or two, when a clearer picture will emerge. If the downward trend continues, it could impact commercial real estate, but to what degree is uncertain. A continued decline in net jobs could mean slower growth and less demand for space.

“This is really a question of magnitude,” he said. “If it is just a minor pullback like we have seen, probably not much.”

Even though a lack of qualified labor plays a major role in this overall new jobs slowdown, Severino said that shortage has been a feature of the economy for years, and he is seeing something new. 

“The pullback is likely a decline in demand from businesses assessing the future, not a response to the supply side,” he said. “If the pullback is significant enough, no property sector would be unscathed.”

Big Leases Keep On Coming For Fulton Market

800 West Fulton

Courtesy of SOM

800 West Fulton Market

Fulton Market already has the lowest vacancy rate of any submarket in the Central Business District, and it seems likely to hold onto that title even though developers keep breaking ground on massive new towers.

Thor Equities Group is the latest developer with something to celebrate. 

Along with joint venture partner QuadReal, the New York City-based company broke ground in October on 800 West Fulton Market, a 19-story, 400K SF mixed-use building, and Aspen Dental Management agreed to lease more than half the space.  

The new anchor tenant provides business support and administrative services to dentists nationwide, and now leases about 50K SF at 1040 West Randolph St. It will occupy the top half of 800 West Fulton Market, as well as 8K SF of street-level retail space.  

The vacancy rate in Fulton Market plunged from more than 16% one year ago to just 7.5% at the end of 2019, according to Colliers International. With the launching of 800 West Fulton Market, developers now have 3.6M SF under construction, pushing Fulton Market ahead of West Loop as the city’s most active submarket.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 800 West Fulton Market is set for delivery in spring of 2021, Thor officials said.

Other Fulton Market firms are undergoing significant expansions. Intercom, a business messaging platform, occupies nearly 18K SF at Sterling Bay’s 1330 West Fulton St., but will triple its space to more than 52K SF. It first opened a Fulton Market office in 2016.

“We love the culture here and have had great success finding the type of people we love to work with,” Intercom CEO Eoghan McCabe said.

The company will occupy Sterling Bay’s current headquarters space after the developer moves its new headquarters to 333 North Green St., also in Fulton Market and currently under construction.

CBRE’s Kevin McLennan represented Intercom, while Sterling Bay’s Joy Jordan, Russ Cora and Gillian Keebler represented Sterling Bay.

This Week’s Chicago Deal Sheet

Southeast Wisconsin was one of the Chicago region’s most active industrial markets in 2019, and a new deal by HSA Commercial Real Estate indicates 2020 will also be a banner year for new construction. The Chicago-based firm acquired 68 acres at Wilmot Road and 136th Avenue in Bristol, near Interstate 94 and the Illinois border, and village officials approved its plan to develop Bristol Highlands Commerce Center, a three-building, 1M SF business park.

World’s Largest Starbucks Becoming A Tourist Attraction

The world’s largest Starbucks store opened on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile just before Thanksgiving, and the location at 646 North Michigan Ave. quickly became a destination for shoppers from around the region.
Attracting coffee drinkers from afar helped keep the five-floor, 35K SF Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a former flagship Crate & Barrel store, busy throughout the Christmas season, with nearly 50% of the customers traveling from more than 30 miles away, according to, a Los Altos, California-based foot traffic analytics platform that analyzes cellphone data. 
That is welcome news for all nearby retailers. The Magnificent Mile was known for generations as the Chicago…

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