CHICAGO—The city’s burgeoning tech scene has created a demand for office renovations that bring in both the modern amenities and visual appeal that young techies expect. Perhaps no building better illustrates the changes in the CBD’s office market than the Merchandise Mart. The massive structure along the river once provided a home to the city’s showroom tenants but now sits at the center of the tech world. Owner Vornado Realty Trust wanted nothing less than a reconstruction of several common areas and J.C. Anderson, Inc. was brought in, a contractor that has completed multiple projects at the Mart over the past 15 years and developed an expertise in handling delicate tasks at the building.

“Obviously, the Merchandise Mart is one of Chicago’s historic pieces of architecture,” William Burfeind, vice president of J.C. Anderson, Inc., tells “And one of the challenges when you’re working with an iconic building is that the renovations have to be very respectful.”

Vornado gave the company a task which involved high-level engineering. The key piece of the $40 million renovation is a 50-foot wide marble grand staircase at the main entrance that connects the first and second floors and gives visitors and tenants sweeping views of the interior. Furthermore, although the work began in the fall, it had to be completed by the time NeoCon, the largest interior design conference in North America, was held this week at the Mart.

“The building was not initially designed for a grand staircase,” says Anthony Douglas, the contractor’s project executive. “It was a big challenge to prepare the existing structure” with the proper supports to ensure no damage was done to the ceiling, especially the hundreds of new custom engineered bronze ceiling panels, as the space was opened up to make way for the massive marble edifice. “Behind the scenes, before one piece of steel was placed, there were a lot of modifications that needed to occur.”

Douglas says that they ended up using 50 tons of steel and 68 tons of Italian marble, all of which they needed to cut and shape. In addition to the grand staircase, the company also renovated the food court, which now has new finishes and lighting throughout, reflective ceiling clouds, and an abundance of natural light via new perimeter windows. The corridors on the first and second floors were also remade with new lighting, open ceilings, millwork, and seating to support the high-traffic retail and collaborative areas.

“We have a deep resume of repositioning office buildings,” adds Burfeind, “and that positioned us very well for this project.” Just in time for NeoCon, the company also just finished a seven-week office and showroom renovation for OFS Brands, Inc. on the 11th floor of the Mart. It reconfigured its showroom and added new glass fronts, doors, a graphic wall covering as well as new paint and flooring throughout.

J.C. Anderson also recently completed a 60,300 square foot, two-phase build-out at the Mart for Yelp, one of the many tech firms that now occupy the 4.2 million square foot building and have done so much to change its character. The Yelp build-out included the addition of a café, conference rooms, a training room, game/entertainment space, a genius bar as well as open work areas to create a more collaborative office environment. J.C. Anderson recently began work on this project’s third phase, which will remake another 80,000 square feet for Yelp.

It’s a good time to have this kind of expertise, Burfeind says. Landlords throughout the Loop and adjacent submarkets need these types of renovations to bring in or retain the many high-tech tenants that want to occupy downtown spaces. “We’re about 18 months into this trend, and I think it’s going to continue for some time.”

Article by Brian J. Rogal,