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CHICAGO-The new kids on the block at the Illinois Center complex didn’t wait for the welcome wagon to greet them. Instead, Jackson, MS-based Parkway Properties, Inc. is calling on its new neighbors to join them in a property owners association for the complex, envisioned by its architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The folksy REIT aims to increase occupancy from 89% to 95% by the end of 2002, reduce sublease space and increase parking revenue at its first purchase in this market, the 1.07-million-sf 233 N. Michigan Ave. building, commonly known as Two Illinois Center, which it bought for $175 million. But Parkway’s top priority is an association that would include owners of four other one-million-sf office buildings, two hotels and two multifamily buildings.

Among the property owners are Hines Interests LP. The complex may get another new face in Phoenix-based Pivotal Group Inc., which reportedly is offering $145 million for 111 E. Wacker Dr., $15 million more than the price Parkway was willing to pay when it was scouting its first Chicago acquisition.

“There hasn’t been a firm, active plan as the buildings have changed hands,” says CEO Steven G. Rogers, who may visit some property owners personally to sell them on the merits of joining an association. “It will take energy, enthusiasm and dollars.”

It also will mean overcoming some ownership inertia, adds Jack McKinney, whose J.F. McKinney & Associates is exclusive leasing agent for 233 N. Michigan Ave., as well as two neighboring office towers. “We know all the owners,” says McKinney, past president of the New East Side organization that promotes the visibility of the submarket. “It’s long overdue.”

Quarterbacking the effort for Parkway will be former director of investor relations Will Flatt, who has moved to Chicago to oversee the operation of Two Illinois Center. “We feel like Illinois Center is really prime for some level or reorganization similar to back when (original developer) Metropolitan Structures had all the buildings under one complex,” he says.

Some of the things the association might do is coordinate landscape improvements, produce art fairs, erect a holiday tree, promote local merchants who rent concourse retail space and perhaps redirect city parades through the complex, Parkway officials say. Although Rogers concedes a short-term holder may be focused solely on their building generating a high return, the REIT is selling common economic benefits.

Flatt wants Illinois Center to model itself after New York’s Rockefeller Center, which he adds trades at $1,000 per sf. He hopes Two Illinois Center can someday boast a value of $300 per sf. “We have a long way to go,” Flatt says. “But one of our goals is to provide the leadership to make that happen.”

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