The Postal Service moved out of its longtime main post office in downtown Chicago in 1997, but ideas for remaking the Art Deco behemoth never gained traction. The huge building sat vacant, a far cry from the time when workers could sort up to 35 million letters a day there and residents posted mail in its elegant lobby, an airy space with stone floors and decorative panels.
Now, the real estate firm 601W Companies is taking a crack at reviving it. With a $500 million construction loan in hand, 601W is transforming a place once known for catalogs and stamps into a 2.8-million-square-foot office building called, simply enough, the Post Office.
The project is one of several major postal building redevelopments in the works around the country, including in New York and Houston. With their central locations and warehouse areas that can be converted into new uses, older postal facilities are seen as tantalizing candidates for transformation.
“Truly unique postindustrial space can’t be replicated, especially in great locations,” said Matt Garrison, a managing principal at R2 Companies, a Chicago real estate company that bought a 1.1-million-square-foot postal distribution center in downtown Milwaukee from an investor in 2015. “It’s very finite in supply. That’s what makes the spaces special and unique — you can’t fabricate it.”