Hines Interests is ready to move forward with a long-discussed plan to construct a six-story mass timber office building on Goose Island.
The developer revealed 'T3' (which for stands timber, technology, and transit) back in 2017, but recently brought on Stream Realty Partners to actively market the North Branch project to potential tenants.
"We're feeling energized coming out of the pandemic," Hines managing director Brian Atkinson told Urbanize. "And we think there's an opportunity in timber."
Although there's been little to no new mass timber construction in Chicago, Hines is hoping to build on the success of similar projects, including other T3-branded developments in Minneapolis and Atlanta.
Chicago has a firey history when it comes to wooden structures, but modern mass timber meets or exceeds the stringent fire rating standards set by the City of Chicago. On top of being more sustainable than concrete and steel alternatives, timber construction may play a vital role in attracting tenants.
"We've seen the benefits of biophilic design: what it does for people's moods as well the antimicrobial properties of timber," explained Atkinson. Additionally, the loft-style layout offers a chance for greater light and air, outdoor tenant spaces on every level, and the same indoor air quality found in brand new trophy towers.
"We're believers in this product typology," said Atkinson. "Older industrial warehouses offer a great aesthetic and vibe, and this would be a new construction version."
Designed by architecture firm DLR Group, the 270,000-square-foot T3 Chicago project is slated for 1017 W. Division Street—ironically, the former site of Big Bay Lumber Yard.
Atkinson believes that the project's location outside of Chicago's Central Business District could also be a selling point for tenants looking to avoid the density of downtown.
As Hines continues to work on the 1.2 million-square-foot Salesforce Tower, Atkinson says he is aware of the difficulties facing the larger office market but he has reasons to be optimistic looking forward.
"Obviously there are real challenges," said Atkinson. "We do not have robust occupancy downtown. But we're seeing green shoots, too. Employees want to come back to work. People have been trying to work from home, but are missing out on opportunities for socialization, mentorship, and career development. You can't do those things without in-person interaction."
Atkinson said the lull in the market is due to lease terms being cut in half as tenants seek short-term solutions and deffer decision-making. "We think that there will be significant leasing activity in the latter half of the year."
According to Atkinson, the pandemic has been an opportunity to rethink how companies use their space and attract employees. "Before, our focus was attracting millennials. Now it's how do we make the senior partners who have been working from home (or their second home) feel comfortable and want to come back?" asked Atkinson. "We think it's driving a flight towards quality."
If Hines can sign up tenants for T3, the Goose Island project is positioned to move forward relatively quickly. The development complies with the site's current zoning and will not need to go through the city's approval process.
"It takes very little time to construct these buildings. We can go from a hole in the ground to outfitting tenant spaces in 10 to 15 months. Raw material costs are up, but there are savings in the cost of execution."