Vol. 4, Issue 19, Associations: Growing Upward

By Ginger Downs, RCE, CAE, IOM 

Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors

At the Chicago Association of Realtors third annual International Real Estate Expo in August, we had the distinct pleasure of touring the sales center for the new Trump International Hotel & Tower. Overlooking the steadily climbing skyscraper currently under construction at 401 N. Wabash Ave., the sales model showcases a vignette of the amenities and features planned for the Tower’s residences and hotel rooms. When completed, the building will stand 92 stories tall and an impressive 1,362 feet high.

Our International Real Estate Expo featured booths and representatives from several of the “supertall skyscrapers” currently under construction in Chicago. Nancy Suvarnamani, immediate past president of the Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR) and president, Century 21 S.G.R. Inc., hosted a cocktail reception on behalf of the Waterview Tower/Shangri-La Hotel, a mixed-use condominium hotel currently emerging from the ground at 121 West Wacker Drive. Gerard Kenny of Palladian Development gave an exciting presentation on the forthcoming Mandarin Oriental Chicago at 215 N. Michigan Ave. And of course, CAR’s president-elect Michael Golden, who will be inaugurated on Sept. 28, 2007, is overseeing sales for the landmark Chicago Spire, which, when completed, will be the tallest building in the United States.

What is it that makes Chicago such an appealing, inviting host for these ambitious development projects?

Perhaps our healthy commercial real estate markets are part of the attraction. Office vacancies in Chicago have fallen to their lowest level in four years: only 12.6 percent of all downtown office space is vacant. According to Gerard Kenny of Palladian Development, the Chicago-based partner for the Mandarin Oriental, properties like the Hong Kong-based hotel are contributing to lower office and retail vacancies, as new businesses and vendors move in to surrounding areas to accommodate future residents.

Or perhaps it is our city’s intimate history with the “skyscraper,” originating in the late 19th Century with Daniel Burnham and William Jenney. These pioneer architects utilized steel building frames and glass plates in place of iron and brick, a style commonly referred to throughout the world of architecture as the “Chicago School.” These techniques set an example for constructing skyscrapers that is still replicated and improved upon throughout the world today.

Another world-renowned architectural figure, famed Chicago resident Frank Lloyd Wright, envisioned in 1956 the first mile-high building. With 528 stories, “The Illinois” (also known as “Mile High Illinois” or “Illinois Sky-City”) would have dwarfed the next-tallest building of its time, the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Wright’s project never came into fruition, with issues such as building sway, fire safety, and the space necessary to accommodate numerous elevators as well as water and sewage for higher floors. In the 51 years since Wright’s first vision for a “supertall skyscraper,” problems that prevented the Illinois from being built have been solved, making projects such as the Chicago Spire possible.

It is true that the Spire, Waterview Tower, Trump Tower and Mandarin Oriental are in competition with one another to attract and accommodate buyers and residents both in Chicago and from around the globe. But as these towers reach higher and higher towards the sky and their goals of completion, it is a wonderful thing to have each of them here in our great city.

The Chicago Association of REALTORS (CAR), “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 17,000 real estate professionals in Chicagoland. CAR is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who works in partnership with a professional administrative staff.

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