US (IL): Farm Zero negotiating to lease 70,000 sq. ft. office to grow basil

While some Chicago developers look to turn vacant office space into affordable apartments, a new partnership envisions a much different conversion for older towers: rows of produce such as basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce.

A nonprofit venture called Farm Zero is negotiating to lease 70,000 square feet, and possibly much more, in a 22-story office tower across the street from City Hall, company founder, and CEO Russell Steinberg told CoStar News.

If a deal is completed with building owner Golub & Co., the Burnham Center will become the first in a series of Farm Zero spaces in Chicago’s Loop business district, potentially producing much of the city’s fresh produce and generating thousands of new jobs. In addition to desks, chairs, and conference rooms, buildings could also house grow lights and racks of crops.

Steinberg and his partner, Canadian firm Agriplay Ventures, hope Chicago will become a model for urban high-rise farming as cities throughout the country grapple with what to do with vacant space as layoffs and three years of remote work brought on by COVID-19 have curbed demand. “Everyone is going to end up following, but Chicago will wind up winning because they’re taking it and running with it,” said Agriplay President Dan Houston. “This is how everybody’s going to grow their food. Chicago is going to become a world leader.”


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