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Governor J.B. Pritzker puts Jahn’s Thompson Center up for sale

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The state’s top elected official has established a two-year timeline to sell the controversial postmodern icon


The long political saga to determine the fate of Chicago’s James R. Thompson Center took another turn on Friday as Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill laying out a two-year plan to sell the polarizing Helmut Jahn-designed building at 100 W. Randolph Street.

Pritzker’s declared his intention to unload the architecturally significant but run-down structure in February when legislation authorizing a sale arrived on his desk in February. Having passed the Illinois House and Senate in 2017 but then stuck in limbo during the state’s budgetary standoff under former Governor Bruce Rauner, the legislation now goes into immediate effect with Pritzker’s signature.

Under the plan’s provisional timeline, the state would issue a Request For Proposal (RFP) within a year. Developers would get four or five months to draft and submit their proposals, and the state would select a winner three months after that before finalizing a contract. The roughly 2,200 state employees that work in the Thompson Center will move to other offices including the Michael A. Bilandic building located across the street.

The rapid redevelopment timeline could be bad news for preservationists who have pushed to landmark the endangered postmodern design by holding rallies, circulating online petitions, and even producing a short-subject documentary film.

Although Helmut Jahn released his own vision for the site calling for renovating and preserving the building and adding a slender 110-story tower at the Thompson Center’s southwest corner, it’s unclear if potential buyers will want to save any of the neglected 1980s-era structure and its impressive 17-story atrium, albeit difficult to heat and cool.

Whatever the outcome, the site is a challenge for redevelopment. A buyer would have to maintain the operation of the block’s existing CTA station. Complicating things further, state officials will also need to resolve an existing lease with the building’s retailers that isn’t set to expire until 2034, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In the coming months, the state will also need to iron out other key details of the plan, such as zoning for the building’s redevelopment, with incoming Chicago Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.

Helmut Jahn’s conceptual plan for the Thompson Center shows how the old building and new skyscraper could coexist.
Rendering courtesy of Landmarks Illinois