Chicago ordinance to tackle retail vacancies 

Requires landlords to maintain and insure empty storefronts

Chicago Ordinance Addresses Vacant Storefronts
Mayor Brandon Johnson and Ald. Anthony Napolitano (Getty, Napolitano for 41)

Chicago officials have initiated a plan aimed at addressing soaring retail vacancies.

Chicago City Council has passed legislation requiring landlords to register, maintain and insure buildings with vacant storefronts and unoccupied ground-level spaces, effective in late July, the Chicago Star reported.

The ordinance aims to revitalize business districts that have seen a massive drop in activity since the pandemic, including the Magnificent Mile shopping strip, where a slew of household retailers have vacated in recent years.

“Opportunity is here in Chicago. Revitalizing business districts fosters neighborhood growth and encourages entrepreneurs to pursue new ventures,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said. 

Under the ordinance, buildings that are under contract, undergoing construction or awaiting building permits won’t be considered vacant. Vacant buildings can receive lower tax assessments in Cook County.

The ordinance, originally introduced by Alderman Anthony Napolitano last November, addresses long-standing issues with neglected commercial storefronts. 

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“For years, many property owners have neglected their commercial storefronts while benefiting from a vacancy tax exemption,” Napolitano said. “These vacancies harm our neighboring businesses and weaken our local economy.”

Building Commissioner Marlene Hopkins said the ordinance will “enhance public safety and improve quality of life for residents and visitors while boosting the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Loop retail vacancies climbed to 30.13 percent in 2023, up from 28.32 percent the previous year and more than double the rate of 2019, according to Stone Real Estate. Last year’s figure was the highest on record since 2002.

The downtown retail market’s struggles can be attributed to a beleaguered office market that’s been grappling with record-high vacancies of its own since the pandemic spawned the remote-work era. The dearth of downtown office users has triggered a domino effect that’s stymied activity in several areas where restaurants and retailers previously thrived. 

—Quinn Donoghue

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