FBI Chicago Regional Field Office Holds the Secrets of Property Management

This is the third in a series of case studies illustrating how different property types can benefit from the BOMA 360 designation.


By: Jessica Bates

For many, this would be an insurmountable property management challenge: Accommodating a tenant that needs the highest possible level of security, as well as the highest level of sustainability. Nonetheless, the Cushman & Wakefield property team that manages the FBI Chicago Regional Field Office has risen to this challenge, meeting the specific requirements that come with housing the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The 10-story government office building, owned by the U.S. Government Building Fund (a subsidiary of USAA Real Estate Company), is busy with nearly round-the-clock activity and requires a considerable amount of energy to maintain sensitive on-site systems. Despite these conditions, the building is one of the greenest in the city. It won the Earth category of The Outstanding Building of the Year® (TOBY®) Awards in 2011 and boasts a Platinum LEED® for Existing Buildings rating. And, when it achieved the BOMA 360 designation in 2013, it scored off the charts in the program’s sustainability and energy management areas of evaluation.

“There’s often a misconception that government tenants aren’t invested in sustainability, but that’s just not true,” says Rick Pospisil, asset manager with USAA Real Estate Company, who previously worked as part of the on-site property management team. “Though they have different requirements and practices than other tenants, they can be great partners in creating a highly sustainable property.” In fact, Pospisil has witnessed building occupants using their enforcement skills in the name of sustainability: Many call out colleagues who fail to recycle or needlessly waste resources. “This is a building where if you throw a glass bottle in the trash, you may have to answer to an FBI agent,” Pospisil jokes.

The team has worked to optimize every possible aspect of building operations and maintenance. From low-flow water fixtures to outdoor LED lighting to native landscaping, the property is a powerhouse of sustainable practices. “Visitors are always surprised to learn the building isn’t brand new,” says Dana Mann, assistant property manager for Cushman & Wakefield. “We’ve kept it looking pristine despite a decade of intensive use, using highly sustainable methods and materials.”

FBI security requirements can make sustainability, in particular, and operations, in general, more complicated. Though the property has on-site metering and a building automation system installed, the property management team can’t access any of the information off-site because it would violate security protocol. There is no Wi-Fi in the building for this same reason. All the building staff must pass security background checks, and the tenant must be notified of any new personnel or vendors in advance. “The FBI does not like surprises for very good reasons,” Pospisil says. “It’s vital that we have great communication with our tenant contacts and think ahead to how our actions will impact them.” On the other hand, the building team works hard to be as invisible and unobtrusive as possible to avoid interfering with the important, often-classified work being done on the premise.

For this dedicated, type-A staff, the BOMA 360 program is both a welcome acknowledgement of hard work that, by necessity, often goes unnoticed and a way to stay on-task in operating a particularly complex property. “There’s always a danger that you’re letting things slip over time, and the BOMA 360 application process let us evaluate every aspect of the property to ensure we weren’t missing anything,” says Mann. The property team sat down and completed the application together, and achieving the designation was a reminder that their hard work was paying off.  As Pospisil puts it, “The designation is shorthand for ‘being a great building.’”

Both Pospisil and Mann also attribute the building’s success to the support of the owners and their companies’ senior leadership. “Listening to staff and being open to ideas for improving a property are what keeps a building competitive on an elite level,” says Mann. But all potential projects are also carefully considered before being implemented. “We make sure that something is actually going to make our property more sustainable, rather than just being labeled “green,” says Pospisil. “ We look for successful case stories and do a full financial analysis before we implement anything.” This dedication has paid off; for example, rebates and incentives were used to pay for most of the LED retrofit of the parking garage, leading to a payback period of less than two years.

When the team reconvened to complete their BOMA 360 renewal last year, they were competing against their toughest competitor – themselves. “There was definitely a sense that we wanted to make sure we were still operating at that elite level,” Mann explains. “We always want to push ourselves to do better, even if we are already one of the best.”