A Permanent Home for The Heartland Institute

Published February 20, 2015

The Heartland Institute celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014 while occupying leased office space on the 27th floor of one of Chicago’s signature high-rise buildings. Being able to show the world we “finally made it” for the past three years has been nice, but this building never felt like home to me.

After long and careful deliberation, Heartland’s board of directors and senior staff decided it was time for us to buy our own building, to find a more permanent home in a community that supports our mission. Following an 11-month search for suitable space, in December 2014 we purchased a beautiful building in Arlington Heights, a suburb of Chicago. We plan to move in May 2015.

Why Buy a Building?

David Padden, Heartland’s founder and long-time board member, often warned against the allure of owning a building. A building can be nothing more than a CEO’s expensive ego trip, he said. Better to let someone else worry about maintenance, parking, taxes, and security. Owning a building can be a major distraction.

That’s all true, but there’s another side. Continuing to rent in downtown Chicago would cost $22,000 a month, or $1.3 million over five years. For approximately that same amount, we will buy a building in the suburbs, renovate it to exactly suit our needs, and pay all other occupancy costs during that same five-year period. In five years we will own a million-dollar asset (probably worth considerably more), not have to move or renegotiate a lease, and face occupancy costs of only around $12,000 a month.

A permanent home for The Heartland Institute will improve our institutional stability by providing an asset that can secure a line of credit. It removes the uncertainty caused by landlords getting to decide every five or six years whether the organization can remain in its current location or must spend more or move.

Buying and occupying our own building makes a statement that The Heartland Institute expects to remain true to its mission and programs through thick and thin and beyond the tenure and even lifetimes of its founders, current staff, and board of directors. This makes it easier to recruit board members and donors interested in making legacy gifts.

The high cost of leasing space downtown means losing our research library and public meeting space if we stay. Is that the right direction? The building we purchased will accommodate a research library large enough to attract students, faculty from nearby colleges, and adjunct scholars from around the country and even around the world. That’s what a “think tank” should strive to achieve. A larger public meeting space will enable us to reach out to local conservative and libertarian groups, student groups, Second Amendment groups, and more.

Why Move to the Suburbs?

Buying a building in Chicago is a very expensive proposition, given the small number of suitably sized buildings downtown and zoning, taxes, parking, and security concerns surrounding buildings in residential areas.

Moving to Arlington Heights, an affluent suburb on Chicago’s Northwest side, puts us closer to  O’Hare Airport as well as to our supporters and audiences. About 80 percent of Heartland’s donors live and work outside Illinois. Seventy-five percent of our Illinois-based donors live in the suburbs while fewer than 25 percent live in Chicago. Being closer to O’Hare and to our base will increase the number of volunteers, donors in the area, and attendance at events.

We want to be part of a community that accepts us and welcomes our efforts, not a lonely outpost for conservative ideas in a city that is uninterested at best and strongly opposed at worst. Polls and election results make it clear that people dedicated to the American Creed of “liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire” are more likely to live and work in the suburbs than in big cities such as Chicago.

Chicago’s business, political, and media communities are either uninterested in free-market ideas or openly hostile to them. The diversity of views and openness to debate that existed during Heartland’s first decade, from 1984 to 1994, have largely disappeared. Moving to the suburbs will put us closer to our conservative and libertarian base and to our donors.

The Building

The building we have purchased is single story, relatively new construction (1992) with multiple gables and a peaked roof and dormers for great “curb appeal.” It is near a freeway for ease of travel for staff and visitors, yet within walking distance of affordable housing.

At 14,000 square feet, it is about 30 percent larger than our current space. It has off-road parking for 68 cars. Plans for the space include a public meeting space that can seat 100 people, a large library, and work space for a staff nearly double our current size.

We love the look and feel of the building. The natural brick exterior, gables, big windows, mature trees and other landscaping, and dormers give it a warm “heartland” feel. The open concept interior lets us put a large meeting space and kitchen in the center of the building and offices and cubicles on either side.

Can You Help Us Move?

The generosity of our donors and board members enabled us to purchase the building for cash rather than finance the transaction with a mortgage. We are extremely grateful to them. But those dollars were raised with other projects in mind, and we hope to raise gifts specifically for the building so those earlier donors know their money is going where they hoped and expected it would.

We are seeking to raise a total of $2 million to cover the purchase and renovation, landscaping, moving costs,  a three-year maintenance and operations fund, and marketing and hosting public events at the building during the first year. Donor recognition opportunities, including naming rights to rooms, are available and listed on page XX.

This is an opportunity for you to make a one-time gift in honor of a loved one or someone you admire, or to ensure your own name will be remembered by future generations of freedom-fighters. Please take a look at page XX and consider making a generous gift. Contributions are tax-deductible under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

We hope you’re as excited by this new chapter in Heartland’s history as we are!

Joseph L. Bast is president and CEO of The Heartland Institute.