Accelerating Change Series: Google's trendy, accessible West Loop relocation
By Chrissy Mancini Nichols
Oct 15, 2013
]This post first appeared at metroplanning.org
Access to public transit is one of my top priorities when making a career decision. I have no interest in wasting daylight hours stuck in traffic on the interstate just to get to work and back home every day. Aside from that wasted time, I’d also waste money. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) found that for every hour a driver sits in rush-hour traffic in the Chicago area, they kiss $14.76 goodbye. That's $1,579 a year that could be spent on groceries, going out, or other activities that actually stimulate the economy. Not to mention the fuel costs and environmental damage from all those idling cars.
What I do want is for my office to be a quick hop from a transit stop, like MPC’s offices in the South Loop. While we all have gripes now and then about the Chicago region’s transit systems, on the whole they work very well in getting workers to the office every day. And, the Chicago Transit Authority is one of the least expensive to ride in the world. Plus, travel costs are 16 percent lower for households living near transit—a significant consideration for rent-burdened, low- and moderate-income families. Compare that to the stress and costs of driving on congested highways and you have a winner.
So it’s no surprise that employers make their office location decisions based on access to transit. Doing so has benefits such as attracting talent, accessing a larger labor pool, saving money on parking and health care costs and convenience for clients.
For example, Google recently chose to relocate its Chicago office in the Fulton Market area of the West Loop because of public transit amenities, as in the new Morgan Street CTA station on the green and pink lines. According to Rob Biederman, Google Midwest Public Affairs & Government Relations Manager, when deciding where to relocate, "We did an extensive real estate search throughout the entire Central Business District of Chicago for space that met our needs and with an opportunity to grow. When we began talking to developers it became clear that the Fulton Market property aligned most closely with all of our needs including access to public transportation.”
In 2016, Google will move into the Fulton Market Cold Storage Building at 1000 W. Fulton Street, one block from the Morgan Street station. Owner Sterling Bay Construction is renovating the building for Google. Sterling Bay also has transit in mind for marketing the building: Its YouTube video showcasing the redevelopment opens with a train pulling into the CTA Morgan Street station and panning one block north to 1000 W. Fulton.
Opened in 2012, the Morgan Street Station was a necessary investment in the West Loop as the neighborhood has recently taken off, with an influx of residents, hip restaurants and retail, businesses and boutique hotels. Top chefs want a West Loop location and the exclusive members-only club and hotel, SoHo House, will soon open in the former Chicago Belting Factory just off of Randolph. According to the U.S. Census, the Near West Side community area, which encompasses the West Loop neighborhood, has seen an 18.8 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010. The former meat packing and industrial area is now one of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods.
Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel agrees that access to transportation has been a big factor in attracting residents and businesses to the West Loop, with two transit stops (including the new Morgan Street stop) and several Divvy bike stations. As reported by Streetsblog Chicago, Emanuel told the American Public Transportation Association’s that quality transit is a cornerstone of his economic development policy. He also said the Morgan Green Line stop is an example of how station construction gives a boost to economic development. “Prior to opening it, there were three real estate deals in that area,” he said. “Since opening it there have been 43 commercial real estate deals in that area. The prices in that area have jumped nearly 50 percent in value. Rental prices are up 25 percent. Google is thinking about moving their sales office to that area. Four new hotels have opened up, restaurants have opened up… And property values within a half mile of a new station are 50 percent greater than property values that are outside that half-mile zone.”
For Google, access to public transit was an important part of their work culture. Biederman also noted that “allowing dogs in the building, outdoor space, covered bike parking, and local amenities such as great restaurants and hotels" were important factors as well. I couldn’t agree more.
In 2014 MPC is working to attract even more economic development around transit stations by advocating and securing seed funding for a City of Chicago Transit-Oriented Development fund. Used in many regions across the country, these funds support compact, mixed-use development near transit facilities that provide people with improved access to transportation and housing choices and reduced transportation costs. In 2012, MPC helped form the Southland Community Development Loan Fund and the West Cook County Loan Fund to provide resources to investors interested in developing in transit corridors in targeted areas. Transit-oriented development is a smart community investment model that builds healthier and stronger communities.
Gone is the era of building parking lots to generate economic development. People (especially Millennials who are foregoing car ownership) are making real estate choices based on access to transit. To grow the Chicago region’s economy and population, we must continue to invest in speedy, reliable bus and rail. We also need to consider how development mandates around transit stations add unnecessary costs. For example, it doesn’t make sense to require building parking next to a train or Bus Rapid Transit station: People move to those places because they choose not to own an automobile. Practical steps such as removing parking mandates and instead letting the market decide (like Portland, San Francisco or New York City) will lower development costs and attract more people to the region, growing the economy.
Google could have relocated anywhere, but they chose Chicago’s West Loop because of transit amenities, an investment that revitalized a neighborhood. It’s simple Chicago: Let’s grow our economy by investing in transit.