Pricey Postage

Pricey Postage

A photograph of the Old Chicago Post Office from around the time of its completion in 1932.

Chicago’s famed Old Main Post Office sold for $40 million Thursday afternoon at an auction held in the nearby suburb of Rosemont. The winning bid was cast by International Property Developers North America, a multinational organization whose individual members chose to remain anonymous.

The company has not publicly discussed what it intends to develop at the site, but acknowledged in a statement that, “The location, visibility, and historical significance of the post office and the growth of Chicago as a world-class center of transportation, commerce and tourism all dictate that we re-energize the property as a focal-point and destination for the entire city and its visitors for the next century.”

“We are looking forward to working collaboratively with the mayor, the alderman, and city staff to ensure the success of this project,” the statement continued. “To paraphrase Daniel Burnham, let me assure you that we shall make no small plans.”

Located just south of Chicago’s famed Loop, and filling two city blocks along the South Fork of the Chicago River, the mammoth structure rests astride the Eisenhower Expressway and presents an exceptionally prominent opportunity for development.

Designed by the prolific Chicago office of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White in 1921, and built over the course of more than a decade, the 14-story, 2.7 million-square-foot building saw continued activity for nearly 75 years. It has, however, stood vacant since the U.S. Postal Service moved its primary hub to a new facility in 1996.

The interior size of the Old Main Post Office is just shy of that of Willis Tower (né Sears Tower) and the building offers enormous architectural and urban possibilities for reuse and re-adaptation. While there have been many proposals over the last 13 years as to what should be done with the existing site and structure, none have managed to move much past the initial planning and financing stages.

Suggested programming has included a recent, if predictable, development plan for new condominium, office, and hotel space. But more unusual schemes have also cropped up, including a waterpark, a casino and, perhaps most intriguingly, a giant mausoleum, complete with memorial chapel, 90,000 crypts per floor and riverfront docking to host river-bound funeral barges.

Despite the structure’s location, conspicuous siting, and the fact that it is on the National Register of Historic Places, it has been a financial burden to the postal service, costing nearly $2 million in upkeep per year.

The auction began with a minimum bid of $300,000 and lasted approximately 45 minutes, drawing more than 100 people to a suburban hotel conference room. Following the close of the auction, International Property Developers North America has 72 hours to post a 10% down payment on the property.