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State sale of Thompson Center could clear path for new supertall skyscraper

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A 115-story design is being floated by lawmakers to help encourage the sale of the expensive, run-down building

Rendering by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill via Crain’s

A jaw-dropping rendering of a new 1,700-foot mixed-use supertall was presented by state Republicans and Governor Bruce Rauner as part of a renewed effort to get Illinois’ divided lawmakers behind a plan to sell-off Chicago’s state-owned Thompson Center. According to Crain’s, the 115-story conceptual design comes from Chicago’s Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill and would easily surpass the Windy City’s current tallest building—the 1,450-foot Willis (Sears) Tower—if ever realized.

Rauner first suggested selling and razing the Helmut Jahn-designed, post modern Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph to help address Illinois’ ongoing budget woes back in 2015. Legislative gridlock prevented the measure from being brought to a vote. State Republicans believe the sale could mean $220 million added to Illinois’ coffers as well as the avoidance of a staggering $326 million deferred maintenance bill. The neglected 1985 structure topped Preservation Chicago’s annual most endangered building list.

A ground level view of the Thompson Center’s soaring central atrium.
Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Gabriel X. Michael

At this early point, it’s pretty clear the AS+GG supertall design is more of a visual aid to illustrate the untapped potential of the block-size site to Springfield lawmakers (and prospective developers) instead of anything resembling an active proposal. Rauner and company have additionally presented an alternative plan showing three 40-, 60-, and 70-story buildings at the site, reports Crain’s.

Provided the political will suddenly falls into place this time around, the redevelopment plan faces other challenges including the buy-out of the Thompson Center’s long-term retail lease agreements. Furthermore, building anything at the site is also complicated by existing underground CTA and pedway infrastructure. Last but not least, financing and filling up a 1,700-foot tower with tenants is far easier said than done.