Like many American cities, Chicago’s office occupancy rates have not come close to pre-pandemic levels. As commercial real estate is feeling the pinch, The Harris Poll recently polled Chicagoans on whether they’d like to reimagine vacant office spaces and, if so, what they would like to replace them with. Below are some of the key findings. 

Most residents enjoy spending time in downtown Chicago, but safety remains a concern. That said, local tourism may be an overlooked opportunity for the city.

Seven in 10 Cook County residents (71%) at least somewhat agree that they enjoy spending time in downtown Chicago, including 75% of city residents and 66% of suburban residents. Still, only half (53%) at least somewhat agree that they feel safe doing so (city residents: 60%; suburb residents: 46%).

Three-quarters (73%) of Cook County residents at least somewhat agree that they take advantage of the entertainment options (e.g., events, attractions) Chicago has to offer (city residents: 79%; suburb residents: 66%).

And only two in five (44%) at least somewhat agree that area entertainment options are more for visitors than for residents (city residents: 47%; suburb residents: 40%), suggesting that locals feel that the city has ample entertainment options they can take advantage of.

City residents acknowledge a need for housing and other essential resources in Chicago—perhaps more so than new leisure options.

Eight in 10 city residents (77%) at least somewhat support converting vacant office space in downtown Chicago into other usable spaces for businesses and residents, with half (51%) strongly in support.

Below in decreasing order are the most often requested spaces among those who at least somewhat support converting vacant offices:

  • Low-income housing: 57%
  • Educational facilities (e.g., school campuses, museums, adult education): 51%
  • Medical facilities: 45%
  • Housing for displaced migrants and refugees: 37%
  • Public gathering space: 37%
  • Start-up incubators (i.e., spaces where entrepreneurs grow and develop start-up companies): 37%
  • Rentable venues (e.g., for weddings, corporate events): 34%
  • Dining options (e.g., bars and restaurants): 33%
  • Lodging for visitors (e.g., hotels, short-term rentals): 32%
  • Libraries: 32%
  • Retail space: 29%
  • Co-working space: 27%
  • Storage facilities: 12%
  • Luxury housing: 11%
  • Another type of space not listed: 5%
  • Not sure: 2%

As demonstrated above, Chicagoans overwhelmingly would like for empty office space to be put to other productive uses, and they have a menu of options in mind.

This survey was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll from September 13, 2023 to September 20, 2023 among 1,000 residents of Cook County, IL, aged 18+. Figures were weighted where necessary to align with actual proportions within the population. For additional information, please contact The Harris Poll.

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AJ Skiera

Director of Communications and Brand Marketing

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