DOWNTOWN — A two-year-old bill that gives state officials the green light to sell the James R. Thompson Center landed on Gov. JB Pritzker’s desk earlier this week, giving the rookie governor 60 days to act on the measure that could pave the way for the massive building much loved by preservationists and loathed by others to be torn down.
SB 886 would move the state’s offices from the Thompson Center across La Salle Street to the Bilandic Building.
Passed by the House and Senate in May 2017, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) placed a motion to reconsider on the bill, sending it into legislative limbo until he lifted that motion on Jan. 19.
The bill landed on Pritzker’s desk on Thursday. The governor is reviewing the legislation, said spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.
“The governor supports selling the Thompson Center,” Abudayyeh said.
While the building with salmon pink and baby blue color scheme at 100 W. Randolph St. in the heart of the Loop named after former Gov. Jim Thompson and designed by German American architect Helmut Jahn is beloved by preservationists, it is loathed by many of those who work in the building, where offices are often too cold or too hot.
The budget approved by the General Assembly in May and signed into law by former Gov. Bruce Rauner counted on approximately $300 million from the sale of the Thompson Center — even though Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly, who would have to sign off of any redevelopment of the entire city block between La Salle, Clark, Randolph and Lake streets, had not seen a new proposal for the property.
In November, the governor’s office acknowledged in the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Policy Report that the building would not be sold any time soon — blowing a $300 million hole in the state’s budget.
However, Pritzker would not use the proceeds as Rauner proposed.
“The administration believes revenue from the sale can be more effectively used than for the operating budget, including both reducing unfunded pension liabilities and paying down the bill backlog,” Abudayyeh said.
Rauner first called to sell the Thompson Center in 2015, saying the 17-story postmodern office building that opened in 1985 is “ineffective,” “inefficient” and “in disrepair.” A 2017 estimate pegged the cost of repairing the building at $326 million.
In January 2017, Rauner’s office released a conceptual study by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture to show what the Thompson Center site would look like with three new towers, or just one standing 1,700 feet tall, or more than 200 feet taller than Willis Tower.
However, Reilly has said getting $300 million for the property “could be a stretch” since it assumes city officials would approve a far denser development than currently permitted and that the Downtown office real estate market remains red-hot.
Neither Reilly nor Emanuel responded to a request from The Daily Line for comment about the status of efforts to sell the Thompson Center.
In May 2017, Emanuel said he would block the sale of the Thompson Center until he was certain that Chicago taxpayers won’t get “stuck with” the $80 to $120 million tab for rebuilding the massive CTA station at the state building.
John Patterson, a spokesman for Cullerton, said the bill was sent to Pritzker “as a matter of end-of-session housekeeping” because the bill would have died when the 100th General Assembly ended and the 101st began in January.
Cullerton used a similar maneuver to hold a bill requiring gun dealers to be licensed by the state (SB 337) in limbo until Pritzker took office. Rauner, who vetoed a previous version of the legislation, had vowed to veto that bill, too.
The Illinois State Rifle Association immediately threatened to sue Illinois to block the licensing measure. In a statement, the association said it was “disappointed but not surprised at the gamesmanship employed to get the state licensure bill for gun dealers signed into law.”
Executive Director Richard Pearson did not return a request for comment from The Daily Line Wednesday about the status of that threatened litigation.
In January, Pearson declined to tell the Tribune whether the suit would challenge the way the bill reached Pritzker’s desk.