Seven months after the State of Illinois put the Helmut Jahn-designed James R. Thompson Center up for sale, Governor J. B. Pritzker announced today that the Chicago landmark was close to changing hands. But, if you opened this article fearing the worst, worry not—Pritzker also revealed that the prospective buyer, a group led by Michael Reschke, chairman of developer Prime Group, has eyes on preserving and modernizing the North Loop landmark.
The winning team, selected by the state over another competing group, will reportedly pay $70 million for the 17-story governmental office building and plans on beginning renovation work sometime in 2022, pending the completion of the sale. The tower’s signature soaring atrium will be kept open and not subdivided, but the entire building will require a curtain wall recladding to replace the single-pane glass originally used. This will both improve the building’s leaky thermal envelope and improve acoustics.
Once the two-year, $280 million renovation is complete, the postmodern Thompson Center will be converted into a mixed-use complex (though the exact programming breakdown has not been revealed yet). The State of Illinois will retain 30 percent ownership of the site as well as continue to lease some office space, though the bulk of its operations will relocate to 555 W. Monroe Street, a West Loop tower the state purchased earlier this year that once played regional headquarters to PepsiCo. The proposed renovation could be completed sooner but Reschke reportedly plans on keeping the building open during construction so that the state offices there can remain operational.
According to The Daily Line editor and reporter Alex Nitkin, who was on hand at the press conference earlier this afternoon, Reschke revealed plans to landscape the interior atrium for a “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” feel for those entering the building. He also debuted renderings of what the proposed recladding will look like, presenting a far sleeker vision of the Thompson Center that will also strip the red, white, and blue atrium accents.
Governor Pritzker is also reportedly in contact with the family of the late Governor Jim Thompson, for whom the building is named, who signed off on the sale. Pritzker is also searching for another opportunity to honor Thompson’s legacy, suggesting that Prime Group is looking to change the tower’s name once it takes ownership.
All-in-all, however, this could be considered a major win for preservationists. Completed in 1985, the 1.2 million-square-foot Thompson Center was originally intended as a “second state capital” but has been fraught with problems from the very beginning. Thanks to value engineering during construction (such as the aforementioned single-paned windows) and years of deferred maintenance, the leaky and creaky tower currently requires about $325 million for repairs. Earlier this year the Chicago City Council rezoned the full block the Thompson Center sits on to allow for a 2-million-square-foot skyscraper as an incentive for developers, stoking fears that the building could be torn down.
In fact, although the economic and tax benefits could have potentially been better from building a supertall on the site, the Pritzker administration actively rejected the idea; the other proposal under consideration from Bob Dunn of Landmark Development would have seen the Thompson Center demolished and replaced with a new high-rise tower.