A History of Commercial Real Estate in Chicago

The city the world now knows as Chicago spent the 17th and 18th centuries as a shared territory for French-American settlers and Native American tribes. It wasn’t until the 1833 Treaty of Chicago that the town of Chicago was born and structures rose from the ground at a rapid rate.

The town of Chicago grew quickly, starting with a population of 200 then growing to 4,000 in less than 7 years. After the town was incorporated as the city of Chicago in 1837, the emerging metropolis attracted independent landowners who began to erect residential houses and workspaces. Chicago had become the fastest growing city in the world and would hold that title for decades.

Chicago’s growth also attracted the eyes of business tycoons with political ties, like Edmund Dick Taylor, who worked to make Chicago one of the main transportation hubs in the Midwest. The construction and implementation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Galena and Chicago Union Railroad accommodated droves of American settlers, foreign immigrants and skilled laborers looking for work. Around the time of the Great Fire in 1871, Chicago’s had a population of 300,000 and tens of thousands of buildings.

Even though 18,000 of the cities structures were burnt to the ground in the fire, the city quickly dusted itself off and regained it’s posture with a new set of fire-preventative building codes. Wooden roads, sidewalks and buildings were all outlawed, paving the way for masonry construction and the skyscraper.

Architects from all over the world swarmed the city, hungry to study and embrace the new vertically rising, steel-framed architecture. The Home Insurance Building and the Chicago School, initially known as the ‘Commercial Style’, were two of the first high-rises. These new buildings established an economic way to stack office spaces, making optimal use of exclusive downtown real estate.

Industries like advertising and finance created additional demand for more loop-central workspaces and commercial buildings like the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago Board of Trade Building came along in the 1920’s. While new construction halted with the economic downfalls of the Great Depression, the 1933 World’s Fair drew international attention back to Chicago and, along with that, industrial and cultural growth ensued.

The Commercial real estate market experienced another large boom in the 1980’s, a time when the real estate industry experienced large investments from banks. Nowadays, as we enter a more mature commercial real estate market, Chicago’s commercial market is home to 66 Fortune 100 companies and 12 global fortune 500 companies, including Boeing and United Continental Holdings. The city also houses the technology spinoffs of Motorola, and Chicago-based startups like Groupon and Career Builder.

Commercial real estate listings and leasing agreements are often not public information and commercial brokers must research and network to remain savvy and up-to-date on available spaces. Whether it’s a loft space in River North, or repurposed factory in the West Loop, Shetland Properties works to assist businesses of all sizes to navigate through available spaces. As Chicago continues to expand and new buildings are erected, Shetland has the means to identify the ideal Chicagoland property to meet a business’s needs.

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