Distinguished by its prestigious address and notable occupants, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) building on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is undergoing a robust modernization project.
Located next to the iconic Wrigley Building and opposite the equally renowned neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, NAR’s headquarters has been on Michigan Avenue since 1974. Home to NAR, IREM, several other prominent real estate organizations, and even the original Billy Goat Tavern of Saturday Night Live fame, NAR leaders knew that the REALTOR® Building’s 50-year-old infrastructure needed upgrading.
As it worked to reimagine its headquarters for the 21st century and execute its plans, NAR worked in partnership with Chicago-based real estate companies GNP Realty Partners, AMO, and One Development.
“The largest trade association in America needs a building and home address that’s world-class,” says Tom Kienzle, CPM, the senior vice president of facilities and project management for GNP. ”For this building to be viable in the future, it needed an investment.”
Project construction kicked off about three years ago, but initial planning dates back as far as 2007. NAR’s Real Property Operations Committee (RPOC), whose role is to consult and advise NAR’s president on real property owned by the association, proposed the master vision plan for the Chicago building. IREM members on the RPOC include IREM President Chip Watts, CPM, CCIM, C2EX, AHWD®; IREM Senior Vice President Dawn Carpenter, CPM, who serves as the RPOC chair; and Jim Helsel, CPM, CCIM.
Among the upgrades are brand new HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems, a new and expanded elevator service, state-of-the-art security networks, a revamped lobby, and the most impressive feature, the Sky Level.
“From a visual perspective, the Sky Level addition has changed the skyline of Chicago,” Watts says. “The curved glass and the new lighting features make the building stand out, especially at night. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind whose national headquarters it is—especially with the grand etched-glass ‘R’ at the top of the building.”
Designed to foster inclusion and collaboration, the Sky Level required the construction of an entirely new floor on the top of the existing building. It features a state-of-the-art conference room and working spaces for several of NAR’s user groups and departments, Kienzle says. Adaptable for any size meeting, the conference table is actually 25 separate, self-contained pods, each outfitted with equipment so that members do not need to bring their own computers. Highlighting the importance of this prestigious project, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other local officials were on hand for the unveiling of the Sky Level in August.
Additional upgrades also included the creation of an amenity level that now features a state-of-the-art fitness center, a cafe, impromptu meeting spaces, a meditation room, and other value-adding features, Kienzle says.
Because these upgrades were designed with an eye to the future, PropTech and sustainability were equally important considerations when planning the building modernization, Carpenter says.
Adds Watts, “PropTech has been utilized throughout the building—from the new access control system to the elevators to the tech-enabled chillers and heating system to the new LED exterior lighting system—and are all programmable remotely.”
Utilizing the latest technology, the elevator system includes destination dispatch protocols to optimize traffic flow and reduce wait times, and the security infrastructure features the latest in workplace biometric capabilities. The integration of biometric technology into the infrastructure modernizations strategically positioned the building several steps ahead of many commercial properties throughout the country that had to quickly adapt—often at great, unbudgeted expense—to the health and safety concerns made paramount by the COVID-19 pandemic. The touchless entry systems already installed throughout the REALTOR® Building as part of the upgrades, such as retinal entry scanners and contactless remote fobs that could be programmed to reflect the reduced elevator capacity requirements, proved their worth as commercial properties gradually began welcoming back their tenants.
The Sky Level’s conference room features exterior windows outfitted with motorized shades, allowing the conference room to be darkened or lit as the outside light dictates, Kienzle says.
As for sustainability, a significant focus throughout the lifecycle of the project was placed on maintaining the building’s LEED Gold designation that it received in 2011. By maintaining the green roof and prioritizing additional energy efficiency, the building kept its coveted status.
Watts says the new plumbing, HVAC, lighting, and many other systems were chosen to reduce utility expenditures on the property. “This, in turn, reduces the building’s overall carbon footprint—not only providing savings and reducing our budget expenditures, but also a great ethical modification for NAR to take in this day and age of addressing climate change.”
Another significant consideration in the plan was attracting new talent and satisfying current team members. Carpenter says that they achieved this by catering to different working preferences with amenities like standing desks and updated designs within the offices on each floor.
“The offices don’t have the regular bullpen space—it’s a totally different vibe,” she says. “We have nice-sized cubicles and communal meeting spaces. Every employee has a different way of working, and there are different ways to make them comfortable and happy.”
Currently underway is the lobby renovation. “This will change the exterior look of the building and allow for better visibility and access to all of our team members as well as IREM visitors,” Watts says.
Although most of the major infrastructure projects are complete, the team will continue to make improvements floor by floor until the entire building is modernized according to the master vision plan.
“We’ll continue improving for years to come,” Kienzle says.