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Chicago mayor proposes conversion of empty office buildings

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(The Center Square) – Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson has unveiled a plan to turn under-utilized downtown office space into mixed-income housing.

Under the plan, four office buildings in the Loop would be repurposed, with the intention of revitalizing the city’s central business district.

“Collectively, these four projects are a full-blown march into an inclusive and vibrant future for our downtown,” Johnson said.

The mayor said the more than $528 million total investment will be formally proposed to the city council this spring. He added that the initiative includes more than just converting under-utilized office buildings into apartments.

“In addition to affordable housing, we look forward to developing a new hotel, activating empty retail spaces and supporting an improved public plaza,” Johnson said.

According to Stone Real Estate, the Loop’s retail vacancy rate increased from 28% in 2022 to 30% in 2023.

Johnson’s proposal was initially introduced by his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot. Johnson said the public-private initiative would convert Loop office space into more than 1,000 units of mixed-income housing. According to Johnson’s plan, more than 300 homes would be affordable to residents earning an average 60% of the area’s median income.

The city must respond to changes in how people work and shop downtown, he said.

“But like many cities, we are in the process of recovering from the impact of the pandemic, resulting in vacancies, particularly our storefronts and our offices,” Johnson said.

Chicago Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Ciere Boatright said four office building projects will repurpose about 40 floors of vacant and under-utilized space.

“Most importantly, it would resonate within the homes of more than 300 households that would be able to live within the corridors at rents they can afford,” Boatright said.

Two of the buildings involved are located on LaSalle Street, which has been a key part of the city’s business community for decades. The other two buildings are on Monroe Street, also in the Loop.

The LaSalle Corridor Revitalization project offers “tax assistance” to developers who convert office space into affordable housing.

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