The Chicago Tribune’s co-publishers had modest ambitions when they solicited ideas in 1922 for a new home for the Windy City’s newspaper: They simply asked for architects’ proposals to create “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.”
Architecture critics can judge the beauty of the neo-Gothic building that resulted from the competition, but private equity real estate firm CIM Group liked the tower – or at least its central business district location and option to significantly expand the square footage – enough to buy it for $240 million at the end of August. A spokeswoman for the firm declined to comment on the transaction and CIM’s plans, but other bidders proposed various uses for the tower including condominiums, a hotel and retail space.
“Tribune Tower is a prominent property with a rich history that has been a feature of the Chicago skyline for nearly a century. It's in an area that, today, is attracting new businesses and residents,” said Avi Shemesh, CIM’s co-founder, in the announcement. “After being active in the Chicago market for more than a decade, we have recently made several compelling investments that have expanded our growing presence in the city.”
Tribune Media Company, the parent organization of various media entities including 42 broadcast stations, sold the building as part of an ongoing effort to monetize its national real estate portfolio. Tribune Media has sold $89 million of properties in 2016 to date, according to a statement Wednesday.
In July 2013, Tribune Media’s former parent company, the Tribune Company, split into two separate entities, Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing, now known as Tronc, which is the publisher of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. The latter is currently the Tribune Tower’s anchor tenant with a lease through June 2018. Tribune Media’s chief executive said in a staff memo that the company will move several hundred employees out of the Tribune Tower in the second quarter of 2017 because CIM plans to repurpose the building.
The Los Angeles-based firm is no stranger to the Windy City, buying four Chicago apartment and office properties since April 2012, according to real estate data provider Real Capital Analytics. In August, the firm also purchased a 26,100 square foot development site about two miles south of the Tribune Tower, with plans to construct a mixed-use building with apartments, retail and a parking garage with a local developer. The firm closed its latest opportunistic fund, CIM Fund VIII, on $2.4 billion in January 2015, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. A spokeswoman declined to comment on whether or not the recent acquisitions were made through Fund VIII.
None of the CIM’s other purchases comes with quite the history of the Tribune Tower, which was designated an official city landmark in 1989. Much of the building’s fame stems from its collection of embedded objects placed on the building’s exterior. At least 150 objects from around the world, including a piece of steel from New York’s World Trade Center and a slice of the Berlin Wall, as well as stones from the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal adorn the walls. The newspaper’s twentieth-century correspondents were tasked not only with reporting the news from far corners of the globe, but also with bringing back fragments of these historic sites – by whatever means necessary, as local legend goes.
Some of the artifacts hail from closer to home, with all 50 states represented and bricks from Chicago’s two ballparks.
After buying a building that has housed decades of Pulitzer Prize winners, CIM will write a new chapter in the iconic building’s history.