Investor pays $14 million to be Rainforest Cafe's landlord

Crain's Chicago Business
Jul 15, 2015
By: 
Alby Gallun

Sean Conlon has bought a River North building known for the chest-thumping gorillas that live inside and a giant red-eyed tree frog perched on its roof.

A venture led by the Chicago real estate investor has paid nearly $14 million for the building leased to the Rainforest Cafe, the touristy jungle-themed restaurant with robotic animals and frequent rainstorms.

The 22,000-square-foot building at 605 N. Clark St. sits in the heart of River North, a popular neighborhood with developers because it has so many low-rise buildings and parking lots ripe for development. Less than three blocks away, another restaurant popular with tourists, Ed Debevic's, is closing to make way for a 251-unit apartment tower.

But don't expect a high-rise to replace the Rainforest Cafe anytime soon. The restaurant chain has about five years left on its lease, with an option to extend it for another five, said Chicago investor William Marovitz, who was part of the venture that developed the property in the late 1990s and sold it to Conlon.

At least for now, Conlon said he is perfectly happy to collect rent on the building.

“It has great redevelopment potential, but I really like what we have,” said Conlon, owner of Chicago-based Conlon & Co.

A venture including Conlon and Chicago hedge fund manager Joe Scoby paid $13.7 million for the property, Conlon said. The two also paired up on a recent $6 million acquisition of the former SushiSamba Rio restaurant building a few blocks away.

Conlon said he's grown fond of River North real estate because he thinks the area is undervalued and has strong growth potential.

The Rainforest Cafe is at “the corner of Main and Main,” he said. “Long term, you have so many options. Right now, I'm happy because there's a tenant in place.”

Yet as much as Conlon likes having the restaurant there, it's not really his kind of place.

“I'm very excited to own the frog, but I'm not a big understander of the Rainforest Cafe,” he said. “That may have something to do with being single and 46.”