Landmark Chicago Board of Trade building attracts techies with $30 million revamp and new incubator

December 19, 2013

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When the Chicago Board of Trade was sold from CME Group to GlenStar Properties and USAA Real Estate in early 2012, it was still the “old boys club” it always had been. But a $30 million revamping portends futuristic plans for the 83-year-old building.

“We love our traders,” said Christian Domin, managing director at GlenStar. “But tenant diversification was a big part of our goal here.”  

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With 1.3 million square feet, the CBOT was once a massive playground for financial firms.  But if there’s any indication that today’s economy is a technology one, it’s that traditional finance, insurance and real estate firms are taking up close to 30 percent less space, and technology firms are moving in, Domin said.

“Technology firms are generally what’s driving the net absorption in the marketplace, what’s driving the new space being leased.” With companies like Motorola, Gogo, kCura and Google moving into larger downtown spaces – the CBOT seeks a bigger piece of the technology pie.

GlenStar caters to tech as the CBOT is now only nearly 65 percent occupied. Domin announced that the CBOT has carved out space for its own business incubator, close to half the size of 1871 – a 50,000 square foot space based in the Merchandise Mart. GlenStar is actively seeking partners for the space.

The company is refurbishing and rewiring the landmark building with accessible, modern  infrastructure, including connecting spaces to fiber risers throughout the building and a “meet me” room encompassing nearly 12 different fiber providers that tenants can choose from. This helps companies move in and move around the building faster, expanding and contracting as needed.

“We already have a tech culture in the building because of the trading firms,” Domin said. “Trading is tech,” as more trading firms utilize high frequency trading, mobile and Internet solutions. The building connects to six electrical substations, the only downtown building to do so. It has 15 telecom providers in the building and is serviced by two district cooling plants, but still chills 4,000 tons on its own.

And while much of the infrastructure was already there, the CBOT’s tech-friendliness catapulted in November with close to 8,000 square feet leased to Houston-based Data Stream to build a data center. Still, Domin says it’s not just about the infrastructure, but also about the amenities.

“It wasn’t a difficult conversation to say we’ve got to spend a little more money to make this place 24-7,” he said. “If you want to have a call with someone in China on a Saturday, no problem.”

Amenities and aesthetics are making the CBOT most attractive to new tenants. This allows them to embrace the 24-hour workday, Domin says, so it’s a place to “work, live and play.” A 24-hour video conferencing center also has opened this fall, and a 24-hour fitness center is set to open in January.

Renovations began with the entrance, removing the turnstiles to make the building more open and welcoming. They are carving out the rest of the building to create a rooftop deck emerging from the building’s atrium, close to the historic statue of Ceres – the goddess of agriculture – that blesses the commodities exchange.

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Keeping the art deco feel of the overall building, individual offices are modernizing with higher ceilings and LED lighting. The atrium now shines silver, rather than the hospital-colored teal it had been before.

The atrium will be open with new furniture and a new barista. In addition to the Ceres Café open since 1967 at the entrance to the CBOT, there will be new restaurants including a Mezza Grill, a new espresso and patisserie to help the building buzz with energy.

CBOT marketing and outreach has begun, but will speed up with a real estate brokerage party in March so that the real estate community can understand that the new ownership’s lofty goals are to modernize and technologize.

The building already caters to non-trading firms, including lawyers, accountants and financial technology firms that aren’t trading. But Domin also said the building isn’t filled with corporations; rather, it’s filled with entrepreneurs, and building renovations are a leap toward attracting more innovation.

“It’s dramatic, it’s expensive,” Domin said of the capital investments in building improvements.

“But it’s worth it.”

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