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Thompson Center sale inches closer to possible reality

Tuesday, Oct 12, 2021

* Tribune

Two potential buyers have submitted proposals to purchase the James R. Thompson Center, the state of Illinois’ controversial Loop headquarters, officials said Friday.

The names of the bidders and their plans for the future of the 1.2 million-square-foot glass-and-steel structure designed by famed architect Helmut Jahn were not disclosed. State law allows officials to keep the proposals under wraps until a winning bidder is selected.

Facing an April 5 deadline to sell a building admired by preservationists but reviled by many state workers and amateur architecture critics, the Department of Central Management Services is aiming to choose a buyer by the end of the year and sign a purchase agreement by February.

The bids, which were originally due in August before the state pushed back the deadline, come a week after the State Historic Preservation Office submitted a nomination to the National Park Service to list the Thompson Center on the National Register of Historic Places.

* Sun-Times

Pritzker’s move sparked outrage from preservationists who’ve called Thompson Center “iconic” and said it deserves landmark protection and creative ideas for reuse.

In September, the Chicago Architecture Center and the Chicago Architectural Club picked the winners of a global design competition for the Thompson Center. The top submissions transformed the steel frame, red and blue accents building into a waterpark, a “vertical Loop” of homes and commercial space with a rooftop vegetable garden, or a prototype building school.

Organizers of the contest hoped the results might influence discussions about whether the Thompson Center can be saved.

While I would love to see Scott Kennedy’s dream of a waterpark become reality, I’m kinda doubting the contest did much good. I suppose we’ll see.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

25 Comments
  1. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:16 am:

    Playing fast and loose with the word “historic” I see.


  2. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:17 am:

    What do you think ‘historic’ means, Elvis?


  3. - Commisar Gritty - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:30 am:

    It’s “iconic” in the way Toxic Avenger is iconic. It’s so ugly it’s almost camp.


  4. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:30 am:

    I’m annoyed the preservations activists are upset the bids are sealed for the time being, as if there is some giant conspiracy when in reality all of bids to RFPs are kept sealed in order to allow the state to negotiate with the bidders and get the best deal possible.


  5. - Keyrock - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:33 am:

    Icon - “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

    The building is a representative symbol of big plans, bad engineering, bad maintenance, and unusable space. That doesn’t mean we should keep it.


  6. - NonAFSCMEStateEmployeeFromChatham - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:37 am:

    ==The building is a representative symbol of big plans, bad engineering, bad maintenance, and unusable space. ==

    Not to mention shortsighted cost-cutting that ends up costing more in the long run.


  7. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:44 am:

    “What do you think historic means”

    Well, not a >40 year old monstrosity that has been, at best, a running joke and at worst, a nightmare for those who are employed there.

    How’s that?


  8. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:46 am:


  9. - Mr. Smith - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:47 am:

    I have no real problem with the concept of historic preservation. There are buildings that are definitely worth preserving and whose owners agree and are active participants in seeking protected status.

    The problem comes when the preservationists ignore the wishes of the owner and apply for protected status against the owner’s wishes. Perhaps this could be avoided in future if the preservationists were required to purchase the property from the owner at the fair market value prior to the application. If the owner is unwilling to sell, the preservationists must then establish a fund or foundation to defray expenses for required maintenance to keep the structure up to required standards. Failure to do so results in a revocation of protected status.


  10. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:58 am:

    Designed by a famous architect and architecturally significant: check
    A US president once worked there: check
    Named after a famous governor:check
    Old: check
    So far the Thompson Center hits all the boxes for being historic. Whether that makes a difference or not remains to be seen.


  11. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 9:58 am:

    Not everything historic is aesthetically pleasing.


  12. - MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 10:37 am:

    The Thompson Center may have extraordinary merit if viewed as a monumental sculpture, but in reality it is an office building that fails to function as an office building.

    – MrJM


  13. - Mr K - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 10:38 am:

    Given the trends of architecture over the past several decades, the Thompson Center is definitely a one-of-a-kind structure — and definitely (IMHO) deserves any kind of “historic” (or protective) status it can get.

    I understand it’s a miserable place to work. But (fortunately) the livability/workability of a place isn’t everything when it comes to landmark status. It might be a part — but it’s not everything.


  14. - Furtive Look - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 10:50 am:

    I shudder to imagine the mindset of anyone who thinks this monstrosity deserves landmark protection.


  15. - Fav Human - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 10:59 am:

    Not everything historic needs to be preserved.

    As for the sale, they finally sold the white elephant old moto plant in harvard. So I think such a prime location would go quickly, and for a good price.


  16. - Mr K - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 11:31 am:


    I shudder to imagine the mindset of anyone who thinks this monstrosity deserves landmark protection.

    Architecture is art. It doesn’t have to please everyone. And in fact, provocation is part of (IMHO) good art.

    Does the Thompson Center provoke? You betcha.

    Is it important? Well, given the context of downtown Chicago — and government buildings in general — yeah, it’s important.

    Does it deserve landmark status? Preservation? I’d say so — but I know folks disagree.

    And that’s what makes art interesting. Disagreement. :)


  17. - Jibba - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 11:34 am:

    I’m all in favor of historic preservation. In my home town, they often tear down historic buildings for poor uses such as parking lots, typically when the owner has neglected the building for decades and it is cost-prohibitive (but not impossible) to fix. But in this case, the alternative usage is literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars and far greater utility. Unless someone with deep pockets comes along (hey Apple or Bezos) this is a no brainer.


  18. - Levois J - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 11:34 am:

    I think they should put a hotel there and call it “Sherman” just to keep that name out there. Give the waterpark that name too! Sherman Waterpark! :)


  19. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 12:21 pm:

    “On this s


  20. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 12:27 pm:

    Sorry; all thumbs. “On this site, the State of Illinois built the James R. Thompson Center, which was later removed as too expensive to maintain after being not expensive enough to build properly. The site is dedicated to the politicians of Illinois, who created an empty space at taxpayer expense.” –Historical plaque placed by preservationists in 2040, because they couldn’t afford the upkeep either.


  21. - Louis G Atsaves - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 12:36 pm:

    A casino / entertainment center that complements the current theater district would be ideal to save the building. It was a terrible office building but it has plenty of public transportation including a station inside the building and plenty of surrounding parking garages.

    City is still wrestling with a casino location yet if they look out their city hall windows. Another opportunity blown.


  22. - TJ - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 1:50 pm:

    I have yet to meet anyone that gives a rat’s behind about the Thompson Center.


  23. - Original Anon - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 3:32 pm:

    If preservationists believe the building has merit as is, why didn’t they place a bid?


  24. - Original Anon - Tuesday, Oct 12, 21 @ 3:35 pm:

    Maybe the State should just bulldoze the building in the middle of the night? I seem to recall that worked before.


  25. - WillRez - Wednesday, Oct 13, 21 @ 11:43 am:

    It’s historic and iconic in the same sense as Spinal Tap’s epic album Shark Sandwich, and generates the identical comments by its critics.


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