WLI Breakthrough Series Features The Women of The Old Post Office
January 28, 2020
The ULI Chicago Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) held the fifth installment of its Breakthrough Series on January 23rd, featuring The Women of The Old Post Office. The event, titled “Waking the Sleeping Giant,” was held in the newly-completed Old Post Office conference facilities, and featured Sheryl Schulze (Gensler), Anna Margaret Barris (Illinois State Historic Preservation Office), Dijana Cuvalo (City of Chicago), Christine Lussow (Bear Construction), and Emily Ramsey (MacRostie Historic Advisors Consulting), in a panel discussion moderated by Mariah DiGrino (DLA Piper).
Guests entered through Champagne-bronze accented revolving doors, escaping the January slush into the grand and beautifully restored historic North Lobby. After checking into building security (re-purposed post office counters), guests continued into the heart of the building, stepping onto a plinth and up the escalators to the conference facilities. Guests later learned that the decorative wall treatment lining the escalators was reclaimed postal conveyor belts. Vintage postcards lined the walls on the second floor.
The sold-out crowd was wowed into stunned silence by Sheryl’s presentation of photos juxtaposing the “Gotham” scale building features and enormous postal equipment against the extremely deteriorated conditions that greeted the new owner in 2016, including tidal waves of buckled flooring, floors carpeted in moss, and massive sheets of peeling paint. Anna Margaret, Dijana, and Emily discussed the multi-layered historic reviews, regulatory framework, and public incentives necessary to finance the project. Christine discussed how the team overcame unique construction challenges, including managing three shifts of crews working around the clock with only one operable freight elevator. She also described the unique challenge of working on a building located entirely above active commuter rail lines. Whenever work was required underneath the building, crews were only allowed to work on limited areas, during the hours between midnight and 4am, and only when an Amtrak signalman was on-site. The panelists also noted unique historic elements such as narrow 1930’s-vintage office corridors and overhead surveillance booths which housed postal inspectors observing mail sorting operations. The panelists discussed how the team collaborated to come up with creative solutions to the historic preservation challenges, including creating a “math problem” that gave ownership flexibility to demolish corridor spaces.
The entire panel credited the project’s success and speed to market to the high degree of collaboration and coordination at all levels, established from the top down by “dream client” 601W Companies. Office tenants such as Ferrara Pan, Uber, Walgreens, Home Chef, and others are in various stages of build-out and occupancy. A food hall is planned for the ground floor. Landscaped amenity space is taking shape on the rooftop.
ULI Chicago WLI Board members thanked the slate of annual ULI Chicago WLI sponsors: Platinum Sponsors include Chicago Title Insurance Company and Ventas, and Gold Sponsors include Bucksbaum Retail Properties, Cushman & Wakefield, JLL, and TCF Bank.
The Breakthrough Series was established to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of women in the Chicago real estate market. If you have a recommendation of someone WLI should feature in an upcoming event – please let us know. Otherwise we hope you can join us at our next Breakthrough series event.