THREATENED: Thompson Center Upzoning Clears Path for Sale to Developer (Chicago 7 2016, 2018, 2019 & 2020)

“A downtown alderman is proposing a zoning change that could clear the way for the James R. Thompson Center to be replaced by one of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, wants to allow more than 2 million square feet of space on the sprawling state-owned site, at 100 W. Randolph St., that is up for sale. The proposed ordinance is expected to be introduced Wednesday to the City Council’s zoning committee, and it could be up for a vote by the committee — and eventually the full City Council — as soon as April, he told the Tribune Tuesday.

“Reilly’s proposal is an important and long-awaited step in the cash-strapped state’s ongoing efforts to sell the glassy, postmodern building. It was designed by Helmut Jahn, a German-born architect based in Chicago.

“‘It’s one of the premier blocks in the entire city of Chicago and the potential for a 2 million-square-foot tower on this site would have a dramatic impact on Chicago’s skyline,’ Reilly said. ‘It could potentially add a lot more energy and activity to the Loop, at a site that has been underutilized for government functions.’

“Restoring the underlying zoning will allow it to reach true market value,” Reilly added. “Now everyone will have clarity on what is within the art of the possible for this site.”

“The Thompson Center is seen by real estate investors as a rare opportunity to redevelop an approximately 3-acre site in the heart of the Loop. But there are several hurdles.

“Preservation groups want to see the 17-story structure saved and redeveloped by the buyer. But the state has said the building is costly to heat and cool and is in need of well over $300 million in repairs.

“Some developers would prefer to knock down the glassy structure and start with a clean slate, but demolition would be costly and time-consuming because of heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area — and because the building is connected to the CTA’s Clark and Lake train station.

“Another obstacle is a master lease for the retail space in the building’s glass-enclosed atrium and lower-level food court that doesn’t expire until 2034. Officials have evaluated legal options with regard to the master lease, held by Boston’s Winthrop Realty Trust and Chicago’s Marc Realty, but it’s an issue that may ultimately be left to the buyer to resolve.

“There also is the challenge of record-high office vacancy downtown a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as struggles the central Loop already was facing because of moves by banks and other tenants to newer towers along the Chicago River and elsewhere.

“The state has been looking to sell the Thompson Center for several years, starting with efforts under previous governors Pat Quinn and Rauner, who had hoped to sell the property for $300 million.

“Efforts to sell the building have accelerated under Pritzker, and the state in December 2019 hired Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors to oversee the process to sell the Loop property

“This site has sat fallow for far too long,” Reilly said. “It’s costing Illinois taxpayers a lot of money in unnecessary maintenance costs, and it’s depriving Chicago taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars in property tax revenue each year.” (Ori, Chicago Tribune, 3/23/21)

The Thompson Center has been a Preservation Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. We continue to advocate for the preservation and adaptive reuse of this important historic building as well as a Chicago Landmark Designation.

Read the full story with photos at the Chicago Tribune

Downtown alderman’s move could clear way for one of city’s tallest skyscrapers on Thompson Center site, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 3/23/21

How the pandemic made a bad situation worse at the Thompson Center; It was always going to be a tough sell, but now the ghost of Block 37 looms, Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 4/2/21

Alderman seeks Thompson Center zoning change to tee up potential sale; The move would clear the way for a buyer to redevelop the Loop property with at least 2 million square feet of new construction, Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/23/21 

Potential demise of Chicago’s Thompson Center inches closer with proposed zoning change, Matt Hickman, The Architect’s Newspaper, 3/24/21

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