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CHICAGO-Law firm Baker & McKenzie has agreed to lease 300,000 sf in the planned $500 million River Point building, a 1.1-million-sf tower going up in the West Loop at 444 W. Lake St. The 600-employee company is co-anchoring the Hines-developed building with local investment company William Blair & Co. LLC. The lease has been in negotiations for months.

The company will have state-of-the-art offices in the 52-story planned tower, which is designed by New Haven, CT-based Pickard Chilton Architects, said Steve Steinmeyer, EVP with Jones Lang LaSalle. He and Bill Rogers, managing director, represented the law firm in the 15-year lease. He tells GlobeSt.com that he’s not sure about the floor location, but the firm will be “in a general portion of the mid-rise and a portion of the low-rise, with support and administration on the lower floors and the attorneys on the upper floors.”

The site is perfect for a growing law firm, Steinmeyer says. “This is going to be an iconic building, just look at the geography. It’s right at the confluence of the north, south and main branch of the river, looking toward Lake Michigan.”

Construction has yet to begin on the tower, with groundbreaking expected to take place by January, and a completion time in late 2011. Baker plans to move in when its lease is up at its current 240,000 sf at One Prudential Plaza in 2012. Blair is moving from 222 W. Adams. The asking rates are about $50 per sf, gross, according to Houston-based Hines officials.

Class A space is at a premium because of a lack of new space, though the class B offices that companies are leaving for new buildings will probably be suffering in the next few years, as a handful of new towers come online in the Downtown, Steinmeyer says. “In early 2008, we measured vacancy, and the class A vacancy rate for big blocks of space, more than 50,000 sf, is at about 4%. New buildings now under construction are now something north of 75% leased, and they don’t even exist. Places that the tenants are leaving, there may be some issues, but it’s because those buildings are older, not as efficient and may not be as well located.”

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