Unfinished downtown school hits market after loss to contractor liens

CBRE marketing it as a chance to customize it as desired

Chicago Contractor Seeks Buyer for Unfinished Downtown School
Power Construction's Jeff Geier with 355 East Wacker Drive in Chicago (Google Maps, Power Construction)

The contractor that seized an unfinished private school in downtown Chicago last year is looking to offload it, opening the door for a wide range of potential buyers who can tailor it to their liking as they see the development to the finish line. 

Power Construction, a Chicago-based firm leading a group of lienholders, has hired CBRE to sell the 154,000-square-foot building at 355 East Wacker Drive, which is about 80 percent completed, Crain’s reported

GEMS World Academy began developing the building in 2018 to serve as a high school, next door to its school for all grade levels below 9th. GEMS invested approximately $85 million before halting payments to contractors in 2019. A foreclosure lawsuit ensued, leading GEMS to surrender the building to the unpaid lienholders. 

CBRE is playing up the listing as a rare chance to acquire a high-end “customizable building” along the Chicago River. CBRE has not set an asking price but aims to recover nearly $25 million owed to the lienholders. Power Construction CEO Jeff Geier described the structure as a “blank palette” ready for reimagining.

The state of the property reflects the financial struggles of Dubai-based GEMS Education, which opened its first U.S. location in Chicago in 2014. The company’s financial issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, forcing the school to abandon the Wacker Drive project and shut down its high school program. Eleven students recently graduated from GEMS’ final Chicago high school class.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

Despite setbacks, GEMS is optimistic about the future of its lower school, which is expected to enroll nearly 300 students for the coming school year.

In 2020, GEMS attempted a sale-leaseback of its lower school building and the Wacker Drive property, seeking $150 million to complete the Wacker Drive project. However, no buyer emerged, leading Power Construction to terminate its contract and file for foreclosure, culminating in a 2023 settlement in which lienholders took control of the unfinished building.

The building, adjacent to the 101-story St. Regis Chicago, is designed with classrooms, laboratory space, a gym, cafeteria, auditorium and rooftop terrace. Potential buyers could convert it into offices, entertainment venues or apartments, according to CBRE.

This situation mirrors other high-profile, partially completed downtown projects like the stalled 90-story tower at 111 West Wacker Drive and the infamous Chicago Spire site.

—Quinn Donoghue

Read more

Thomas Cangiano, Head of School for GEMS World Academy in Chicago and 350 E. South Water St. in the East Loop (Building photo by Eric Allix Rogers via Open House Chicago)
Private school wants $150M for East Loop campus, has perfect tenant in mind
Sterling Bay selling Fulton Market development site 
MetLife Selling Mostly Vacant Office Building in Downtown Chicago
MetLife looks to offload mostly vacant West Loop office building