The interior of the James R. Thompson Center downtown. Credit: Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — The looming sale of the Thompson Center, causing double takes Downtown since 1985, received a boost Monday as a key city committee agreed to change the site’s zoning to allow for denser development.

The city’s Committee on Zoning unanimously approved a proposal to return the property at 100 W. Randolph St. to its original zoning, which would allow for a high-rise to be built at the site. Former Ald. Burton Natarus downzoned the property in the ’80s.

Gov. JB Pritzker recently announced his intention to sell the building, designed by the late Helmut Jahn and named after former Gov. Jim Thompson. The hulking steel structure is home to state offices, a basement food court and an adjacent transit center.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he introduced the zoning change at Pritzker’s request.

“This amendment does not approve a new project, nor does it allow for the demolition of the current property,” Reilly said. 

The Thompson Center in the Loop. Credit: Heather Cherone/The Daily Line

The state put out a request for proposals for the sale of the building earlier this month. Although it’s possible the building could be adaptively reused, state officials say it needs hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs, according to the Sun-Times.

“Selling the property provides a unique opportunity to maximize taxpayer savings, create thousands of union jobs, generate millions of dollars in real estate taxes to benefit the City of Chicago and spur economic development,” Pritzker said.

Proposals to purchase the building are due in August and the developer must commit to keeping the CTA station agreement with the city, according to the Sun-Times.

Reilly said he previously spoke with Jahn about the building’s future and would encourage potential developers to consider conserving the structure. But the “nearly $17 million” in annual maintenance and operating costs to taxpayers make unloading the building from the state’s budget a top priority. Jahn died earlier this month.

“Redeveloping this site, whether it’s by preservation, adaptive reuse or new construction would end its tax-exempt status and bring this entire city block onto the city’s tax rolls,” Reilly said. 

The full City Council will vote on the zoning change Wednesday.

Several other major projects citywide were approved by the Committee on Zoning Tuesday, including an affordable housing project next to the MAT Asphalt plant in McKinley Park and an effort to landmark a historical West Side church. Read about the projects below.

A rendering shows where JDL Development plans to build its new mixed-use development (in purple) near the Moody Bible Institute (in yellow). Credit: Provided/City of Chicago

Moody Bible Institute

Plans for a sprawling 8.1-acre megadevelopment bringing more than 2,600 residential units to land adjacent to the Moody Bible Institute campus were approved by the zoning committee Tuesday.

Dubbed “North Union,” the $1.3 billion project by JDL Development will transform the area generally bound by the CTA Brown and Purple line tracks to the west, Oak Street to the north, LaSalle Street to the east and West Chicago Avenue and West Chestnut Street to the south.

Moody Bible Institute sold a portion of its campus to JDL last year to make room for the development, but will continue to reside on the Near North Side.

Planned to be built in five phases over a decade, the project includes a mix of residential towers, luxury townhomes, commercial space and 2.5 acres of public parks.

The first phase includes three buildings at the southern tip of the development along West Chestnut Street. The buildings range from 50 to 300 feet in height.

The next phase, expected to begin in 2023, features a package of four buildings ranging from 48 to 205 feet tall. The buildings get taller as the project moves north, with phase three including a 475-foot tower and phase four a 380-foot tower.

The project’s final phase, which could begin in 2029, includes building the project’s two tallest buildings — one 620 feet and the other 695 feet, according to developers.

The developer is exceeding the city’s affordable housing requirements by including 354 units of affordable units — 236 on-site and 118 off-site, according to city documents.

“Chicago has had a tough year, but we’re still incredibly invested in Chicago and we’re not going anywhere,” JDL CEO James Letchinger told the Plan Commission last week.

Developers are seeking to build 56 apartments at 61st and Halsted in Englewood. 40 of the units would be set aside as affordable. Credit: City of Chicago

Affordable housing in Englewood

The zoning committee also approved plans for a five-story apartment building to be built on city-owned land at Halsted and 61st Streets in Englewood. Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th) said the project builds on the nearby Englewood Square development and could help “stop the exodus of African Americans” from the city.

The development could “give those that are committed to Englewood another option,” she said. “When our children come home from college, they will have beautiful housing, quality housing to come to … ”

Forty of the 56 apartments in the $20.9-million, transit-oriented development will be offered at affordable rates. Nine will be set aside at 30 percent of the area median income, five at 50 percent of the area median income and 26 at 60 percent of the area median income.

The project was praised by zoning committee members and approved unanimously, but received some pushback in Plan Commission last week from officials who said the apartment price points could be unaffordable for most neighbors.

The Forum Bronzeville on East 43rd St on March 31, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

The Forum Bronzeville

In Bronzeville, the committee approved a zoning change to facilitate the restoration of a historical South Side music hall that once hosted Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters. 

The Forum, 318 E. 43rd St., was built in 1897 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2019. It’s being restored over three phases and will include retail space, a restaurant and entertainment venues.

Bernard Loyd, entrepreneur and Urban Juncture founder, is leading the building’s rehab team. The overhaul is expected to cost at least $20 million, he said, and the group launched a crowdsourcing effort to raise money to help with the work.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) stands in front of a proposed 38-unit condo building on Western Avenue on Thursday, April 22, 2021. Credit: Hannah Alani / Block Club Chicago

Condos in Wicker Park

In Wicker Park, the zoning committee approved plans to convert a vacant lot into a four-story, 38-unit building. The project is backed by a local alderman despite pushback from neighbors concerned about the project’s size and impact on traffic.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) told the committee there was a “comprehensive” community process on the development before it received a vote Tuesday.

He said the traffic concerns “may have been based on an unrealistic sense of how many cars are going to be generated by this property.” 

If approved, the 47-story proposal for 640 W. Washington Blvd. would rise across the Kennedy Expressway from the upcoming 48-story Equinox hotel and apartment development, shown center-left. Credit: Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture

West Loop high rise

The committee also approved a 47-story high rise along the Kennedy Expressway with 413 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space.

The project, being developed by Crescent Heights, would replace a parking lot at 640 W. Washington Blvd in the West Loop and was supported by Ald. Reilly.

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