Landmarks panel to consider recognition of 202 and 220 S. State buildings

Action by the city to preserve two unoccupied Loop towers could make it harder for the federal government, which owns the buildings, to tear them down as it wants.

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The high-rises at 202 and 220 S. State bracket two smaller buildings. All are owned by the federal government, which wants to tear them down as possible security risks for the Dirksen Federal Building on Dearborn Street.

The high-rises at 202 and 220 S. State bracket two smaller buildings. All are owned by the federal government, which wants to tear them down as possible security risks for the Dirksen Federal Building on Dearborn Street.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

A city panel is due to consider landmarks designation for vacant office buildings at 202 and 220 S. State St., a step that could increase pressure on the federal government to preserve them.

The General Services Administration, which manages federal property, wants to tear down the early 20th century buildings to improve security for the adjacent Dirksen Federal Building. Preservationists and downtown business interests contend the buildings are worth saving in a way that answers security concerns.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will consider Thursday whether to give the buildings preliminary landmark protection, according to a posted agenda. The panel recommends whether buildings or areas get landmark protection, with the City Council having the final call.

A vote by the commission would be just a first step and not final. City rules say that after a preliminary recommendation, there is time for a property owner to consent to landmark status. If the owner does not consent, the commission has to hold a public hearing.

In addition, the federal government isn’t bound by city landmark protection. But official city recognition of the buildings could encourage more support for saving them.

A GSA spokesperson emailed that the agency is neutral “on the Commission’s proposal to designate the buildings as landmarks under the Commission’s criteria. GSA continues to engage with the City of Chicago and other Consulting Parties on the future of these properties.”

Last July, the commission voiced tentative support for the properties and ordered city staff to compile more information about them.

The commission works with staff of the city’s Department of Planning and Development. A department spokesman said the items were placed on Thursday’s agenda at the request of the panel’s chairman, Ernest Wong, an architect and principal at Site Design Group. Wong could not be reached for comment.

“Federal authorities have been notified. The owner has not presented a re-use plan for either structure,” said the spokesman, Peter Strazzabosco.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, called the commission’s agenda items “a very positive step forward. It sends a signal to the federal government and the GSA.” His group has proposed alternative uses for the buildings and put out a petition on Change.org that has gotten more than 23,000 signatures supporting preservation.

The properties are the Century Building at 202 S. State and Consumers Building at 220 S. State. The federal government has owned them for years, as well as two smaller buildings between them that are regarded as less significant.

One of them, a three-story building at 208-12 S. State, has become a public hazard and will be torn down, the GSA has said. It has said the demolition will not affect the other buildings.

The 202 and 220 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The GSA has been holding public hearings to consider alternatives to demolition. Federal authorities, however, are worried about how close the buildings’ windows are to the Dirksen property.

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