Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has taken the first step toward selling the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop. Viewed as an eyesore to some and a post-modern icon to others, the state has a long history of attempting to unload the 1.2 million-square-foot building.
“The Thompson Center is an inefficient work environment for the current demands of state business,” Governor Pritzker said in a statement. “Today we are moving forward with the process of selling the facility and using the proceeds to help stabilize the pension system.”
The Illinois Department of Central Management Services will issue a request for proposals this week, seeking technical and project management expertise for the building’s sale. Pritzker’s predecessor, Governor Bruce Rauner, also sought to bring the 17-story office tower to market in a bid to balance the state’s disordered finances.
Home to about 2,000 state employees and located at the prime Chicago address of 100 W. Randolph Street, the building has long been ridiculed for its high heating and cooling costs and an appearance that was dated nearly as soon as it opened. Should the sale go through, the state employees would move across the street to the Michael A. Bilandic building and other state-owned facilities.
When Governor Rauner was looking to sell the building, he claimed that it had $100 million in deferred maintenance and it costs the state three times as much to operate as it would a typical private building. According to the Pritzker administration, prolonged deferred maintenance and delayed capital projects have led to a situation where it would cost an estimated $300 million or more to bring the building into a good state of repair.
“The facility is also larger than necessary and costly to operate with annual operating expenses exceeding $17 million,” Pritzker said in the statement. “By divesting of the oversized, outdated and expensive facility, the state can relocate its core services to appropriate replacement spaces. This strategic relocation effort will reduce operating costs and increase productivity.”
Famed architect Helmut Jahn designed the center, which was built in 1985. The building’s soaring open-air atrium is inspiring but also inefficient—and a major reason why it’s so difficult and costly to heat and cool the building. Jahn has in the past reacted unfavorably to attempts to sell the property, saying that the state government didn’t maintain the building as it should. In his mind, the property would be better served by a repositioning to a hotel or multifamily use.