Tribune Tower's neo-Gothic architecture, facade carved of Indiana limestone and prime location make it an iconic gateway to North Michigan Avenue.
But as Tribune Co., which occupies about 93.5 percent of the tower's 631,000 square feet, seeks to strengthen its financial position, one question has emerged: What would be the value of such a landmark if it were put on the market?
Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman said Wednesday that "Tribune Tower is not for sale," after at least one Wall Street analyst raised the issue Tuesday. Steven Barlow, an analyst for Prudential Equity Group, reportedly said he believed there was "a 90 percent probability" that Tribune Co. would sell the 36-story tower.
Barlow's comment came after Tribune announced that it would sell some assets to help pay for a $2 billion stock buyback. However, Tribune said it doesn't intend to let go of any assets in its three major markets of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, where its holdings include the Chicago Tribune, radio station WGN-AM 720 and TV station WGN-Ch. 9.
Making it highly unlikely that the company would part with the building is the fact that the tower houses the corporate headquarters, along with several other of its properties, including Chicago Tribune offices and newsroom. WGN-AM also broadcasts from the tower.
Still, the notion sent real estate observers off dreaming.
"The Tribune Tower is a premium property," said Harvey Camins, president of real estate broker Camins Tomasz Kritt.
Camins, who in August arranged for a partnership to purchase the 1957 landmark Inland Steel building in the Loop, said two types of buildings command the highest prices: new glass and steel towers, and architecturally significant classics.
If Tribune Tower remained offices, and was in excellent condition, "it could be sold for a price on a par with new buildings, maybe $300 a square foot," he said.
A developer looking to convert the tower at 435 N. Michigan Ave. into condominiums might pay about $200 a square foot for the building and its parking lot. Condos could sell for $550 to $770 a square foot, predicted developer Joel Carlins, co-chief executive of Magellan Development Co.
"You pay for the address, and the Tribune Tower's location is prime," he said.
The commercial property sale market could be on track for a record year, with perhaps $4.5 billion in sales, compared to $3.3 billion last year and $2.8 billion in 2004, according to Bruce Miller, managing director of real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle.
In contrast, downtown office leasing is slow, with about 17.8 percent available for lease or sublease.
Tribune Tower might fetch about $250 a square foot, said Tony Smaniotto, a senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis. He considers it to be a Class B+ building.
But as a Class B+ office, it might have some drawbacks common to old commercial structures, such as relatively small floorplates dissected by columns and older mechanical systems, said Miller.