NuMat’s lease provides a major point of validation for the project as IBT tries to attract tenants to a location that is unproven as a business destination and lacks access to public transportation. While developers of new lab buildings in the trendy Fulton Market District or Lincoln Yards seek tenants who want research space with the amenities of modern office buildings, NuMat is moving into a neighborhood that rarely attracts such companies, and the building is considered an outsider in the search for such science-focused tenants. The company’s move could help attract other similar tenants to the terminal and provide a strong boost to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to promote economic development and jobs in rundown neighborhoods on the city’s south and west sides.
It’s unclear what prompted NuMat to expand and relocate its space, and NuMat and Terminal spokespeople declined to comment on the deal. NuMat follows the lead of quantum computing startup EeroQ, which signed a small lease in late 2021 to become Terminal’s first tenant. At the time, EeroQ touted the stability of the buildings—which were a dilapidated 250,000-square-foot cluster of former locomotive headlight factories when IBT and Mansueto bought them in 2020—and their isolation from outside noise as key features that made them well-suited for Research.
NuMat is expected to build office, research and manufacturing operations at the terminal, sources familiar with the plan said.
NuMat was co-founded in 2013 by Northwestern graduate Ben Hernandez and University chemistry professor Omar Farha. The company won high-profile contracts during its first few years with customers including the US Department of Defense and Versum Materials, which makes specialty gases and chemicals for the production of computer chips. One of NuMat’s most notable inventions is atomic-scale sponges, which can store gases or separate them more efficiently than current methods that typically involve compressing or dramatically cooling the gases.
Hernandez — now the company’s CEO — told Crain’s in 2018 that NuMat had raised $12.4 million to continue the research, bringing its total capital backing to $20 million at the time. He also said NuMat plans to grow from 20 to 30 employees by mid-2019. The company today has more than 50 people listed on the staff page of its website and has seven open job postings.
NuMat’s ongoing departure from the ISTP campus in Skokie creates a new leasing challenge for Chicago-based Singerman Real Estate, which in October 2021 paid more than $75 million for the adjacent lab buildings at 8025 and 8045 Lamon Ave. The buildings were a combined 81% leased at that time.
Singerman chairman and managing partner Seth Singerman praised NuMat as a “good tenant” at ISTP and said its buildings have “really good prospects from both our existing tenants and new tenants” as the company spends money renovating common areas and building infrastructure .
The ISTP campus is also about to get its first hotel as Chicago-based E&M Strategic Development is building a 143-room Homewood Suites that is slated to open by the end of this year.
CBRE Executive Vice President David Saad negotiated the terminal lease on behalf of NuMat. Doug Hayes and Zach Pruitt of Cawley Chicago oversee leasing at the property.