Office N Illinois

The Rosemont revival: What’s behind the O'Hare office market boom?

| Steve Wright | Principal, Wright Heerema Architects

President’s Plaza, Chicago. President’s Plaza, Chicago.
President’s Plaza, Chicago. President’s Plaza, Chicago.
President’s Plaza, Chicago. President’s Plaza, Chicago.
President’s Plaza, Chicago. President’s Plaza, Chicago.
6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography 6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography
6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography 6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography
6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography 6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography
6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography 6400 Shafer Court, Rosemont, Illinois. © Josh Pabst photography

Suburban millennials? Yes, they exist—and in fact, they like to work in the suburbs, too. Many people mistakenly assume that members of the millennial generation largely want to live in downtown areas. However, the generation that begins to turn 40 this year is more nuanced and geographically diverse than common assumptions would suggest.

In fact, millennial-inspired collaborative and tech-enabled offices with myriad amenities—many related to wellness, socializing and communal work areas—are now the norm for companies aiming to attract and retain top talent. As companies evolve and adjust to a millennial-dominant workforce, a quiet revival is taking place inside suburban office buildings in a familiar submarket. As it turns out, the O’Hare area still makes sense for companies balancing urban and suburban employee sets.

Multiple companies, including GlenStar and U.S. Cellular, have recently signed significant office leases in the O’Hare market and building owners are updating their lobbies and tenant amenities across Rosemont. They are citing public transit access, the ability to have a Chicago address but be on the edge of the suburbs and proximity to the nation’s busiest airport. Mix in the tenant amenities typical of a downtown office building and the O’Hare market’s attraction begins to make sense.

The ‘tweener difference

While some major companies previously based in the suburbs have made the move downtown, other firms see their suburban locations differently. They don’t want to risk losing their suburban workforce to the lengthy downtown commute. That’s where the O’Hare market as a ‘tweener market comes in: it is convenient and accessible to both multiple suburban submarkets and the employees living in the city. Employees from the suburbs can easily drive to the office, and younger city dwellers can take the blue line out toward O’Hare. This easy transportation access makes the recruiting and talent retention value of this submarket crystal clear.

Some companies also see an advantage to having a Chicago address while locating their office in a bustling office market closer to the suburbs than the Loop. Not all of the O’Hare market has Chicago addresses, but the firms who locate within in the city see positive response from clients and partners who want to work with a Chicago-based company.

Of course, the stellar proximity to O’Hare International Airport is another plus. Professionals that travel frequently—either for professional or personal commitments—can quickly get to the airport from the office via public transportation, rideshare or car.

Urban amenities, suburban space

The expansion of building amenities isn’t a new trend; it started in urban buildings and made its way to the suburbs. This increasing ubiquity proves it is more than a trend—expanded amenities are here to stay in the suburbs and downtown alike. As employee expectations for their workplaces get more sophisticated, building owners will have to deliver an experience to be competitive for tenants no matter where they are.

Socially focused amenities including lounge-like lobbies and outdoor spaces with ample seating, like those that we designed at President’s Plaza, and coffee/drinks bars can encourage tenants to mingle with each other, enhancing the social component now expected of office buildings. At President’s Plaza, for example, the coffee bar that offers adult beverages in the afternoon and evening extended its hours, thanks to its popularity with tenants.

Fitness centers and that outdoor space can contribute to the wellness aspect of the workplace some tenants look for, as evidenced by the design at 6400 Shafer Court and GlenStar Central States. The entire building, including its indoor and outdoor elements, contributes to the employee experience, so a thoughtful exterior design supports a complete workplace experience. And any amenity that can help tenants be productive—think conference centers, small private phonebooth offices and concierge services or building apps—might be the next big thing in office amenities.

Rosemont on the rise

As the suburban office market continues to boom, firms are finding a unique hub in the O’Hare submarket surprisingly attractive to the millennial generation. Building owners hoping to keep up are incorporating aesthetic and useful amenities to entice companies to contribute to Rosemont’s revival.

About the author

Steve Wright is Founder and Managing Principal of Wright Heerema Architects. He has over 40 years of experience designing corporate and investment office properties across the United States. He believes that client relationships should continue even after the project is complete and continues to maintain a working relationship with the firm’s first client from 1996.