Chicago Real Estate Daily reported over the weekend that developer Joseph Freed & Co. is close to signing a lease with Target for the first two floors of the Carson, Pirie, Scott building, so the rumors of a year ago may well turn out to be true.
Any move involving the now immaculately restored structure is bound to be controversial, but there are good reasons why Target is a decent fit. Most commentators have noted the dearth of grocery retail in the Loop, and the gradual transformation of the ‘neighborhood’ into a gigantic live-work zone is going to rely on tenants like Target (and Whole Foods, another rumored tenant) moving in. Of course, keeping the space’s retail function keeps an important aspect of its historic nature intact, too. There were also stories that the Chicago Architecture Foundation might move into the famed corner space, but some felt this ran the risk of turning the building into a museum piece. Finally, while I hate the Michael Graves kitchen stuff as much as anyone else, a tenant that at least pays lip service to design is likely to understand what it has in the space, and to work with it creatively.
The concern, of course, is that Target will cheapen a masterpiece. Big red circles in Sullivan’s ground level windows, for example? That may be, but such criticism misunderstands the building as it was originally conceived. Carson’s became one of Chicago’s elite department stores, but it began as a humble, low-rent dry goods concern. (Actually, it started in the first floor of the Reliance Building, where Atwood’s is now). Sullivan’s building is actually a collection of three phases, all of which were built quickly for the even lower-rent Schlesinger and Mayer, at an astonishingly low cost, and with only the lower two floors and the corner dedicated to anything other than low-rent, cheaply illuminated retail space. Even as Carson’s became the department store giant that was synonymous with the building, the store itself turned out to be a terrible tenant–the damage done to the building’s ornament both inside and out by neglect or careless remodeling was staggering to anyone who saw the renovation job.
Anything is better than blank storefronts, of course, and Freed has really gone the extra mile in restoring the building, so they deserve to have a major tenant. And State and Madison, once “the busiest corner in the world,” deserves to have some high-volume retail, too. It remains to be seen just what Target will do with the space, but there does seem to be reason for optimism.