We’re intrigued by a preservation group’s plan to save a seemingly doomed pair of Loop office buildings by turning the towers into a local archives center.
As first reported by the Sun-Times’ David Roeder this week, Preservation Chicago has lined up 20 religious orders, including Dominican University in River Forest, that are interested in converting the Century and Consumers buildings, 202 and 220 S. State St., into the proposed Chicago Collaborative Archive Center.
Museums and other non-religious entities could have space there also, said Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller.
The buildings’ owner, the federal General Service Administration, ought to give a proper hearing to this proposal — or any other legit, preservation-minded efforts aimed at saving these buildings.
As we said back in 2019, rehabbing and reusing the buildings is better for State Street and downtown than the GSA’s patently wrongheaded plan to wreck the skyscrapers to build a landscaped security buffer for the neighboring Dirksen Federal Building, which sits just west at 219 S. Dearborn St.
Archive would be ‘rare’ for the U.S.
Historian Christopher Allison, director of the McGreal Center at Dominican University, said the proposed archive makes sense.
“A collaborative archive of this proposed size is rare in the country,” he said. “It would become a major hub for archive-based research and would consolidate precious sources in one space.”
The GSA has sought demolition for the buildings since 2019, following a federal law enforcement assessment that found the reoccupied buildings could pose a threat to the Dirksen.
The assessment caused the city to pull the plug on a $141 million redevelopment deal that would have preserved the buildings.
The Century and Consumers’ walk to the gallows quickened in April when U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, earmarked $52 million for the GSA to raze the terra cotta-clad towers and two small buildings between them.
But an archive, which would have limited public access and could be designed with no windows or rooftop access overlooking the Dirksen, could preserve and reuse the buildings while addressing the federal government’s security concerns.
Still time for a solution
There are still many questions to answer regarding the proposal, such as the cost of rehabbing the buildings and restoring their weathered, terra cotta-clad exteriors.
And given that archives are not money-makers, what other uses, designed to help pay the freight of it all, can be baked into any deal to acquire the structures from the GSA — without again raising security concerns at the Dirksen?
Fortunately, there’s time to consider all this and more. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, the GSA must “identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings ... [and] consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions.”
Public meetings are planned for this summer and would go on until next year, according to the GSA. Demolition, if it happens at all, wouldn’t occur until 2024.
Here’s hoping that reason, good sense and preservation win out.
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