“Governor Pritzker has the opportunity, after years of neglect by his predecessors, to lead through the sale of the Thompson Center by giving it new life.
“Repurposing the building the right way could go beyond what the building ever was, making it better, more public, and a place where you want to work, stay overnight, live or just visit and feel good.
“Miracles and dreams can become real.”
— Helmut Jahn during 2020 interview
“Gov. J.B. Pritzker picked a development team Wednesday that will take over the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, favoring a plan that would preserve the 17-story building.
“Pritzker chose a proposal from a group led by Michael Reschke, chairman of Prime Group, a longtime developer in the region. His plan calls for preserving the building as a mixed-use property with office, retail and hotel space — and with the state retaining about a 30% ownership. In a move sure to be hailed by preservationists, Reschke will pay $70 million upfront and the state will retain some offices in the Thompson Center.
“Reschke said he expects the sale to close within six months and renovations to start within a year. He said the project — a ‘gut renovation’ including a new glass curtain wall and mechanical systems — should take two years from start to finish, with a budget of $280 million.
“Reschke said members of the development group initially ‘were a bit cynical, because of the reputation the building had. But we took a very hard, conscientious look at the opportunity to make further investment in LaSalle Street, for the benefit of local businesses, the city and the state.’
“The former home of state government in Chicago opened in 1985 and was designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Helmut Jahn, who died in May. Preservationists have argued the Thompson Center, with its soaring atrium and generous public space, is a postmodern landmark and keeping it would honor Jahn’s contributions in his hometown.
“Reschke called the building’s issues ‘very manageable.’ Chief among those are sun glare and its propensity to overheat at all times of the year. ‘It’s been a nightmare to control. The temperature in the building constantly requires air conditioning,’ he said. ‘The heat gain from the sun is so strong that the air conditioning needs to run in the middle of January.’
“Pritzker has said the building never lived up to Jahn’s ‘creative genius.’ But the proposal accepted Wednesday represented a partial change of heart. Pritzker not only signed on to a preservation plan, but he agreed to keep 425,000 square feet of state offices there.
“The governor said Reschke’s plan ‘offered the best vision for the building’s future, preserves the transit hub and yields tremendous cost savings on this property.’
“Preserving the building will win acclaim from architectural enthusiasts, who were critical of Pritzker’s original inclination to seek top dollar for the building, increasing the chances for a teardown.
“Ward Miller, executive director of the group Preservation Chicago, said he was thrilled with Pritzker’s announcement. He said city officials should give the Thompson Center official protection as a landmark to assure it is never again faced with demolition.” (Roeder and Armentrout, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/15/21)
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