Following early morning news that the sale of the James R. Thompson Center was nearly finalized, Google has revealed itself as the future new tenant of the iconic, Helmut Jahn–designed office building in the heart of Chicago’s Loop.
As Karen Sauder, head of Google’s Chicago office and president of Global Client and Agency Solutions, explained in a dispatch announcing the company’s intent to buy the building, the move will “support engineering work in Chicago and helps advance the growth of Google’s partners and customers across the Midwest and nationally.”
“It also helps us meet the future needs of our flexible hybrid workforce,” Sauder added. “By establishing a presence in Chicago’s central business district, we will be getting in on the ground floor of a broader revitalization of the Loop.”
Per Google, the cost of renovating the Thompson Center in its current state is $105 million. Once renovations wrap up, the Silicon Valley–headquartered tech giant plans to occupy the 17-story building beginning in 2026.
The announcement comes nearly a month after rumors swirled that Google was in talks to acquire the much-loved postmodernist landmark at 100 West Randolph Street, which was completed in 1985 as a secondary capitol complex for the State of Illinois and stands as the world’s most eccentric building with a Sbarro in its basement. Google remained tight-lipped about any plans to populate the Thompson Center at the time, only revealing that it was looking to expand its physical footprint in the Windy City. Developer Michael Reschke, whose Prime Group won the bid to buy a majority of the office complex for $70 million last December denied the reports, relaying to the Chicago Sun-Times that the building was “not for sale.”
The Thompson Center has long been deemed as imperiled and at potential risk of demolition due to the state’s years-long, on-and-off-again efforts to offload the building, which, despite its myriad funky charms, is notoriously inefficient and in dire of need of upgrades. When the spaceship-like civic office block was (once again) put up for sale last year, preservationists feared for the worst. Jahn, who had his own visionary ideas as to how the building could be revived and repurposed in its post-governmental afterlife, was tragically killed in May 2021 while riding his bicycle in suburban Chicago.
Jahn, the Chicago-based international architecture firm established by German-born Jahn in 1981 as Murphy/Jahn, will serve as architect for the redevelopment project. “As a firm that understands the building and its potential better than anyone, Jahn is honored to be part of the team that will reimagine the James R. Thompson Center,” said Jahn president Evan Jahn in a statement provided to AN. “The original design of the James R. Thompson Center centered on the transparency of government, and now it will showcase the openness of technology, which in many ways is representative of its initial concept as a building designed for the 21st century.”
In a morning press conference, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker confirmed that Google will occupy the Thompson Center in its “entirety,” and that $75 million of the $105 million sale will be used to purchase 115 South LaSalle Street, where any remaining state employees at the Thompson Center will work from moving forward. As detailed in an announcement from Pritzker’s office that delves into the nitty-gritty of the deal, Google and JRTC Holdings, LLC, which is a joint venture between affiliates of Reschke and Capri Investment Group, have entered a built-to-suit agreement for the redevelopment of the building.
“This transformative agreement will save our taxpayers nearly a billion dollars over the next thirty years — and further Chicago’s reputation as one of the great tech hubs not just of the United States, but of the world,” said Pritzker in a statement. “I want to thank Google and the Prime Group for investing in their future by investing in ours. Together, we are bringing a 21st century vision for the LaSalle Street corridor to life.”
Reschke added: “When we bid to acquire the Thompson Center, we were committed to transform the building to be a world class office building with the best available building components, systems and technology. With one of the top locations in downtown Chicago, we knew after the planned renovation that the iconic building would attract world class tenants.”
While early reactions to the news of the Thompson Center’s newest owner/tenant are still coming in, much of it so far is positive. In a tweet, author and architecture critic Paul Goldberger expressed enthusiasm over the “great” news and pointed out that Google “has a very strong track record of taking over existing buildings and taking decent care of them.”
The nonprofit Landmarks Illinois, which has included the Thompson Center multiple times on its annual Most Endangered Historic Places list, also welcomed the news, proclaiming: “If ever there was a reason to apply to work at Google, here it is!”
AN will update this breaking news article with further details and reactions to the Googling of the Thompson Center.
This article has been update to reflect the role of Jahn in the redevelopment of the Thompson Center.