“Harry Houdini” of Chicago real estate in spotlight with Thompson Center deal

Developer Michael Reschke has made a name for himself in Chicago property market since the 1980s

James R. Thompson Center & Michael Reschke (Getty Images, iStock)
James R. Thompson Center & Michael Reschke (Getty Images, iStock)

The Harry Houdini of Chicago real estate is back in the spotlight.

Veteran Chicago developer Michael Reschke, who earned the moniker from Crain’s in 1999 for his ability to survive precarious financial situations, is taking on what may be his biggest gamble yet in buying the James. R. Thompson Center, Crain’s reported. He’s buying it from the state and plans to update the building’s offices and potentially even convert the upper floors into a hotel.

“A lot of people have questioned whether I have a screw loose or something,” Reschke told Crain’s. Despite record vacancy rates, however, “it’s a very rational — I think — well thought-out project if you just study the project and what you’re working with.”

Reschke began making a name for himself in the 1980s by building multi-billion dollar buildings. Reschke’s Prime Group developed a 51-story tower at 77 West Wacker Drive that served as the corporate headquarters for R.R. Donnelley and United Airlines.

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Reschke also transformed parts of LaSalle Street with the purchase of an outdated office building at 11 South LaSalle, which he turned into the Residence Inn Chicago Downtown. He also spent almost $400 million renovating the building, at 208 South LaSalle Street, and converted the first 12 floors into the JW Marriott Chicago. He was also hired to develop an almost $200 million 388-room hotel at 150 East Ontario Street in Streeterville.

Reschke is also known for his ability to avoid loan trouble by refinancing properties through public securities markets and negotiations with lenders.

“The people that are having problems today are maybe the hotels that are average performers or even weak performers,” Reschke told Crain’s in February. “Assets that really were stellar pre-COVID are still desirable investment vehicles for institutions.”

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[Crain’s] — Victoria Pruitt