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Walgreens Denies Move to South Loop; Fioretti Says it Would Boost Area

 The Old Main Post Office building has been the subject of numerous development proposals, but none have made it past initial planning stages.
The Old Main Post Office building has been the subject of numerous development proposals, but none have made it past initial planning stages.
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SOUTH LOOP — Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he'd welcome Walgreens to the South Loop, if murmurs that the Deerfield-based health giant is moving its corporate headquarters to the Old Main Post Office are true.

But the company is denying reports it's leaving the northern suburb for the 93-year-old building, which straddles the Eisenhower Expy., from Van Buren Street to Harrison Street.

Michael Polzin, a spokesman for Walgreens, says that in response to a Crain's Chicago Business report that the company "is taking steps to move its headquarters downtown," Walgreens plans to send a memo to all employees today assuring them that "we are not engaged with developers on any new locations for our corporate headquarters."

"We're sending a message out to our employees with what we've told the media, to make sure they have that information," Polzin said. "We want to make sure they're clear and not misled by any reporting out there."

But Fioretti said that if the Crain's report is true, he'd welcome the move.

"It would add a lot of vibrancy to the South and West Loop, it would assist in economic development and I think Walgreens would have the most visible corporate headquarters in the world if they came to that location," Fioretti said.

Compared to the Post Office's current condition, "by having it occupied you're going to send a lot of vitality and further economic developemnt into that whole area of the South Loop that needs it," Fioretti said.

When United Airlines moved its corporate headquarters to Willis Tower last year, Fioretti said he "was a proponent of it because I thought all those folks that move into Willis Tower will be looking at the South Loop and West Loop, and what we were doing, and a lot of them would stay there," Fioretti said.

"I have met so many people that work in Willis Tower at the various companies that now live in the South Loop, because when they look out from their offices, they say, 'That's a great place to live.' I think the same thing would happen with the vitality of this building."

The Crain's report credits "real estate industry insiders'" who said Walgreens "is the unidentified client of Jones Lang [LaSalle Inc.], which has been looking for as much as 1 million square feet of space in the downtown market."

Polzin said that Walgreens has "worked with them in the past on these studies. For example, we did a sale-and-leaseback of our building along Lake Cook Road in Northbrook, that's something that came out of these studies."

"We're always conducting due dilligence on our corporate footprint, and we've done studies in the past, but we are not engaged with developers on any new locations for our corporate headquarters as part of that process," Polzin said.

If Walgreens is eyeing the Old Main Post Office, it's the latest in a long series of proposals to replace or repurpose the 93-year-old building.

Last summer, City Council approved a $1.5 billion plan to build a 10 million-square-foot mixed-use building with nearly 3,000 rental units, 320 hotel rooms, 525,000 square feet of office space and 800,000 square feet of retail space.

In 2007, City Council agreed to throw $51 million in TIF subsidies at an earlier plan to develop the site, but plans for that proposed mixed-use building also fizzled.

Previously, the site was proposed as the future home of Chicago's first casino.

"When Mr. [Bill] Davies bought the property, he had a lot of big hopes and dreams, none of which came to fruition because of financing so far," Fioretti said. "Let's have it occupied and let's see what we can do here, because this is an iconic structure, and it's not going away, according to any of the owners."

Davies could not be reached for comment.

Fioretti says he's not surprised Walgreens would be interested in the site if the Crain's report prove true.

"That will become the most visibly-known headquarters in the world, if they undertake that location," the alderman said. "I don't have a number on how many take the Eisenhower, that drive underneath it every day, I don't know how many train lines run underneath it, but when people come out of the Amtrak, they're going to be looking at it. When they're coming down the river, because it borders the river, they're going to be looking at it. And of course, any commercial airlines flying over, they're all going to see that Walgreens headquarters."

The possibility of placing logos or ads around the highly-visible location could be a compelling draw for any corporation considering a move downtown, though Fioretti said he's hesitant to speculate about that.

"We'd have to see what they're going to propose," he said.

"I would encourage a collaborative effort with the state to keep jobs here and keep Walgreens in the region, and more importantly, in our city," Fioretti said.