Structured Real Estate, an ambitious and nimble team based in COCO Chicago, is a creative commercial real estate developer specializing in adaptive reuse and ground-up development. One of their latest projects, Meetinghouse 3080, incorporated cutting-edge 3D laser technology in the conversion of a former church into a commercial office, retail and restaurant space in Scottsdale, Arizona.
We checked in with Steve Doyle (Principal), Hannah Ryan (Marketing Coordinator) and Conor Keilty (Development Manager) to learn more about what they’ve got brewing in the West Loop, and how a real estate development company found itself—perhaps counter-intuitively—operating in a coworking space.
What’s the company’s origin story?
Steve: I’ve been in the real estate business for 20+ years, and I felt it was time to put together something fresh. Structured Real Estate came together out of industry relationships I’ve had with people in the design and construction worlds for many years. They wanted to get into the real estate business, and I wanted to have my own platform, so after a couple-year discussion with several partners, Structured was born in August 2015.
It was just me until June 2016, when Conor came on, then Hannah joined us in July. I had been working in this small, confined office (I called it “the penalty box”), and we needed to expand into something more open, more user-friendly for the three of us.
Hannah: We didn’t want to be your typical corporate real estate company. We wanted flexibility and the ability to interact with new people. At COCO, we meet new people every day. It’s a good environment for the kind of business we’re trying to create.
Conor: Also, the coffee is better.
Hannah: We toured a few coworking spaces last summer, and Conor sampled the coffee at all of them. That was a big deciding factor.
The internet here is great too. Our business is conducted in different states (we use Zoom video conferencing a lot), so having fiber internet has made those meetings more successful—the audio and video are great.
Steve: The fiber internet has helped us not have to travel as much too. I can just pop into one of the phone booths with my MacBook and do a Zoom—it really helps.
You obviously know a thing or two about physical spaces. What’s your take on COCO Chicago from a design perspective?
Conor: We’ve started recommending phone booths to our clients after seeing how popular they are here—you’re lucky to find one open.
After being here at COCO, I can’t imagine the alternative. All of us are able to spread out at our campsite, but we’re not separated. We got a lot of impromptu work done just by being able to lean over and ask a question.
Steve: I come from a background with corporate companies—sitting in a 12 x 12 office, my staff sitting in cubicles—and I don’t miss it. I like the open dialogue. We’re different from corporate real estate companies in that regard.
Conor: One of our key focus areas is adaptive reuse. This [COCO Chicago] is a timber-frame, brick exterior, old warehouse. And this whole West Loop neighborhood is undergoing a revitalization. From a personal and professional point of view, and from an adaptive reuse standpoint, this space represents such an overlap with this passion of ours.
We had a design challenge on one of our projects the other day, and we were able to look up and take inspiration from this building. That was cool.
Steve: We were chatting about what we could do in this one area to make the roof look better, and we just…looked up. This space speaks to us so much.
Conor: Our anchor tenant and partner for the Meetinghouse 3080 project will have their office space there, so as we go through their tenant improvement plan, I can’t count the number of times I cite the space here, the different zones and levels of privacy, etc. It’s been nice living in a prototype of what we want to deliver to our clients.
Is it ironic on some level that a real estate company opted to join a coworking space instead of owning or developing its own building?
Conor: We talk about this all the time. But we get tremendous value and joy from this coworking space.
Steve: It is kind of ironic, though, I agree.
Conor: I’d say if COCO needs help expanding, give us a call, but I don’t see us owning a traditional office space in the immediate future. Technology plays a huge role in how we work and why coworking works for us.
Now that cloud platforms have grown to an enterprise level, it not only allows us to work mobily, we don’t even have desktop computers. We have laptops, monitors and tablets that we travel with. The IT manager of our construction partner in Scottsdale has looked at how successful cloud-only has been for us and designed a 2-year roadmap to eliminate physical servers at their 100+ person construction company. If you have fiber internet and a redundant power supply, that’s all you need.
Steve: New technology is changing the requirements for companies’ physical space.
Conor: That’s also true for collaborative and meeting space. We see people shying away from 10-12 person conference rooms and building more 3-4 person meeting spaces with screens. The idea of meeting around a big table is going way. It’s nice that we get to live and experience that here, and then talk about how great it is to our clients.
Steve: We’re learning more being here than in a traditional office space.
What’s on the horizon for Structured Real Estate in the coming year?
Conor: We’d like to land more work, obviously, but from an expansion standpoint, we’re pretty happy with our team. I don’t feel like we’re at the limit of our ability to serve our clients. Instead of hiring full-time employees, we lean on hourly outside contractors.
We have a colleague who helps with some of our pre-design work. She came to visit us here at COCO a few times, and she ended up getting a desk here, so we have what feels like another employee who happens to work in the same space. We can walk over and catch up, do some planning…that’s only possible because we’re here in a coworking space. If we grow, I see it in that kind of capacity.