“On Wednesday the Chicago City Council voted to up-zone the Loop’s for-sale Thompson Center to DC-16 Downtown Core District—the city’s tallest and most dense designation. While the move paves the way for developers to demolish the 1985 building for a massive skyscraper, the zoning change could also help entice the property’s eventual buyers to preserve and reuse the controversial postmodern structure.
“For years, the state has threatened to sell the Thompson Center, which is burdened by mounting deferred maintenance and skyrocketing repair bills. The state officially put the property up for sale earlier this month. Calls from preservationists to save the blue and salmon-colored building and its striking 17-story glass atrium were amplified in recent weeks following the shocking death of its famous architect Helmut Jahn.
“Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he introduced the zoning change for the block-sized site at 100 W. Randolph Street at the request of Gov. Pritzker. The measure returns the property to its previous zoning designation, which was stripped away when former downtown Ald. Burt Natarus down-zoned the property in 1981 while the Thompson Center was still under construction.
“Boosting the site’s zoning to allow a Sears Tower-sized skyscraper may seem like a clear indication that the Thompson Center is doomed, but up-zoning the property and increasing its floor-area ratio (FAR) will actually increase the chance of preservation, Reilly told the committee members.
“‘Adding FAR to this site by restoring it to the DC-16 designation is one of the only hopes preservationists would have to save the existing building, as adaptive reuse would require more density on the site for it to be economically viable,’ said the alderman. ‘If we don’t restore the original zoning rights, demolition of the property is likely a foregone conclusion. This amendment provides potential buyers more options, including adaptive reuse.’
“Reilly said that he had spent time with Helmut Jahn discussing reuse solutions and he would ‘encourage developers to strongly consider’ those options.
“Meanwhile, preservation groups such as Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago would like to see the Thompson Center added to the National Register of Historic Places, which would provide tax incentives for buyers opting to reuse the Jahn-designed structure. The only guarantee against demolition, however, would occur if the city designated the Thompson Center as an official Chicago landmark.
“‘We challenge the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois to come together to protect—through landmark designation—the important features of the Thompson Center including the front elevation, the plaza, and the 17-story atrium,’ Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago told Urbanize.
“‘If we’re really a forward-thinking city and state that recognizes the value of our historic built environment, we would figure a way to protect this building while still encouraging its reuse and redevelopment,’ said Miller. ‘There are a lot of possibilities here.'” (Koziarz, Urbanize Chicago, 5/27/21)
The Thompson Center, a blend of patriotism and Postmodernism, should be a Chicago landmark, The Thompson Center brought the light in, literally, to state government. It let the people see power and it forced power to see the people, Elizabeth Blasius and Jonathan Solomon, Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed, 5/14/21
Thompson Center gets zoning change allowing for skyscraper weeks after death of its architect, Helmut Jahn, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, 5/26/21 City Council Approves Thompson Center Zoning Change, Paving The Way For A Sale; The rezoning of the Helmut Jahn-designed building allows for a high-rise to be built at the property, as state leaders try to sell it to a private developer, Justin Laurence, Block Club Chicago, 5/26/21
Time for a fresh look at plans to sell the Thompson Center; The state must face that it may not get $200 million for the building. And to increase its redevelopment possibilities, reusing the building — not tearing it down — should remain an option, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 4/12/21
Team Pritzker must get the Thompson Center plan right; A pandemic that has drained the Loop of much of its life and called into question future demand for office space has only intensified the challenge of reimagining this colossal white elephant, Crain’s Editorial Board, 4/9/21
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