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McDonald's CEO teases plan for ground-floor space in new West Loop HQ

McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook hinted that the world's largest burger chain may have a presence in the ground-floor retail space planned in its new headquarters in Chicago's West Loop.

"We want to take a prime position in the retail space because we think it's a great opportunity for us to express what we stand for now and also some of the things we look forward to sharing in the future," Easterbrook said. "We're still working on the precise details of it but we'll have some fun sharing the news when we're ready."

It's not clear if that means McDonald's will build a restaurant there or if the chain will be partnering with other companies for something new to occupy that retail space, which faces busy Randolph Street.

He made the comments after McDonald's officially broke ground at the site of Oprah Winfrey's former Harpo Studios, marking the ceremonial start to a project that's expected to be completed in spring 2018. Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., 27th, and representatives from developer Sterling Bay and builder McHugh Construction also were in attendance at the brief ceremony Tuesday afternoon.

McDonald's announced its plan to move to the neighborhood, alternatively known as West Town and Fulton Market, in June.

The move will bring some 2,000 employees from Oak Brook to a trendy area of the city best known for fine restaurants like Girl & the Goat and Au Cheval. Community leaders and residents have expressed concern over the increase in traffic accidents and congestion that adding all those new people may bring.

Burnett thanked the neighbors for not opposing the McDonald's move. "This was one of those times where we had to make a decision not for the community but for the city of Chicago," he said at the ceremony, citing the benefits that a big employer like McDonald's can bring to the city, including jobs.

McDonald's currently operates an 86-acre campus in Oak Brook but wants to be downtown so it can better cater to the younger, digital-savvy residents it wants to hire and court as customers.

"At the moment we have a fantastic workforce that will be coming downtown with us," Easterbrook said. "Over time, as the business changes and things evolve, we have a fantastic hiring environment to tap into."

sbomkamp@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @SamWillTravel

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