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Quinton E. Primo lll Building a Home for Google at the James R. Thompson Center

by Alan Hughes

Quintin E. Primo III is one of relatively few African Americans operating at the highest level of the commercial real estate business. His company, the Chicago-based Capri Investment Group, boasts more than $14 billion in real estate investment transactions completed – with more high-profile deals in the pipeline.

The Capri Investment Group and commercial and residential real estate development company, The Prime Group, acquired the James R. Thompson Center, an historic building in Chicago’s Loop District. The center, built in the mid-1980s houses Illinois state government offices. Over time the building fell into disrepair due to city and state financial constraints. As many as three governors attempted to negotiate a sale of the 1.3 million-square-foot property to a private investor or developer before the current governor, J. B. Pritzker, succeeded.

But the affable and resourceful Primo, working with negotiated a deal to expand Google’s presence in Chicago, the company’s headquarters, to construct a new state of the art facility which upon completion will relocate 5,000 Google employees to the property. The project in the Loop District and nearby LaSalle Street is expected to  take about three-and-a-half years to complete. “I received a call from a friend, a senior manager at Google, who indicated that the company was expanding significantly in Chicago,” he recalls. “Mike Reschke, CEO and owner of The Prime Group and I have been friends and business associates for many years. So, I went to Mike and talked about how we could team up in a fifty-fifty partnership, buy the Thompson Center together, and concurrently do a build-to-suit for Google,” explained Primo.

“Chicagoans will soon see construction activity at the site of the Thompson Center, starting with fencing going up around the perimeter early next year. Before that happens, we wanted to provide a first look at our plans for this iconic building,” said the commercial real estate expert.

The commercial real estate market is pegged at $1.2 trillion by industry research provider IBISWorld. And as with most industries where multi-million-dollar projects are commonplace, there is little inclusivity at its upper echelons. While Primo’s Capri Investment Group ranks among them, there are few others: Victor MacFarlane, Founder and Chairman of MacFarlane Partners; R. Donahue Peebles, Chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corporation; Richmond S. McCoy, President and CEO of UrbanAmerica Advisors and Dallas Smith of T. Dallas Smith & Company.

While there have been major real estate projects with significant minority participation beyond the few Black firms operating at the highest levels, often a result of government mandates. Former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson historically allocated 20-25 percent of contracts for the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport expansion to diverse businesses and increased the percentage of city contracts to minorities from under one percent to nearly 40 percent in five years.

Other cities, including Chicago, also require contract allocations to minority businesses. “I think that the government’s ability to understand these issues and to play an active role in solving them is a step in the right direction,” explains James H. Simmons III, CEO and founding partner of REEC. “These were driven by, in large part, mayors and legislators who understood this to be a problem and decided to change the rules on how these projects are awarded such that there is real participation.”

According to Simmons, the industry also needs to create a pathway to capacity. “You can’t just walk in and say, ‘I’m going to do $200 million development’ when the only thing you’ve done is a $5 million project,” he explains. “So, you go from five to perhaps 10, to 25, to 50, to 100, to 200, getting experience, building your team, building your balance sheet and your bonding capacity. All the things that you need to be able to get to that $200 million deal.”

However, for that to work, active participation from minority firms is a must. In the past, majority-led firms have partnered with MBEs to meet mandates and relegated them to minor – and less lucrative – portions of the project. “They’re not just going to sit in a corner. They’re going to take an active participating role in the development,” asserts Simmons. “And they’re going to build capacity. It has to be real and actionable, and driven by the government because it’s been proven that the private sector just is not going to do it.”

 

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