Mayor Rahm Emanuel was open to unloading the Thompson Center, but says Gov. Bruce Rauner couldn’t say yes because he won’t compromise. | Sun-Times file photo

Sign the bill, Gov. Rauner, and unload the Thompson Center

SHARE Sign the bill, Gov. Rauner, and unload the Thompson Center
SHARE Sign the bill, Gov. Rauner, and unload the Thompson Center

When a developer builds in Chicago, City Hall and nobody else calls the shots on zoning changes that dictate how big and tall the new building can be.

The rules don’t change — nor should they — even when it’s the governor of Illinois putting a massive state-owned building up for sale.

Chicago will benefit from, or will have to live with, whatever new building or buildings go up on the valuable downtown block that now holds the James R. Thompson Center.

City Hall would be crazy to share control over what goes there.


Under a bill approved by the General Assembly on Wednesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner could sell the Thompson Center. The fatally inefficient structure almost certainly would be torn down and the site redeveloped.

But Rauner also wanted the Legislature to grant him a say in what zoning changes would be allowed for any new development. This is necessary, the governor’s administration has argued, if he is to negotiate the best deal for the state, potentially bringing in an estimated $300 million.

Democrats did not yield to the governor last week, nor should they have. In this deal, the state is just another landlord. Zoning decisions are made by municipalities. And fees imposed for zoning changes are collected by the municipality for use by the municipality. City Hall expects to invest much of that money in more impoverished parts of town.

The governor should do what sellers do: Find a potential buyer and then negotiate with the city for whatever zoning changes the buyer might demand.

Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch tells us the city’s primary concerns are to make sure the developer builds without delay so the city isn’t saddled with a vacant structure like the old Chicago Post Office; keeping open the CTA station underneath the Thompson Center; and respecting existing zoning rules.

“We don’t want to create a parallel zoning system for them,” Koch said.

Rauner should take the deal.

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