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Preckwinkle plays real estate agent to rent out office space

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle showed off 34th 35th floors George W. Dunne administrative building Loop last year when

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle showed off the 34th and 35th floors of the George W. Dunne administrative building in the Loop last year, when she was looking for tenants. | Lisa Donovan~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 29, 2012 11:19AM

For a moment Wednesday morning, it looked as though Toni Preckwinkle had traded in her title of Cook County Board President for real estate broker.

She led reporters and camera crews on a tour of the largely vacant 34th and 35th floors of the George W. Dunne administrative building in the Loop that she’s looking to rent out and bring in some much-needed revenues to the cash-strapped county government.

“It’s a beautiful space, it’s close to City Hall and the Daley Center, and I think it’s very attractive,” Preckwinkle told reporters after earlier touting the views and proximity to restaurants and public transportation.

The sweeping, 360-degree views offer everything from urban mountaintops — church steeples, neighboring high-rises from sleek and modern to the Art Deco era — to a bit of Mother Nature with Grant Park and the lake to the east.

Preckwinkle said the plan is to spend up to $3.9 million to prepare the 40,800-square-foot space for rental. But the county board will have to sign off on spending that money.

Preckwinkle estimates that renting the space will bring in $1 million annually. The county won’t see a nickel of that revenue in 2013 as officials estimate it will take nine months to market the property and another two to three months to sign a lease and, finally, approval by the county board.

A report by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc. shows the downtown Chicago office market going through a slow recovery. Vacancy rates, while still high compared with historical averages, are declining and rents are steady.

At the end of the second quarter, the downtown vacancy rate was 14.2 percent, vs. 14.9 percent at the same time in 2011, the Cushman report said.

Asked about higher vacancy rates in downtown office buildings, Preckwinkle said she isn’t worried about renting out the two floors.

Even with a lukewarm commercial rental market downtown, demand remains high for top-floor prestigious office spaces. Law firms, for instance, might be attracted to the space since it’s just across the street from Daley Center court complex.

Since the county purchased what was known as the Brunswick Building in the mid-1990s, the top floors have been the domain of the county board president’s staff. Preckwinkle, halfway through her first term, says only five of her staffers currently use the vast 40,800-square-feet of office space.

“The two years that I’ve been there I think I’ve used the office a couple times,” she said of her sun-filled presidential suite, complete with eastern and southern views and a private bathroom. “I know that John Stroger occasionally used the office in the corner,” she said of the late county board president, referring to the suite. She said she also believed Stroger’s son and successor, Todd Stroger, whom Preckwinkle bested in a bitter 2010 election, also used the space.

Preckwinkle already has a county office within a block of the Dunne building — in the City-County Building.

Looking to shore up costs, Preckwinkle said U.S. Equities has been hired to analyze how the county’s 19 million square feet of real estate is used.

“We’ll take a look at our asset base and figure out what it (takes) to invest in rehab, where it makes sense to divest ourselves of property, where it makes sense, perhaps, to consolidate county property and so forth,” Preckwinkle told reporters before a tour of the empty offices, where vacuum tracks marked the carpet.

Under a contract approved by the county board in May, U.S. Equities will be paid a maximum $9.8 million for the work.

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