Jim Harris has the opportunity to help shape a cultural icon. Senior General Manager, Retail at Navy Pier, he is part of a team that’s completely reimagining the 100-year-old historic landmark. “We don’t want to create a boardwalk atmosphere, we want to be a place where people come and interact with the landscape of the City of Chicago,” Jim says.
JLL won Navy Pier’s accounting contract in 2012, retail management in April 2015 and just won specialty leasing and brand activations. Jim came on for the first day of the management assignment and didn’t want to leave. What other property could make him the primary contact for seven boats and in close touch with Chicago’s top restauranteurs? It’s a different world than managing a mall.
This holiday season: Navy Pier retailers do 75 percent of their sales between April and September, which means this time of year provides an opportunity for creative thinking. With highly attended events like upcoming “The Voice” auditions in January and the Chicago Flower & Garden Show in March, we’re giving the off-season a traffic boost ahead of a major retail transformation.
The vision: 60 percent of Navy Pier’s nearly 9 million annual visitors are local and we’re trying to capture more. In partnership with our leasing team, we’re reinventing the retail with local goods, arts and activities you can only get at Navy Pier. Think quality, curation and handcrafted, just like our new selection of hip local eats (DMK, Tiny Tavern, Goddess and the Baker, etc.). In our discovery period, we’ve explored: a rotating arts collection with a demonstration area; a museum space showcasing the history of Chicago; and a virtual reality offering where visitors could explore all of Chicago’s neighborhoods via drone footage.
Renovation status: Now that the dining area, dock and new Ferris wheel are complete, we’re starting to update the Family Pavilion, or main retail hub, and park out front, which will feature a performance lawn. All told, the renovations will total approximately $170 million. We’re also going high tech in our pursuit of new visitors. In addition to PR blitzes, we’ve partnered with local startup UPshow so people can see their social posts displayed on screens around Navy Pier. Next up our client is working on the beta version of a Navy Pier app.
Typical day: Emails that came in overnight, paperwork and walking the pier before things open—you’ll never find a lopsided sign. I walk the pier about four times a day and this past Fourth of July, when we had 175,000 guests, I clocked 35,000 steps! Otherwise I’m meeting with tenants (we have 75 in a given year), talking to the client, checking sales and collaborating with operations. I’m always making sure the pier is a welcoming, smoke-free environment without aggressive selling from vendors.
Hometown: Skokie, Illinois.
School: University of Illinois, where I majored in rhetoric and composition and spent my off hours working at Garcia’s Pizza.
First job: My family owned a manufacturing business and my first job was in my dad’s plant putting screws and nuts in bags. One summer in high school I graduated to the distribution plant, which was a lot more fun. I climbed up racks all day, got to toss around 50-pound boxes and prepped shipments for UPS.
First real estate job: When my dad sold his business, we bought several shopping centers in the northern suburbs. After shadowing him for a few months I stepped in to manage the properties. From construction to leasing to management and tenant retention, it was the ultimate crash course in retail property management. After entering the corporate world at Inland, I moved to JLL in August 2014. Throughout my career, I’ve maintained my “manage them like you own them” mentality, since I’ve experienced managing properties for my own personal bottom line.
Job in another life: I have always dreamed of writing a book about my dad. He lived through World War II in a small village in Greece and was part of the local resistance.
Habits: I make an Excel spreadsheet for every project. I also make sure to have some early morning and before bed quality time each day with my wife, 12-year-old daughter Eliza and 10-year-old son Trey. On my hour-long daily commute I like to enjoy myself with the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast. It’s about neuroscience and the biases we make.
On my Spotify playlist: The Killers. My best concerts were the first two Lollapaloozas in the early ‘90s, featuring Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, the Rollins Band and more. Moshing was friendlier back then.
On my DVR: “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” In terms of TV shows, I like “Lost,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “24.” And yes, I liked the “Lost” ending.
Dream dinner party: Alexander Hamilton, Walt Disney, Jon Stewart, Prince and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Nobody knows: I used to self-publish a popular indie comic book called “Shades of Blue” before my real estate days. You can still find it on Amazon.