Less than four months after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a development team would take over the beleaguered James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, the governor’s office on Thursday announced a purchase and sale agreement has been finalized.
In December, Pritzker chose a proposal from a group led by Michael Reschke, chairman of Prime Group, a longtime developer in the region. Reschke’s plan — which included the $70 million upfront payment to the state — called for preserving the 17-story building as a mixed-use property with office, retail and hotel space — and with the state retaining about a 30% ownership. The sale and title transfer are expected to be completed this summer.
The former home of state government in Chicago opened in 1985 and was designed by the internationally acclaimed architect Helmut Jahn, who died last year. 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 to his hometown.
But the building has its share of problems, including leaky ceilings, temperature issues and less than desirable office aesthetics. Pritzker in recent years has put in his own money to beautify his own office and those of his staffers.
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A rendering of Reschke’s plan, which was unveiled in December, includes a replacement curtain wall to fix the blaring sunshine and slash energy costs by half. The building’s annual operating expenses are about $17 million, largely due to the building’s glass envelope. Reschke last year said renovations would begin this year and would take about two years from start to finish, with a budget of $280 million.
The state is also consolidating its space downtown, which will save $20 million annually over 30 years, the governor said last year. The state bought an office building at 555 W. Monroe St. and has moved some agencies there. By next month, about 1,500 state employees will be working there.
Pritzker’s office last year said due to deferred maintenance and delayed capital projects, the estimated cost to bring the Thompson Center into a state of good repair exceeded $325 million and was projected to increase to $525 million if not addressed by 2026.
Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner pitched the sale of the Thompson Center in 2017 but met resistance from former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. At the time, Emanuel said he was holding up Rauner’s plan to sell the building because he’s wasn’t about to “stick Chicago taxpayers” with a $100 million tab to rebuild the busy CTA station there.
Pritzker’s chosen plan promises not to require any shutdown of Chicago Transit Authority operations.