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Showrooms Are Opening Up In Fulton Market As Manufacturers, Designers See It As An Alternative To The Mart

The West Loop’s Fulton Market quickly blossomed from Chicago’s meatpacking district into a high-tech office hub. Now it is undergoing yet another change.

Developers spent the past few years breaking ground and completing millions of SF of modern office space there, making Fulton Market by far Chicago’s most active construction market. And many of these builders took advantage of the area’s open spaces, flooding the new structures with natural light.

That has led manufacturers and furniture designers that use showrooms to display their products to see the neighborhood as an alternative to their traditional home in River North’s Merchandise Mart.

Fulton East rooftop

“There are already some big names out in Fulton Market,” CBRE Senior Vice President Geoffrey Euston said. “And that’s making it more desirable for other manufacturers.”

Furniture company Herman Miller moved this year from the Merchandise Mart after an 80-year run and became the sole tenant of 1100 West Fulton, a five-story, build-to-suit office and retail project that includes a showroom, Euston pointed out. In addition, office furniture and design firm Teknion agreed to occupy 22K SF in 800 West Fulton Market, a new 19-story mixed-use building developed by Thor Equities Group.

Euston said he doesn’t expect showrooms to start flooding away from the Merchandise Mart and into Fulton Market. The Mart’s massive interior and long, sweeping corridors are perfectly designed for product display. Many firms also consider it important to stay close to other showrooms so buyers can move between them easily. But some of the new Fulton Market showrooms are only five blocks west, so those that want the light and space of the new neighborhood can still attract those also shopping at the Mart.

“Showrooms do benefit from being in proximity to one another, and that’s why the Mart is a very sticky place for furniture manufacturers,” Euston said. “But for the first time in 50 years, they do have a choice about where to put their showrooms. We have some clients who elected to stay at the Mart and some who elected to go to Fulton Market, so there’s now a balance.”

Tarkett became the latest company to make the leap. The flooring manufacturer has signed a deal to occupy almost 11K SF at Fulton East, a new LEED-certified, 90K SF mixed-use building at 215 North Peoria St. in Fulton Market. The firm occupies a 9K SF office and showroom space at the Merchandise Mart and will move to its new home by Q1 2022.

Part of what brought Tarkett to Fulton Market is the same thing that attracted big corporate names such as McDonald’s and Mondelez International, which both established their world headquarters in the neighborhood.

“The Merchandise Mart has been a part of my family for years, and it’s great, but the West Loop seemed trendy and edgier, and it not only has all these new restaurants but buildings that are sustainable, and we wanted to change our image,” Tarkett Vice President Chris Johnson said.

Merchandise Mart entrance

Parkside Realty CEO Bob Wislow, the developer of Fulton East, said the new concentration of manufacturers’ showrooms is just the most recent layer to a neighborhood already dense with high-tech firms, new apartment towers and a growing life sciences presence, a quick evolution that began when Google opened at the mammoth 1K Fulton project at 1000 West Fulton Market in 2015.

“Once Google came in six years ago, the whole area was filled with cranes,” he said.

Developers in the past year have completed about 1.6M SF of new office space in Fulton Market and have another 883K SF still under construction, according to Colliers International.   

Many of the new projects are well-suited for showrooms, especially the offices, where natural light can reach most of the space, Wislow said. Fulton East, for example, has nearly 12-foot floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Now furniture companies can move into buildings built as office space and display their products in a much more exciting way,” Wislow said.

Knoll was the first Merchandise Mart tenant to plant its flag in Fulton Market, Johnson said. The design and furniture company occupied 24K SF of both showroom and office space in Shapack Partners’ 811 West Fulton Market back in early 2019. That gave confidence to others.

“When Knoll moved to Fulton Market, everybody said, ‘That was bold,’” he said. “But it didn’t change their business, and they continued to do well. That made it realistic for us to make the same move and see the same success.”

Other furniture, furnishings and fixtures brands to follow Knoll west include Maharam, Inscape, Gabriel Fabrics and Sloan.

“In the end, the question for us was, do we want to make a change from what we’ve been doing for years?” Johnson said. “For us, the answer was yes, and I hope it really becomes a place that designers want to flock to.”

Wislow said at this point, with its many large corporations and thousands of new residents, Fulton Market is exerting a gravitational pull that is going to continue.

“Nobody planned for this to become a design center, the same way that nobody planned for this to become a life sciences center,” he said. “It just happened as people dipped their toes in the water.”