clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

J.B.’s ‘Windy City Rehab’: Pritzker spends $275K of his wealth to fix up Chicago offices — but leaves GOP suite a fixer upper

The stained gray carpets, some with duct tape to hold them together, are gone — at least in the offices of the governor and his staff. There’s now a dividing line between Pritzker’s staff and the offices housing Republican staffers on the 16th floor — a spiffy new blue carpet butting up against the tattered gray one.

A waiting area outside the governor’s offices at the Thompson center before the renovation (left) and after (right). 
A waiting area outside the governor’s offices at the Thompson center before the renovation (left) and after (right). 
Provided photos.

The governor’s aging Chicago offices just got a $275,000 face-lift, thanks to billionaire Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“The Governor’s Office at the Thompson Center was in a very sad state of disrepair, and the Pritzkers paid personally to replace decades-old carpeting and repaint so that the space would no longer be embarrassing,” Pritzker’s spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in explaining the renovations after decades of neglect.

The stained gray carpets, some with duct tape to hold them together, are gone — at least in the offices of the governor and his staff. There’s now a dividing line between Pritzker’s staff and the offices housing Republican staffers on the 16th floor — a spiffy new blue carpet butting up against the tattered gray one.

But don’t worry, nostalgia fans. Multiple Thompson Center staffers say there are still cockroaches in the bathrooms.

In total, Pritzker spent $275,000 for carpeting, paint and ceiling tile work, all from his own deep pockets, the governor’s office said. Carpet replacement began on Aug. 12 and will continue for several weeks, the work done with union labor via C&W Building Services, Inc., the general contractor for the Thompson Center. All the renovation was done by state-approved vendors, and they in turn directly billed the Pritzkers.

The designer? Illinois first lady M.K. Pritzker, the governor’s office said.

A newly renovated waiting area in offices of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his staff.
A newly renovated waiting area in offices of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his staff.
Provided photo.

But that carpet replacement won’t stretch into the Republican offices.

Pritzker also re-furnished his office suite. Pictures provided to the Sun-Times show a major revamp of a waiting area outside the governor’ office — with brand new white couches and side tables.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office
Provided photo.

The patch up of the 16th floor isn’t all the floor — or building— needs. It really is just a Band-aid in a building widely panned by its occupants. The governor’s office said temperatures in the building remain “higher than standard offices.” In the communication offices on Monday, the temperature reached 81 degrees.

“The Pritzkers paid personally to replace decades-old carpeting and repaint so that the space would no longer be embarrassing for the state when hosting constituents and other dignitaries until we vacate the building,” Bittner said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on governing efficiently, but no functioning government should allow an office to have fallen into such disrepair for decades. The Governor’s Office at the Thompson Center epitomizes cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Carpeting in a 16th-floor office in the Thompson Center before it was replaced.
Carpeting in a 16th-floor office in the Thompson Center before it was replaced.
Provided photo.

There’s always hope for the weathered building, at least that it can be sold. Some want it to become the Chicago casino, or a water park.

In April, Pritzker signed a measure that will make it easier to sell the long criticized state building at 100 W. Randolph. The legislation was passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2017 but was never sent to then-Gov. Bruce Rauner due to a procedural hold.

That measure provided for the sale of the Thompson Center by a “competitive sealed proposal process within two years.” The buyer must also enter into an agreement with the city and the Chicago Transit Authority to maintain operations of the Clark and Lake station, which is one of the most complex and busy CTA stations in the city.

Pritzker has said he wants to sell the building to use it as “an asset to offset liabilities, possibly liabilities in the pension system.”

In the event of a sale, employees at the Thompson Center — who have often complained about its underutilization and maintenance issues such as water leaks — will be moved to the Michael A. Bilandic building across the street, and “other under-utilized, state-owned or rented facilities,” the governor’s office said. About 2,200 state employees work in the building.

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 James R. Thompson Center, in the Loop. File Photo.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The building — designed by Helmut Jahn — opened in 1985 as the State of Illinois Center under then-Gov. Thompson. The Chicago Republican boasted the building, which he called the first office building of the year 2000, was “open,” “honest” and “friendly.”

No one calls it that anymore. Instead, its residents complain of stalled elevators, wafts of fast-food odors from the basement, bugs, dirty and ripped up carpets and depressing lighting. Trash cans are often spotted catching leaks when it rains.

When the building was named in his honor in 1993, Thompson said he was proud of it, but he didn’t ignore its mixed reviews.

“Chicagoans love it or hate it,” Thompson said, “but they talk about it. That’s Chicago style. We’re open and straight.”