CRE Midwest

Randy Fifield: Positively impacting Chicago for more than 20 years

Randy_FifieldHEADSHOT_996
Randy Fifield

Randy Fifield’s first small deal was working a rental apartment deal, and then a for sale townhouse project of her own. When she met Steve Fifield, she had hoped to convince him to go into multifamily development, and he insisted she try office development. In 1994, they bought the 890,000 sq. ft. Civic Opera building. From there—as they say—the rest is history.

Randy Fifield’s first small deal was working a rental apartment deal, and then a for sale townhouse project of her own. When she met Steve Fifield, she had hoped to convince him to go into multifamily development, and he insisted she try office development. In 1994, they bought the 890,000 sq. ft. Civic Opera building. From there—as they say—the rest is history.

“We put in amenity areas (restaurant, cafeteria, gym, spa, steam rooms, lockers, bank branch, newsstand) like we put into (or are close to) our apartment buildings today, and ran it like a hotel (except with 3 year leases instead of daily),” said Fifield, Vice Chairman and Principal of Fifield Cos.

“I loved that building and every space we renovated (including the public areas),” she said. “It won the Landmark Renovation of the year by BOMA after we completed a $16 million renovation. We could see all the opportunity for the west loop right from our office windows. I also really loved our tenants - it was a turning point after the recession of the late 80's, early 90's. Many people came into those smaller spaces opening a business for the first time. As our business grew, theirs did too. We had a wonderful tenant retention program that built brand loyalty.”

Urbanization has been the driving force as to why Fifield has remained in the industry after all of these years.

“The Fifield Companies had developed many buildings in the suburban office market,” Fifield said. “Together Steve and I truly felt united in urban infill development. Our last suburban offices (1999) were Windy Point, a 460,000 sf suburban office development we did for AT&T and Zurich Financial in Schaumburg, Ill. At first we did 191 Condos called Gotham Lofts at Canal and Clinton in the West Loop of Chicago in 1999. From there we began buying site after site in the West Loop for build to suit and 'spec' office buildings—Steve's first love.”

According to Fifield, what sets Fifield Companies apart from other firms is that they are curious entrepreneurs.

“We listen, read and are constantly seeking input from other businesses owners, citizens, politicians and the general public to help us build better products. We are constantly looking for WHERE the puck is going and gage how we can get there early to make a powerful impact. In the business community we hold a real estate roundtable - this is a safe environment to share industry concerns and solutions.”

“We have an annual company retreat to focus on where things are going right and where we need to grow,” she added. “When we met in late October, many people were proud of concepts, strategies and procedures that were working that had been suggested by their teams. Suggestions for new growth were implemented immediately.”

“Pride of ownership as well as company success and profitability is shared by all,” she continued. “This year for fun we have played volley ball with our California companies and we learned to cook with our Chicago team. We are working and living and playing with our teams regularly. We also LOVE to eat. Monday lunch and birthdays are always celebrated together.”

Fifield noted that an interesting fact about her is that she doesn’t have a degree in real estate—and most of her company’s employees do not either.

“I have learned everything I know from doing deals,” she said. “Trial and error, and the school of hard knocks, has trained me. 30 years ago there was not a university that offered a degree in real estate. Taking a realtor's licensing class and continuing education at CCIM were all that was offered at that time.”

“Math, location, timing, design, marketing,” Fifield added. “There are MANY factors that make a deal successful. At Fifield, we have entire teams of people, including outside consultants that play an important part of our success. One person does not do it alone. Our employees are trained to run deals as their own business and they contribute to make each deal special.”

Some of Fifield’s most memorable deals are private ones. “Developing is not only my job but my passion. Commercially The Civic Opera, and K2, are significant comeback deals that the market would have bet against. So I suppose these will remain significant in Chicago.”

“Our family has contributed the Fifield Family Labor and Delivery at Northwestern Prentice Hospital, and The Fifield Family Bridge at Lurie Children's Hospital that connects these two hospitals,” she added. “I am VERY grateful we have had a positive impact on Chicago in a variety of ways.”

Fifield has also had a few mentors who have had a positive impact on her.

“In the commercial world Goldie Wolfe greeted me lovingly to support Steve's endeavor on his comeback,” Fifield said. “There were really no women developers then in commercial real estate. Greg Mutz and John Allen (AMLI) were doing exactly what I wanted to do, so they were the people I watched most on housing.”

“Steve Fifield has been a great mentor,” she added. “At first he was not in favor of my apartment ideas which made us butt heads quite a bit. Thankfully I am tenacious. We now have a lot of fun designing these projects together and will be opening E2 Apartments the gateway to the new downtown Evanston. Nothing like E2 exists today in that market. It is VERY exciting.”

Fifield loves to be outside! So when she isn’t working, that’s the first place one should look for her. “I enjoy walking, riding a bike, being with the kids and the dogs,” she said. “I am really active. Chicago and California also have wonderful art shows, plays and museums to visit. And then there are always projects to keep my creative juices flowing.”

“I have lots of friends that are in my business,” she added. “For me it is easy to socialize in all kinds of ways. I also really love art, fashion, jewelry and sports cars. So many interests, so little time.”

One thing she’d like to do that she hasn’t already? “I look forward to hopefully Capping the Kennedy Expressway one day to make a Millennium Park Like setting for office workers and families on the west side of Chicago to enjoy. World Class cities need world class green space and museums- a Computer Museum and a Sky Scraper Museum would also be another cool legacy for Chicago that I would like to see in my lifetime.”

Fifield has a plethora of favorite movies including, “The God Father and Silver Linings Playbook.”

As far as her favorite books, well that’s another story (pun intended!). “I have so many favorite books I cannot list them - I truly love children's book and reading non-fiction. I am always looking for inspiration and the chance to learn. Among my greatest accomplishments is teaching my kids to read and to believe in second chances.”