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The Rundown: A return to the office? Not really.

Good afternoon! I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but I’ve seen zero inches of snow in my neighborhood so far this week. But we could get up to a foot of snow Thursday into Friday. I’ll believe it when I see it. Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Chicago ended 2023 with record high vacancy rates at downtown office buildings

So much for the grand return to the office.

The vacancy rate for downtown offices inched up to a new high of 23.8% at the end of last year, Crain’s Chicago Business reports. The previous high was 23.7%.

That’s compared to 13.8% at the beginning of the pandemic.

“A slow burn of companies reducing their footprints when their leases expire has drawn out the pandemic fallout for office building owners,” writes Danny Ecker at Crain’s.

“Interest rate spikes over the past two years, meanwhile, have fueled a historic wave of distressed properties as landlords have been unable to pay off maturing debt.” [Crain’s Chicago Business]

Can’t landlords convert office buildings into apartments?

It’s easier for older buildings that were built with windows that opened, The New York Times reports. But more modern buildings created for cubicles pose a significant challenge. [New York Times]

2. A CPS assistant principal stole more than $273,000 from an after-school program, authorities say

Cook County prosecutors say the assistant principal, Tracey Canty-Robinson, embezzled a quarter of a million dollars in money parents paid for an after-school program at Mark T. Skinner West Elementary School, my colleagues Nader Issa and Lauren FitzPatrick report.

A Cook County grand jury filed a 17-count criminal indictment against Canty-Robinson, who spent nearly 12 years as second in command at the selective-enrollment school on the Near West Side before she resigned amid an investigation.

Prosecutors say Canty-Robinson at first would transfer thousands of dollars at a time from the school’s PayPal account to a personal bank account. Prosecutors say she then faked checks to many of her own family members.

Details of the case emerged this week in an annual report from the inspector general for Chicago Public Schools, which began investigating the allegations in 2019.

Through her attorney, Canty-Robinson denied any wrongdoing. [Chicago Sun-Times]

3. The Art Institute will defend its ownership of artwork that New York authorities say was stolen by Nazis

The Art Institute of Chicago will soon make its case that it is the rightful owner of a $1.25 million watercolor that prosecutors in New York believe was stolen from a Jewish cabaret star killed during the Holocaust, my colleague Emmanuel Camarillo reports.

The artwork at the center of the dispute is “Russian War Prisoner” by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele.

New York authorities say it previously belonged to Fritz Grünbaum, a cabaret performer and songwriter who was killed at the Dachau concentration camp in 1941. Grünbaum’s heirs believe he was forced to hand over his collection under duress.

A spokesperson for the Art Institute said in a statement that its ownership of the drawing “rests on different facts than works at other institutions” and they will “continue to defend our legal ownership of this work.”

Oral arguments in the case are expected to begin April 3. [Chicago Sun-Times]

4. Kim Foxx touts her accomplishments, saying ‘no one drove me out of this job’

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx this week defended her seven years in office, saying she decided not to run for another term because she’s accomplished her goals and wants to make room for the next generation of leaders.

Foxx wouldn’t share her plans for after her term ends in 11 months, my colleague David Struett reports.

Among the accomplishments Foxx touted were helping usher in the end of cash bail, overseeing the legalization of marijuana, increasing her office’s transparency by making prosecution data public and overturning more than 200 wrongful convictions.

“I had a job to do, a mission to serve, and I believe I accomplished that mission,” she said. [Chicago Sun-Times]

5. Chicago’s new tourist spot is a rat-shaped hole in a sidewalk

Dubbed “the rat hole,” the sidewalk imprint of a rodent can be found in the Roscoe Village neighborhood near 1918 W. Roscoe St., Block Club Chicago reports.

The, uh, local attraction became more widely known after local artist and comedian Winslow Dumaine spotted the rat hole while walking to a neighborhood shop, Block Club reports.

“Had to make a pilgrimage to the Chicago Rat Hole,” Dumaine posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, along with a photo.

The post received nearly five million views and some amazing comments.

“Does it count as a fossil,” one X user wondered. [Block Club Chicago]

Here’s what else is happening

  • Hunter Biden made a surprise appearance at the U.S. Capitol as Republicans moved to hold the president’s son in contempt of Congress. [AP]

  • The American Red Cross declared an emergency blood shortage, as the number of donors hits a 20-year low. [NPR]

  • Bottled water contains more plastic particles than previously thought, researchers found. [NPR]

  • The showrunners of HBO’s Game of Thrones are hoping to land another hit with Netflix’s 3 Body Problem. [Hollywood Reporter]

Oh, and one more thing …

Did you know there were apes that stood 10 feet tall and weighed up to 650 pounds?

The giant apes, which looked like modern orangutans, lived in southern China for millions of years before going extinct sometime between between 215,000 and 295,000 years ago, The Associated Press reports.

Now, scientists believe the apes went extinct because of climate change. When food became scarce, the apes could not adapt because of their massive sizes, while smaller apes could climb trees to reach fruit.

You can find an illustration of the great apes in the link. [AP]

Tell me something good ...

What is a reality-based TV show you enjoy? I ask because my husband and I are still talking about the huge reveal on The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City that has sparked an avalanche of amazing memes.

Tracy writes:

“I don’t watch a lot of TV usually, but this past fall, shortly after my second baby was born, my sister visited to help out and got me hooked on Bachelor in Paradise. (Golden Bachelor, too, but I might watch more Bachelor in Paradise in the future because it was a whole other level of ridiculous.) It was definitely fun entertainment while sitting for long stretches with a baby.”

And Craig writes:

Southern Charm … Charleston aristocrats … certainly not loved by residents, but kinda fun.”

Feel free to email me, and your response might be shared in the newsletter this week.

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