Available: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an entire city block in Chicago’s fabled Loop, a massive office building with its own CTA station in the basement.
The cost? Upwards of $300 million.
And what would you do with the building? Almost certainly, tear it down.
“This building actually was not designed to function well for offices,” Gov. Bruce Rauner told NBC 5, as he gave a guided tour of the dilapidated Thompson Center. “It’s a very ineffective space, very inefficient; it’s a space that just doesn’t work for taxpayers, and doesn’t work for state employees.”
Opened in 1985, the giant glass spaceship/terrarium at Clark and Randolph still sports its original grey carpeting--duct tape and all. A visit to the building’s central fire alarm stations showed panels which had to be kept open to prevent the entire system from overheating and shutting down.
Originally known as the State of Illinois Building, the massive structure featured a chilled water air conditioning system which worked so poorly, sweating employees brought beach umbrellas to hold back the blistering rays beaming through the glass walls. The system was eventually fixed, but the state says it needs replacement.
“The HVAC system is probably $60 to $80 million easy,” said Mike Hoffman, director of the state’s Central Management Services. “It was never suitable for this building from the very beginning.”
“Best we can tell, the number’s over $300 million in deferred maintenance,” Rauner said. “We could move our state employees into good quality office space in Chicago and Springfield, and save a lot of money.”
All that’s needed is a developer willing to buy the building, and then spend tens of millions of dollars tearing it down.
That’s exactly what the Rauner administration wants to do. But doing that deal has proven elusive, both in Springfield and at Chicago’s City Hall. This week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised the spectre of that aforementioned CTA station in the basement, one of the city’s busiest. Not one penny of city money, he said, to keep it open. And it would have to stay open during any proposed demolition.
Rauner’s answer? Fine.
“If the mayor likes that CTA station, we can keep it,” he said. “We’ll just put a shell over it, protect it, and it will only cost a million or two that the state could pay!”
And Friday the governor upped the ante, floating legislation designed to earmark future property taxes from whatever building goes up on the site, solely for the Chicago Public Schools.
“We estimate the city could receive between $40 and $50 million dollars per year in new revenue,” he said, noting that right now, with the state occupying the sprawling site, it generates no tax revenue at all.
“It’s a terrible use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Maybe so, but the Mayor scoffed at the entire idea.
“Suddenly he’s interested in funding CPS? That’s rich,” Emanuel’s spokesman Adam Collins said in a statement. “This is a fraction of the amount of funding the governor vetoed for our school children a few months ago.”
Later, Emanuel chimed in himself.
“He could have introduced a balanced budget that fully funded education,” the Mayor told reporters. “And he is spending more time on the Thompson Center in the last 22 months, than he has on the entire budget and funding education.”
Emanuel’s office scoffs at Rauner’s numbers, suggesting it may be next to impossible to find a developer who could be faced with a $400 million price tag to purchase and demolish the aging structure.
But GOP leader Jim Durkin, who authored the proposed tax diversion for the Chicago schools, suggested the entire matter should be a no-brainer.
“Employees don’t like working here,” he said. “This legislation benefits the Chicago Public Schools, and its students.”
Walking thru the building’s cavernous atrium, Rauner said that the crumbling center is hardly the place to welcome visitors.
“This is the image that we’re portraying to world leaders, to business leaders, to investors who we want to have come to Illinois and grow jobs,” he said. “This is how we put our best face forward for the State of Illinois---and it’s not a pretty picture!”
Ironically, even though just about no one thinks the building should be kept, the only officials capable of making the deal barely speak to each other on a regular basis.
“It’s a huge home run for taxpayers of the State of Illinois,” Rauner said. “It’s a home run for the state employees who work here. And it’s a home run for taxpayers who are just in the City of Chicago.”