Future in question

Future in question
Built in the 1920s, the Wrigley Building has been called the jewel of the Magnificent Mile. It was designed to house the Wrigley company's headquarters. (Tribune photo by David Zentz / June 19, 2005)

Chicago business icon Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., whose renowned namesake building is an architectural gem, is studying its long-term real estate needs, including a move from its historic headquarters building, the Chicago Tribune has learned.

If the company decides to pull up stakes for another location in the city--unthinkable even a few years ago--one likely scenario is that the Wrigley Building at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River would eventually be turned into luxury condominiums, real estate sources said.

Wrigley spokesman Christopher Perille said the chances were "remote" that the maker of chewing gum would move from the prominent structure. He also said the concept of a residential condominium conversion was "way out there."

The Chicago office of real estate firm CB Richard Ellis Inc. is conducting the study for Wrigley, which has made some acquisitions in recent months and is apparently outgrowing the terra cotta classic, where it has been based for more than 75 years.

Perille declined to confirm the study. "On an ongoing basis we work with different consultants to look at real estate options because our business is growing."

He added: "We have deep roots in Chicago and the Wrigley Building, and I don't think that's changing."

Awash in bright lights at night, the Wrigley Building, with its gleaming white facade, is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions.

But the company's space review reflects two large influences that are reshaping the downtown Chicago real estate market: the residential redevelopment of older office buildings, particularly those in premiere locations; and the demands of large businesses for the newest office space that they deem better suited to their business needs.

Several older office buildings--including other famous Michigan Avenue structures like the Palmolive Building and the Carbon & Carbide Building--outlived their usefulness as office buildings and have been converted for other uses.

The Palmolive Building, which once housed the headquarters of Playboy Enterprises, is now all condos. The Carbide & Carbon Building at 230 N. Michigan Ave. is now a Hard Rock Hotel.

In addition, the Wrigley Building is next door to the construction site of Donald Trump's hotel/condo tower, which has drawn significant numbers of condo buyers to the area and increased interest in more condo development nearby.

"It's beautiful, but it does not appear to be terribly viable as an office building," said Bruce Miller, managing director with Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., who handled the 2002 sale of a Michigan Avenue icon, the Palmolive Building, to a residential developer.

No end to condo conversions

"There seems to be no end in sight for these high-quality buildings up and down Michigan Avenue that are being converted," he added.

The company's potential move also underscores how William Wrigley Jr., who became chief executive in 1999 and chairman last year, is putting his stamp on the venerable company.

Once stodgy and content with just its main gum products, Wrigley has been trying to grow bigger and more diverse through acquisitions.

"Bill Wrigley is re-examining the old family assumptions of every aspect of the business," said Steven Fifield, chief executive of the Chicago-based development firm that bears his name.

The Wrigley Building is actually two towers separated by a courtyard, with addresses of 400 and 410 N. Michigan Ave. The company now occupies nearly 227,000 square feet, almost half of the 453,400-square foot development. Five years ago, the company had 159,000 square feet.

The rest of the space is leased to small companies, such as investment firms and advertising agencies.