CHICAGO (CBS) — The Thompson Center in downtown Chicago is officially up for sale, following years of talk and speculation that the state would seek to unload the costly 17-story office building.
Gov. JB Pritzker has put out a request for bidders to buy the Thompson Center, located at 100 W. Randolph St.
“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,” Pritzker said 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.”
The governor’s office said deferred maintenance and delayed improvements to the building have caused the cost of repairing the Thompson Center to more than $325 million. That cost could balloon to $525 million by 2026.
The building is home to Pritzker’s Chicago office, as well as the Chicago offices of multiple state agencies.
The state plans to sell the building and relocate state employees who work there to a newly-purchased office building at 555 W. Monroe St.
State officials have estimated the move will save the state millions in annual operating costs.
Responses to the state’s request for bids to purchase the Thompson Center are due by 3 p.m. on Aug. 16. A copy of the state’s request for proposals is available on the General Services Illinois Procurement Bulletin at www.bidbuy.illinois.gov. Additional information the Thompson Center and its amenities are available at www.illinois.gov/ThompsonCenter4Sale.
A pre-proposal conference meeting will be held on May 18. Interested parties must register for the event online.
Officials expect to complete the sale by April 2022.
The 17-story building at 100 W. Randolph St. has long been criticized as an overly expensive and inefficient home for state government offices in Chicago.
When it opened in 1985, the great massive open atrium inside and its floors of open offices were meant to pay tribute to transparency in government – the inspiration for architect Helmut Jahn – but the building’s design made it extremely expensive to operate.
With its single-paned glass walls providing insufficient insulation in summer and winter, the Thompson Center costs taxpayers a fortune to heat and cool.
Drainage issues led to the rusty deterioration of some of the building’s pillars, and as stone cracked and fell, unsightly scaffolding was placed around the building for extended periods.
“After years of neglect, the Thompson Center has outlived its useful life in its current state, requiring $17 million a year just to operate – and it’s time to generate value for the taxpayers from selling the building,” Pritzker said in a statement on Thursday. “The Department of Central Management Services is working diligently to move forward with the sale and relocate employees to a more efficient work environment.”
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner announced in 2015 that he planned to ask state lawmakers to ask him to unload the Thompson Center. At the time, Rauner said the building needed $100 million in maintenance in the few years to come, and said selling the building and moving state workers elsewhere could save the state between $6 million and $12 million annually.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel blocked efforts to go ahead with the sale, insisting that the city must not be held financially responsible for rebuilding the Chicago Transit Authority Clark/Lake Blue Line subway station inside the building as part of any major redevelopment of the site.
In 2017, Rauner offered to dedicate all future property tax revenue from a Thompson Center sale to help fund the Chicago Public Schools – a proposal that Emanuel dismissed as a political stunt. Afterward, Emanuel said he would help rezone the Thompson Center property in exchange for a city pension deal. Rauner refused the offer.
A sale ultimately never ended up happening while Rauner was in office, but Pritzker signed a law in 2019 authorizing the sale of the building. That law was later amended to push back the timeline for the sale, due to the pandemic.
The building opened in 1985 as the State of Illinois Center. It was renamed in 1993 to honor former Gov. James Thompson, who himself has called the building a “scrap heap.”
While the state characterizes the Thompson Center as a cumbersome white elephant, some preservationists are not so eager to see it go.
The Thompson Center has been on the Landmarks Illinois list of the Most Endangered Historic Places for three years in a row. That annual list was suspended last year due to the pandemic, and Landmarks Illinois is expected to release its 2021 list later this week.
Last year, Pritzker’s office selected Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors as the project manager for the planned sale of the glass and steel office building designed by architect Helmut Jahn, and began negotiations with Ernst & Young on a contract to oversee the sale.
Landmarks Illinois has called the Thompson Center an example of grandly-scaled postmodern architecture, saying its “voluminous atrium and curved facades make it a one-of-a-kind downtown building.” It noted that when the Thompson Center opened in 1985, the late Chicago Tribune architectural critic Paul Gapp wrote: “What we did not have in Chicago until Jahn designed the center was a contemporary vertical space of such splendid and theatrical dimensions.
Landmarks Illinois also noted Gapp was enamored with the the Thompson Center’s curved glass façades amid the vertical buildings around it: “In a city where architects so long worshiped the 90-degree angle and black curtain walls, the center’s asymmetry and multicolored skin appear as almost impudent nose-thumbing at the past.”
And ironically, in an April 1980 Chicago Tribune article published as the old Sherman House Hotel was demolished to make way for the Thompson Center, Howard Mandell of National Wrecking Company was quoted weighing in on the then-yet-to-be-built state office complex, saying: “It looks like all glass. It’d be fun to tear down.”