The years-in-the-making move to offload the 3-acre James R. Thompson Center at 100 West Randolph Street in downtown Chicago is finally moving ahead. Yesterday, news broke that the State of Illinois, the property’s owner, has officially put the glass-encased, 17-story governmental office building on the market. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) announced the issuance of a request for proposals for the sale of the property, signaling that the redevelopment—and potential future demolition—of the site is officially underway. This will be sure to kick ongoing preservation efforts to save the 1.2-million-square-foot building into high gear.
Opened in 1985 as a satellite state capitol complex, the Helmut Jahn-designed Thompson Center is a widely beloved but also notoriously inefficient postmodern landmark that the state has deemed as “oversized, outdated, and expensive to maintain.” Per a joint news release issued by the Governor’s office and CMS, executing much-needed repairs and upgrades at the aging building will cost the state $325 million, an amount that’s expected to balloon to $525 million by 2026.
“The sale of the Thompson Center has been discussed for nearly 20 years and we are taking another important step to making it a reality,” said Pritzker in a statement. “Selling the property provides a unique opportunity to maximize taxpayer savings, create thousands of union jobs, generate millions of dollars in real estate taxes to benefit the City of Chicago and spur economic development. My team looks forward to working with the city as we move forward.”
Yesterday’s news has garnered swift and strong reactions from Chicago preservationists, architectural historians, and day-to-day admirers of the highly idiosyncratic building who would like to see the Thompson Center (specifically its soaring signature atrium) at the very least be partially preserved and incorporated into any future redevelopment plans. However, the complete demolition of the property, which the state has not assigned an estimated value, remains a very real possibility.
The state does stipulate however that a portion of any redevelopment must continue to carry the building’s (second) name that honors the late former Illinois Governor James R. “Big Jim” Thompson. (The building, originally known as the State of Illinois Center, was renamed after Thompson in 1993). In its announcement, Illinois officials also acknowledged that they are “in discussion with relevant stakeholders” with regard to a potential buyout of the master lease for retail tenants populating the building’s atrium mall and lower-level food court. The lease, which doesn’t expire until 2034, has been seen as a major complication in moving forward with the redevelopment of the site.
Last month, Alderman Brendan Reilly introduced a rezoning ordinance that would allow for a new building as large as 2 million square feet to replace the Thompson Center, an attractive-to-developers move that opens up the possibility of a new Chicago super-tall skyscraper of 100 stories or more being erected at the site down the road. The ordinance is awaiting a vote from the full Chicago City Council.