A new life for Congress Center?

CHICAGO, IL-Transwestern announced on Monday that the new owners of the Congress Center, a 16-story tower at 525 W. Van Buren that has endured a chaotic year, had picked their firm as its new exclusive leasing agent.

Transwestern has a big job ahead. The building’s previous owners spent most of 2012 wrangling with lenders and tenants, damaging the property’s reputation. Crain’s Chicago Business reported last June that lenders were claiming the owners were in default on a loan for the building. Meanwhile, many tenants were claiming the owners owed them money for making improvements. Transwestern said that the occupancy rate was only 74 percent, far below the average for downtown Chicago.

The building was constructed in 2002 and has 522,000 SF of Class A office space. It was acquired late last year by a joint venture for $95 million. The joint venture consists of Northwood Investors LLC, a real estate investment adviser based in New York, and Sovereign Capital Management Group Inc.’s American Recovery Property Trust.

Last year’s turmoil probably shut the old owners out of lucrative deals. Colliers International stated in its year-end research report that the surrounding West Loop had the strongest submarket in the city’s CBD, with leasing activity in the fourth quarter approaching pre-recession levels. The office vacancy rate had declined to 13.5%, down from 14.4% at the end of 2011.   

Transwestern hopes the vibrant neighborhood will help bring Congress Center back.

“525 West Van Buren is a well-located West Loop office tower directly across from Union Station, with excellent floor plates and significant technology infrastructure,” said Michael Lirtzman, a Transwestern executive vice president who, along with Tamara Kos and Kristen Baker, will now handle the property. “The new ownership is investing heavily in the property and is ready to invest in new tenants as well.”