Gage owner, celebrity chef cooking up plans for Block 37
By: Micah Maidenberg
The Block 37 mall has landed two tenants to serve up something in short supply at the Loop mall: food.
Los Angeles-based CIM Group, Block 37’s owner, confirmed it has leased space there to a group led by Chicago’s Lawless family, which is behind the popular downtown restaurants the Gage and Henri, and the dining company led by Richard Sandoval, a celebrity chef known for his innovative Latin cuisine.
Both leases stand out as the first significant deals at the downtown mall since the property opened under a different landlord in 2009.
A Lawless group, led by sisters Clodagh and Amy Lawless, agreed to lease 5,500 square feet of first-floor space at the southeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn streets, Clodagh Lawless said.
Mr. Sandoval, who owns Denver-based Richard Sandoval Restaurants, leased 22,000 square feet on the third floor of Block 37, where he plans to open what CIM described in a statement as “a casual multi-concept dining hall.”
The lease with Mr. Sandoval’s firm is especially important toward the overall success of Block 37, a 275,373-square-foot shopping center across from the Macy’s department store on State Street. Drawing shoppers to the property’s upper floors has long been a challenge, as most retailers prefer ground-floor areas where customers can easily slide in and out of their shops.
CIM had to create something special for the third-floor food-court space to help draw customers up, said Paul Bryant, a principal at Oakbrook Terrace-based Mid-American Real Estate Corp. who wasn’t involved in the lease.
CAN’T BE ‘RUN-OF-THE-MILL’
“You can’t go up there with any run-of-the-mill, readily available concepts that you see all over the place,” he said. The third-floor space has long been targeted for a food court. At one time, Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. planned to open the food court in a joint venture with Block 37’s developer, Chicago-based Joseph Freed & Associates LLC.
Mr. Sandoval will face competition from the Seven on State food court on the seventh floor of Macy’s, across the street from Block 37, as well as Urban Market food court in the Chase Plaza building, 10 S. Dearborn St. Other well known food-court operations downtown include the Food Life in the Water Tower Place mall and Eataly, the Italian-food emporium that’s part of the Shops at North Bridge.
“I would think people are going to seek it out,” Mr. Bryant said of Mr. Sandoval’s project. “Clearly, we’re becoming more and more of a foodie town.”
Mr. Sandoval could not be reached, and further details about his project at Block 37 were not immediately available yesterday.
A native of Mexico City, Mr. Sandoval operates more than 35 restaurants in the U.S. and in Persian Gulf countries of Dubai and Qatar, according CIM and his website. His culinary specialties include Latin and Latin-Asian foods.
Ms. Lawless said her group plans to open a “high-end white tablecloth restaurant” with a lively bar area that will seek to appeal to the downtown business set, tourists and shoppers alike. Despite Block 37’s troubles over the years, the deal ultimately was an easy one to sign, according to Ms. Lawless.
“It was just really a no-brainer,” she said. “That corner space is amazing. We’re part of the mall, but more importantly, we’re accessible to the street because we have that corner unit.”
Ms. Lawless added that her group is still determining what it will call the restaurant and when it will open. The group also must hire a chef. Leslie Karr, senior managing director in the Chicago office of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, represented the Lawless family in the deal.
In a statement, CIM said the new restaurant deals are “a key component in CIM’s long-range program to enhance the mix of offerings that appeal to area workers, residents and visitors.” CIM Group acquired Block 37 in April 2012 for $84 million, buying the property from Charlotte, N.C.- based Bank of America Corp., which took the mall back from Joseph Freed & Associates following a bitter foreclosure suit.
In addition to landing the leases with the restaurateurs, CIM is in talks to lease the mall’s fourth floor for a movie theater and health club. However, athletic apparel company Puma SE recently closed its Block 37 store at State and Randolph streets.
A CIM spokeswoman declined in an email to comment on fourth-floor leasing activity or the former Puma space.
Chicago-based Stone Real Estate Corp. represented CIM Group in the leases with the Lawless group and Mr. Sandoval.
The Chicago office of the brokerage known as RKF is now handling leasing at Block 37.