Downtown Chicago business owners reevaluate amid coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Downtown business owners and renters are reevaluating their properties, as a pandemic and civil unrest continue to disrupt the status quo.

Thom Serafin is continuing to pay rent on his 6,000-square-foot office in River North even though for the most part none of his 12 employees have been in the office since mid-March when COVID-19 sent most of them to work from home.

"I don't anticipate having everybody back in the office at the same time until there's a vaccine with at least six months," said Serafin, of Serafin and Associates.

He said he's reevaluating the need for all this space.

"I could see some arrangement, where three other firms and I could use this office 12 months out of the year ... everybody makes out," he said.

A lot of other companies are doing the same. Chicago's bustling Downtown has more closely resembled a ghost town since the pandemic hit.

And the civil unrest that has brought protests, chaos and looting to the city has been another strong reason for some wanting to leave.

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Marshall Pierce and Co. jewelers has a high-profile location on Michigan Avenue. It received relatively minor damage during the looting, but with little foot traffic on Michigan Avenue this year business is down significantly.

"I love Chicago; I will always be optimistic about the city. But I think right now there's a lot of work to be done to restore confidence in the city," said Evan Bern, of Pierce jewelers.

Despite the setbacks of 2020, however, some analysts say the long-term outlook for Downtown real estate is not all bad.

Brian Rogal writes about commercial real estate for Bisnow.

"Chicago is where young people want to live, corporations want to hire these people ... there are still gonna be corporations that wanna be Downtown," he said.
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