Chicago 2025: In the shared economy, do you know who your customer is?

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Spoiler alert. In the shared economy, everyone’s customer is the end user. The knowledge worker, the talent, the Millennials, whatever you want to call it. At Chicago 2025, JLL Chicago’s marquee event held earlier this month, we heard from some of the industry’s top thought leaders on how they’re navigating the shared economy’s major changes to the way we operate.

shared economy

Panelists John Gavin, Andrea Zopp and Chris Kelly

The No. 1 thing tenants talk about is talent, said World Business Chicago president and CEO Andrea Zopp, which is positive news for Chicago. We’re drawing college graduates at a higher rate than our comparable cities because people are looking for quality of life, affordability and a wide variety of housing options to evolve in an urban environment. And what talent wants is driving both major business decisions and major municipal ones, like Chicago’s investment in Divvy, our bike share program. All employers want is the ability to compete, and Chicago’s diverse economy, connectivity, access to transit, and quality of neighborhoods are all formidable tools for their arsenal. Expect forward-thinking initiatives like the planned express train to O’Hare to go a long way in attracting and retaining our major corporate occupiers.

shared economy

Lincoln Yards rendering

Sterling Bay has landed big names from Google to McDonald’s with branded, experiential buildings in Fulton Market, a non-traditional office market, said principal John Gavin. They learned quickly that the key is to control the entire live/work/play environment. Major corporations did it in the 1970s by moving to suburban campuses, but recreating that ecosystem downtown takes a more nuanced strategy. Owning a critical mass of property within a submarket, both in Fulton Market in in Lincoln Yards, allows the developer to take a multidimensional approach with complementary asset classes in close proximity, developing hotel, multifamily and retail to benefit neighborhoods and top office tenants. And it’s paying off. Sterling Bay has seen double-digit dollar-per-square-foot net rent increases on its creative office spaces, often leased up on unconventional terms to accommodate fast-growing start-ups.

shared economy

Moderator Keith Largay and panelist Will Murphy

CEDARst Companies‘ client is the Millennial generation, who wants access and experience, immediately, said managing partner Will Murphy. CEDARst designs its urban infill, micro apartment projects with that in mind, and lifestyle amenities are critical. If you’re delivering a 300-square-foot unit to someone, you better think about what services you’re providing outside of the unit and synergies that can be achieved with the shared economy. Enter the FLATS brand, a multifamily network of thousands of units, offering residents access to amenities in any building across the portfolio. Because micro unit rents are an approachable chunk price but sky-high on a per-square-foot basis, they’re the quickest to go and the most appealing to lenders and investors. Looking ahead, Will predicts the CBD will become a 24-hour market, as driverless cars render parking garages obsolete.

shared economy

Larry’s cocktail bar at CEDARst’s Lawrence House in Uptown

As companies dramatically decrease employees’ personal space and generously increase common areas, the shared economy will become more pervasive in the workplace, said co-founder and president of Convene Chris Kelly. Convene has differentiated its “workplace-as-a-service” platform by partnering with investors developing or repositioning assets, often leasing and building out idiosyncratic spaces that others might find less desirable. It’s a win for landlords, given the building-wide implications of upgrading the amenities within an asset. While the themes of shared workplace are consistent everywhere, every operator is unique and the industry will follow hospitality’s path of specialization, stratifying into everything from “motel” to “luxury” service models and offerings. People see the hotel they stay in as an extension of their personal brand, and they’re going to want to know that their workspaces stand for something.

View JLL’s Chicago 2025 research here.
View Part 1 of our event coverage here.