Salesforce in talks to anchor riverfront skyscraper, add 5,000 jobs

By: Ryan Ori

oftware firm Salesforce is eyeing a huge expansion in Chicago, where it could add up to 5,000 jobs and kick off construction of a skyscraper along the river.

The San Francisco-based company is in talks to potentially lease more than 500,000 square feet in the planned third and final tower in the Wolf Point development on the north side of the Chicago River near the Merchandise Mart, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Talks with Houston-based developer Hines have not been completed and could fall apart, sources said. One potential hurdle: Salesforce wants to put a large video board on the exterior of the riverfront building, which would require city approval.

The company also is seeking $10 million of property tax abatement, a request the city has refused, according to sources. Still, city officials hope to finalize a deal within the next month or two.

But Salesforce needs a big new space somewhere in Chicago, after growing to nearly 1,500 workers in the city.

The third Wolf Point tower has zoning approval to be as tall as 950 feet, which would make it one of the tallest buildings in Chicago. The tower is expected to have about 1.2 million square feet of office space.

The first two Wolf Point construction phases — one completed and one underway — were apartment towers.

Salesforce spokeswoman Cheryl Sanclemente declined to confirm plans for a new Chicago tower, saying “Salesforce does not comment on rumors or speculation.”

The company has workers in more than 200,000 square feet combined in several River North and Loop office buildings. The company’s largest space is at 111 W. Illinois St., and it also leases offices at 114 W. Illinois St., 222 S. Riverside Plaza and 205 W. Wacker Drive. Salesforce also uses a large block within WeWork’s co-working space at 20 W. Kinzie St.

Unlike many tech companies that prefer quirky older buildings or sprawling campuses, Salesforce is known to prefer to seek naming rights and signage on new skyscrapers. In January, Salesforce moved its headquarters into the 61-story Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. At 1,070 feet, it is the second-tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

Salesforce is also considering Friedman Properties’ planned redevelopment of the fire station at 444 N. Dearborn St., according to sources. The Chicago-based landlord plans to demolish the existing fire station and replace it with a modern station at the base of a 29-story office building.

Previously, Salesforce was in advanced talks to lease space in the 53-story tower under construction at 110 N. Wacker Drive, where GGP’s former low-rise headquarters was razed. That option appears to be off the table because Bank of America claimed naming rights when it signed the first lease in the building.

Salesforce’s San Francisco skyscraper was developed by Hines and designed by architecture firm Pelli Clark Pelli, the same team working on the Wolf Point office project. Houston-based Hines’ investment partner on the Wolf Point project is the Kennedy family, which has owned the riverfront land near the Merchandise Mart for several decades.

Greg Van Schaack, a Chicago-based senior managing director at Hines, declined to comment.

Salesforce’s expansion plans were first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business.

Salesforce isn’t the only California-based technology giant growing fast in Chicago. Facebook in July confirmed it has leased 263,000 square feet in the new office building at 151 N. Franklin St.

The Tribune earlier this month reported that Google is planning its first known retail flagship store in Chicago’s Fulton Market district, where the company is also in the process of adding more than 100,000 square feet of office space. Google already has its Midwest headquarters in the district just west of the Kennedy Expressway.