Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s plan to unload the state-owned James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop just took a big step forward.
On Thursday, the governor announced that his administration awarded a division of commercial real estate firm Ernst & Young a three-year, $3.8 million contract to find a buyer for the 1.2 million-square-foot property at 100 W. Randolph Street.
“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,” said Pritzker in a statement. The structure also needs an estimated $325 million in repairs, according to state officials.
Pritzker’s decision to sell the Thompson Center is hardly surprising. In April, he signed a law authorizing the transaction to move forward.
The governor pledged to put the proceeds from the sale toward stabilizing Illinois’s underfunded pension system. However, it’s unclear how much cash the state hopes to get in exchange for the nearly 35-year-old building.
The sale also puts the fate of the historic structure in question. Will its new owners choose to repair and modernize the existing structure or demolish it? Perhaps they will consider a hybrid solution that preserves some portions of the building while redeveloping others—similar to the conceptual renderings shared by Helmut Jahn and Landmarks Illinois.
As the Pritzker administration advances its plan to unload and monetize the state-owned property, preservation groups continue their push to landmark the blue and salmon-colored building designed by architect Helmut Jahn and completed in 1985.
For several consecutive years, Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago included the site in their respective lists of threatened architecturally significant properties. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Thompson Center to its list of the 11 most endangered historic places in the nation in early 2019.
More recently, a volunteer advocacy group dubbed the James R. Thompson Center Historical Society hosted free educational tours of the postmodern structure’s public spaces such as its 17-story atrium, retail arcade, food court, and exterior plaza.
Regardless of what a buyer wants to do with the Thompson Center, the prime downtown site presents an array of challenges. The facility sits atop a complicated maze of infrastructure, including a multi-line CTA station, and connects to the Chicago Pedway. Plus, a master lease covering the building’s retail tenants isn’t set to expire until 2034.