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Pritzker Signs Bill Approving The Sale Of Thompson Center

In the next four to six weeks, state officials will ask firms to indicate their interest in purchasing the site.

The Thompson Center in the Loop.
Heather Cherone/The Daily Line
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CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker signed a two-year-old bill Friday that gives state officials the green light to sell the James R. Thompson Center, potentially paving the way for the massive building much loved by preservationists and loathed by others to be torn down.

Pritzker laid out a five-phase, 22-month timeline for the sale of 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.

In the next four to six weeks, state officials will ask firms to indicate their interest in purchasing the site, Pritzker’s office said in a statement.

Withing within three to six months, state officials “will re-engage negotiations with the City of Chicago regarding zoning and transit station,” according to the statement.

State officials will begin discussions with interested purchasers and publish a request for proposals to acquire and develop the property by Labor Day, according to the timeline laid out by Pritzker’s office.

Those interested in the property will get four to five months to develop their proposals and submit them to state officials, according to the timeline laid out by Pritzker’s office.

State officials will evaluate those proposals in three months, and then take another two months to select a winning proposal, according to the timeline laid out by Pritzker’s office.

SB 886 requires that whoever purchases the site reach an agreement with Chicago and CTA officials to maintain the operation of the Clark and Lake station.

Thompson Center employees will be moved to the Michael A. Bilandic Building and “other under-utilized, state-owned or rented facilities, consistent with recommendations made by the newly-created Pension Asset Value and Transfer Taskforce.”

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, when it landed on Pritzker’s desk.

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.

Pritzker has pledged to use the proceeds from the sale of the Thompson Center to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liabilities and to pay down the bill backlog, which stands at $8.3 billion.

However, Pritzker’s proposed budget does not rely on any revenue from the Thompson Center’s sale, a move he criticized as a budgetary trick used by Rauner.

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 immediately responded to a request from The Daily Line for comment on the governor’s action, nor did Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot.

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.