Two Trading Firms Expand in Downtown Chicago

January 2010

At least one sector of the Chicago office market is holding up, as trading firms Ronin Capital LLC and Peak6 Investments L.P. are adding space downtown.

In the bigger expansion, Ronin is moving its headquarters from the Federal Reserve building in the Central Loop to 350 N. Orleans St., where sources say the firm has leased about 70,000 square feet. The company currently has 43,100 square feet at the Fed, 230 S. LaSalle St.

The Quinn administration is in talks to offer tax incentives to Ronin, sources familiar with the matter say, as the firm had mulled adding the jobs at the company's three other locations: London, New York and California.

The company, whose specialty is its proprietary trading business, was founded in 2002 by former Chicago Board Options Exchange trader John S. Stafford Jr. and his son, John S. Stafford III.

A message for Ronin executives left at a telephone number listed with the Securities and Exchange Commission was not returned.

Spokeswomen for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., a unit of New York-based Vornado Realty Trust that owns 350 N. Orleans, and the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity decline to comment.

Executives with CB Richard Ellis Inc., which represents the Mart, and Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., which represents Ronin, also decline to comment.

It couldn't be determined whether Ronin's sister company, Stafford Asset Management LLC, also would be part of the move from the Fed building. A Stafford Asset Management executive did not return a call requesting comment.

Separately, Peak6 is consolidating offices and roughly doubling its space at the Chicago Board of Trade building, 141 W. Jackson Blvd., by adding 44,000 square feet of former trading floor space on the seventh and eighth floors.

Its new space will be used for various Peak6 businesses, including its online brokerage arm, OptionsHouse LLC, and its online news organization, Options News Network (ONN.tv).

OptionsHouse will move from its current location in the East Loop at 303 E. Wacker Drive, where the firm subleases an entire floor, about 32,000 square feet.

Peak6 CEO Matthew Hulsizer, who co-founded the firm in 1997 with his wife, Jennifer Just, says the firm spent about 18 months looking for a new, bigger space for OptionsHouse. At the same time, Peak6 also looked for other spaces where it could relocate all of its operation.

"We found plenty of office space," says Mr. Hulsizer, noting the company is a high-credit tenant that was wooed aggressively by many buildings. "We've got more capital than many of the landlords."

The firm has been based in the Board of Trade building since 2004, and ultimately the opportunity to take contiguous space there prevailed as the best option, Mr. Hulsizer says.

"We were looking for great space, and this is our home," he says.

Like its main trading floor and headquarters space on the two levels just below, Peak6's new space has tall ceilings with large windows that look straight up LaSalle Street. The space was recently vacated by Chicago Trading Co., which had its trading desk there, and previously was used by the firm O'Connor & Associates, where both Mr. Hulsizer and his wife once worked.

Construction of the new space is soon to begin so that Peak6 can occupy it next January, says Craig Braham, CEO of Chicago-based Advocate Commercial Real Estate Advisors LLC, who represented Peak6 along with Advocate's David Goldberg.

Kevin Lennon, managing director of real estate for CME Group Inc., which owns the building through a subsidiary, says in a statement: "As one of the city's most recognized locations and with our high occupancy rate, we continue to make improvements to the Chicago Board of Trade Building to support the demands of our customers on the trading floor and trading tenants."

Advocate's Mr. Braham says Peak6 got various concessions he wouldn't specify, including a period of free rent and money from the landlord to help build out the interiors. The lease for Peak6's entire almost 90,000 square feet was extended through 2025 from 2019, making it essentially a 15-year deal.

"We wanted to control the space," Mr. Braham says. "It's a showpiece, it really is. Trading firms want to retain people and hire the best and the brightest, and part of that is creating a place where people want to work."

Source:  Crain's Chicago