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CHICAGO-The slowing economy, stalled further by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the US, did not change things much for at least two large office space users, attendees at GVA Worldwide’s conference here last week. But those same users say subtle changes already were in the works.

Space planning began two years ago on ABN Amro’s 1.3-million-sf West Loop administrative center, says vice president of corporate real estate Kelly Stradinger. It was modeled after an operations center built in Troy, MI, emphasizing increased use of cubicles rather than private offices, he adds.

“First vice presidents get offices, the other VPs are in cubes,” Stradinger explains. “But these really are nice cubes.”

In the five buildings were ABN Amro currently houses its “back office” operations, the space ratio is a little more than 210 sf per employee, Stradinger reports. At the new complex, being developed by Hines Interests LP, the ratio is a snugger 180 sf per person, he adds.

As for the issue of a private office, Stradinger concedes it was a tough sell in Troy at first. “People have come to accept that,” he says. “With few exceptions, people have embraced the concept.”

Meanwhile, Mayer Brown Platt executive director Stephen Wells says expectations are loftier and more entrenched in the legal profession, where the average ratio in the US is 950 sf per professional. “We still office our professionals in single (10-feet-by-15-feet) offices with a window,” says Wells, meaning an elongated rectangular shape of the floor plate is the preferred model. “We don’t want the elephant. We want the cheetah. We’re looking for a cereal box.”

Technology is playing a larger role for both space users. Stradinger’s new building, scheduled for completion in 2003, is employing risers to run cables under the floor. A law firm, Wells says, must be able to have word processing equipment whirring “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

One difference, though, is that Wells and his counterparts generally accept the fact they are going to pay market rates for functional space that also projects an image. “Your clients have to be comfortable in our space,” says Wells, whose firm has 1,000 attorneys based at 190 S. LaSalle St. “The lawyers we need to attract and retain to do your legal work also need to be comfortable in the space…We want the space to look good, we want the space to be functional. We’re not looking for the last nickel out of your space.”

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