Thompson Center Hits the Market

John Hill
4. May 2021
Photo: Tomošius/Wikimedia Commons

The State of Illinois has issued an official RFP for the sale of the 17-story James R. Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop. Designed by Helmut Jahn in the 1980s, the controversial icon of postmodern architecture faces potential demolition.

Although the request for proposals for the sale of the James R. Thompson Center just went online, it is hardly unexpected. Earlier this year, the State of Illinois bought a building west of the Loop, into which it will move more than 1,000 employees from the Thompson Center and other nearby locations. Two years earlier Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill to sell the 1985 building that has long had functional issues. According to yesterday's announcement of the RFP, estimates for bringing the building "into a state of good repair exceeds $325 million and is projected to increase to over $525 million by 2026." Although deferred maintenance and delayed capital projects are singled out as the reasons for these excessively large amounts, critics of the building have long focused on its architectural design as the cause, especially the full-height atrium that sits behind a south-facing glass wall and is open to the offices ringing the atrium.

Designed by Murphy/Jahn, the State of Illinois Building opened in May 1985, when it was likened to a flying saucer landing in the Loop. (It was renamed in 1993 after Illinois Governor James R. Thompson, who commissioned the building.) Divisiveness over Jahn's design have hardly abated in the decades since; if anything, the imminent sale of the building is increasing the vocalness of people who want the building torn down, on the one hand, and preservationists who see it as a unique piece of architecture that needs to be saved. The former have a proposed zoning change in their favor; if passed, it would allow 2 million square feet on the site, almost double the 1.2 million sf in the current building. Preservationists, meanwhile, have been trying to sway public opinion over the course of many years by putting the building on "endangered" lists, asking architects (Jahn included) to reimagine the PoMo icon, and even making a documentary about the building. To date, no landmark or other protections are in place for the 36-year-old building. 

Responses to the RFP are due by August 16, with a buyer expected to be selected by November.

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