By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Republican leaders in the House and Senate have introduced legislation to let the state fast-track the sale of its massive downtown Chicago building, the James R. Thompson Center.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jim Durkin and Sen. Christine Radogno would let the state cut loose the Thompson Center by auction or via competitive sealed bids. It would also allow the state to lease out the property at 100 W. Randolph St.
Another alternative would let the state enter a lease agreement or public-private partnership that would allow the state to continue to use part of the property and perhaps retain some ownership interest.
The legislation would require the state to get three appraisals of the property, with the highest of those establishing the estimated fair market value for purposes of a sale. An auction would require the state to sell for no less than that amount, whereas a sealed-bid sale or public-private agreement apparently yield a lesser amount.
Proceeds from any sale or lease would go into the state’s general revenue fund.
The plan apparently also would let the administration bypass the public hearing requirements put in place by lawmakers and intended to keep governors from moving too swiftly or without public input when closing or disposing of state properties.
The Republican legislative leaders said they filed the bills at Gov. Bruce Rauner’s request.
The Thompson Center is in disarray due to years of neglect by previous administrations and “has become a white elephant for the State of Illinois,” Radogno and Durkin said in a joint statement.
“This legislation will enable us to review all of our options to maximize the overall value of the property and secure the greatest savings for taxpayers,” they said.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, on Thursday said Democrats would study the bills.
Earlier in the week, Brown said there are several questions that must be answered about the proposed sale, including where employees would move to and to what ends sale revenue and savings would be put.
Rauner, R-Winnetka, on Tuesday announced his plan to sell the property.
Home to about 2,200 state employees, the 17-story building of nearly 1.2 million square feet is expensive to heat and cool, needs about $100 million in repairs and is inefficient as an office complex, the governor said.
Rauner declined comment on the building’s aesthetic or architectural significance, but he said it is simply too expensive for the state to remain in.
Keeping state employees in the Thompson Center represents two to three times the cost putting them in office space elsewhere, Rauner said. His administration estimates that by moving out, the state could save $6 million to $12 million per year.
Rauner he said presumes a private developer would demolish the Thompson Center and use the property for a more efficient and profitable commercial office and retail building.
The man who designed the building, architect Helmut Jahn, criticized the state for not maintaining it and suggested repurposing, which he said could make the building “a landmark for the 21st Century.”
A repurposing movement might get some support but will face challenges, according to The Chicago Architecture Blog.
“To be sure, the Thompson Center is the kind of science fiction-looking office environment that tech companies love,” the blog’s editor wrote this week. “And its food court plus open office spaces allow the kind of coincidental synergy that Silicon Valley firms often look for when shopping for office space. But it’s still a question of whether the existing building can be upgraded to suit today’s technology needs.”
James R. Thompson Center
Originally: State of Illinois Center
Renamed: In 1993 to honor James R. Thompson, governor from 1977 to 1991
Architect: Helmut Jahn
Built: 1979 to 1985
Cost: About $172 million
Size: 17 stories tall, 1,193,163 square feet
Location: 100 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Occupies the block bounded by LaSalle, Randolph, Clark and Lake streets
Materials: Steel, pink and gray granite, concrete
Houses: About 2,200 employees from dozens of state agencies, plus shops and restaurants
Called: Everything from “visionary” and “a strong, powerful and important statement ” to “The Cash Register” and an “impractical monstrosity”