Roomy Loop fixer upper? Thompson Center on the market — ‘oversized, outdated and expensive to operate’

The chosen developer must commit to keeping the Clark/Lake CTA station agreement with the city and the mass transit agency and commit to naming at least a portion of the development in honor of the late former Gov. James “Big Jim” Thompson.

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An Illinois Department of Central Management Services spokesperson confirmed Saturday that two potential buyers have submitted their plans to acquire the Helmut Jahn-designed Thompson Center.

The Thompson Center

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker officially put the James R. Thompson Center on the market on Monday, announcing a request for proposals for the sale of the downtown state government building that state officials concede could need more than $500 million in repairs.

“The sale of the Thompson Center has been discussed for nearly 20 years and we are taking another important step to making it a reality,” Pritzker said in a statement. 

“Selling the property provides a unique opportunity to maximize taxpayer savings, create thousands of union jobs, generate millions of dollars in real estate taxes to benefit the City of Chicago and spur economic development. My team looks forward to working with the city as we move forward.”

The state’s Department of Central Management Services, which handles state property, was tasked by Pritzker with optimizing the state’s real estate profile and reducing operating expenses, a statement announcing the proposal said. 

The agency found that selling the center was “in the State’s best interest as the facility is oversized, outdated and expensive to operate.”

The state is also “in discussion with relevant stakeholders” for the master retail lease of the atrium mall within the center. Those who send the state a proposal should assume when proposing an asking price that the purchaser will not bear any costs related to that lease, according to the guidelines for proposals.

A model of the proposed State of Illinois Center, unveiled in 1980 by then Gov. James Thompson. 

A model of the proposed State of Illinois Center, unveiled in 1980 by then Gov. James Thompson. Thompson then called it the first office building of the year 2000.

Sun-Times archives

The chosen developer must commit to keeping the Clark/Lake CTA station agreement with the city and the mass transit agency and commit to naming at least a portion of the development in honor of the late former Gov. James “Big Jim” Thompson, who died last year.

Because of delays in maintenance and state capital projects, estimates for getting the center into good repair exceed $325 million and are projected to grow to over $525 million, the statement said. 

The State plans to relocate its core services to 555 W. Monroe, which officials have said will “reduce operating costs, increase productivity, and better serve constituents.”

Proposals to buy the Thompson Center are due by 3 p.m. on Aug. 16.

Interior of the Thompson Center

Interior of the Thompson Center

Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Named for the state’s longest serving governor, the building at 100 W. Randolph St. has been the Chicago headquarters for state government since 1985.

Designed by Helmut Jahn, the Thompson Center won praise for its innovative structure. But it’s been equally well known for state employees’ complaints over its state of disrepair, including temperature problems, leaky ceilings and cockroaches. The odors seeping up the open atrium from the lower level food court to upper-floor offices have also been a regular gripe.

When the building opened in 1985, Thompson called it the first office building of the year 2000, describing it as “open,” “honest” and “friendly.”

But by the time it was named for him in 1993, the Republican governor acknowledged not all shared his affection for it.

“Chicagoans love it or hate it,” Thompson said at the time, “but they talk about it. That’s Chicago style.”

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