Contact Us

A Look At The Dark Horse Sites In Illinois' Amazon HQ2 Proposal

Chicago Technology

Amazon has begun the process of sifting through 238 proposals to host Amazon HQ2, and Chicago hopes to be a contender. Its proposal highlights the Chicago region's cluster of universities and its status as a burgeoning tech sector. It is heavy on potential sites and at least $2B in tax incentives, should Amazon decide on the Second City for a second headquarters. Both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner have spent the past month trumpeting the Chicago area's bona fides.

The proposal lists 10 sites. Some, like Sterling Bay's Lincoln Yards (its redevelopment of the Finkl Steel site), the Tribune Freedom Center site and Related Midwest's The 78, were expected. While all of the sites have something to offer Amazon, a few were still head-scratchers. Today, we take a look at the five proposed sites that came as a bit of a surprise.

1. The Thompson Center

James R. Thompson Center

Real estate professionals have argued for years about whether the Helmut Jahn-designed building is worth saving. Rauner believes $100M in deferred maintenance makes the Thompson Center too much of a hassle and has sought to sell the property, a move that has become a point of contention between him and Emanuel.

Jahn has argued the Thompson Center can be saved with the addition of a supertall connected to the building. But any scenario that places Amazon's new headquarters here would require a zoning change to accommodate the necessary density, which means Emanuel and Rauner would need to work together.

The Thompson Center's best advantage is its location. It offers direct access to every rail line in CTA's system except for the Yellow Line, and it is centrally located to downtown universities, making recruiting and retaining new talent easy.

2. Illinois Medical District

An ambulatory facility being built by Cook County Hospital in the Illinois Medical District, at Damen Avenue and Polk Street.

Under the leadership of Dr. Suzet McKinney, the Illinois Medical District is beginning to make real inroads in developing 40 acres of vacant land on its campus. The IMD has a healthy shuttle system in place serving its four anchor hospitals, is easily accessible via expressway and CTA bus and rail lines, and is next to the University of Illinois at Chicago.

What makes the IMD a dark horse candidate is that its redevelopment is still in its infancy. The Cook County Hospital redevelopment is a good foundation that will eventually unlock the IMD's potential as an office market, but Amazon may want to choose a more mature submarket that better fits its goals for HQ2. Another potential issue: density. The IMD already sees 80,000 patients daily. With up to 50,000 new employees being promised, Amazon HQ2 may tax the district's transit and multifamily infrastructures to the breaking point.

3. Motorola Solutions Schaumburg Campus

Motorola Solutions' former Schaumburg campus

Urban Street Group and Trilogy Investments have ambitious plans to turn the 265-acre site into a 24/7 live-work-play destination. The campus has excellent access to area expressways and O'Hare International Airport. Zurich Insurance Group's new North American headquarters, which comprises 40 acres nearby, serves as an example of the potential of housing Amazon HQ2 on a single plot of land.

But Amazon is seeking a site with easy access to public transportation. This site would have to be connected to Metra rail via shuttle bus, and Pace suburban bus routes would have to ratchet up the frequency of service to accommodate the flood of new workers. The train ride from downtown Chicago to Schaumburg is one hour, 12 minutes — expecting Amazon employees to spend at least two hours a day commuting may be too much to ask.

4. Fulton Market

The former Fulton Market Cold Storage building, now 1K Fulton, Google's regional headquarteres.

Chicago's proposal calls for combining several sites owned by multiple investors to form a Fulton Market bid. The market's transformation into Chicago's most-talked-about submarket, the easy access via public transit, and ample nightlife and dining options, make it a viable candidate.

But land in Fulton Market, even with sites owned by different investors, is hard to acquire, development is pushing west at a rapid pace, aldermen are beginning to restrict the types of development in the area and Fulton Market, despite how fast the neighborhood has changed, remains devoid of supertalls. Amazon HQ2, if it were built in Fulton Market, would necessitate major zoning changes.

5. McDonald's Oak Brook Campus

McDonald's corporate headquarters in Oak Brook

The Golden Arches is vacating its longtime Oak Brook home for the West Loop next year, which continues a trend of suburban corporations moving closer to young talent downtown. Like the Motorola Solutions campus, there is ample land to build on, and McDonald's has great access to local expressways and solid connectivity to both O'Hare and Midway airports.

But the public transit issues are dramatic: traveling from downtown to Oak Brook via Metra is a 90-minute trip, one way.