Improving on History at the Wrigley Building

This is the fifth in a series of case studies illustrating how different property types can benefit from the BOMA 360 designation.

By: Jessica Bates

The Chicago skyline looked very different when construction of the Wrigley Building began in 1920. In fact, there were no major office buildings north of the Chicago River when chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. chose the site for his company headquarters. Today, it still stands out, even among the many skyscrapers that since have sprung up around it. The two towers of the building are covered in shining white-glazed terra cotta and one tower features massive clock faces on each of its four sides. “Because the building is so iconic, most people assumed it was already a landmark when we took over management in 2011,” says Bradley Borowiec, general manager at the Zeller Realty Group, which oversees the nearly 100-year-old structure. Instead, the property team immediately got to work getting the building on the historic registry—while, at the same time, bringing the interior of the property into the modern area.

“Our goal was to challenge the perception that the building was outdated and couldn’t compete with newer construction,” explains Borowiec. “We wanted to prove that the building wasn’t a relic, but instead very much a part of modern Chicago.” The team got to work on a massive renovation, taking out much of the heavy, ornate furnishings and carpets and creating an airy, modern look. At the same time, they also decided to work towards a BOMA 360 designation as a way to ensure they were up-to-date on the latest best practices. “Beginning the BOMA 360 process jumpstarted a conversation about where we were and where we needed to be,” recalls Borowiec. “It also helped us confirm we were moving in the right direction.” Borowiec believes BOMA 360 was a good fit for the Wrigley Building, as it evaluates excellence in all areas of building operations and management—something that every property, from an historic building to a new glass skyscraper, can achieve.

As Borowiec sees it, cutting-edge best practices and modern furnishings are all a part of honoring the spirit of the building. “This building embodies the best of Chicago: its entrepreneurial spirit and drive to constantly improve,” he says. “The Wrigley Building was the first big property on this side of the river and the first to introduce mechanical cooling in the 1950s; it was never meant to get stuck in the past.” Borowiec and his team began work on each of the six BOMA 360 application categories. Among them, sustainability was a major goal, and they now boast a huge list of environmentally friendly initiatives. Their results include doubling the amount of materials being diverted from waste to recycling and saving 525,000 gallons of water annually by swapping in low-flow fixtures in the restrooms.

The building’s age and landmark status can occasionally make things more complicated; for example, traditional commercial windows weren’t an option during the remodel, as they needed to be opened from the inside to be cleaned without damaging the exterior. But, interestingly, some of the historic elements of the building can seem surprisingly modern. There was no onsite parking building back in the 1920s, which means the building staff encourages alternative transportation as much as possible, offering plenty of onsite bike storage and providing water taxis to the local train station. And the building equipment is efficiently cooled using the water of the Chicago River, the same as it has been for decades.

Building a thriving community within and around the building was another of the Zeller Realty team’s goals. In addition to more traditional tenant parties, they host a trade show once a year to allow tenant companies to share what they do with each other. Ranging from not-for-profits to IT companies to architecture firms, the building’s tenants represent a cross-section of the city economy. “I’ve heard tenants call it their ‘work home’,” Borowiec says. “We’re all at work so much these days that you really want people to feel happy to come here.” They host regular music groups from local schools, as well as big yearly events, such as an elaborate tree-lighting ceremony during the holidays.

“All of the areas we work on – from tenant relations to safety and security – all of that is reflected in the BOMA 360 program,” says Borowiec. “Now we can point to our designation and show that we really do compete with brand new buildings.” The property also won BOMA International’s The Outstanding Building of The Year® (TOBY®) Award in the Historical Building category in June, giving them another reason to celebrate.  Borowiec emphasizes that these results reflect a major team effort from the top down. “I’m so proud of our team and of this building,” he says. ‘It’s so much more than just an old building – it’s a piece of Chicago itself.”