5 Good Arguments for Scraping and Keeping the James R. Thompson Center

Will Gov. Bruce Rauner get his wish to sell the James R. Thompson Center to the highest bidder?

It's up to the Illinois General Assembly, more than three-fifths of which is controlled by the Democrats with whom Rauner now is fighting bitterly over the state budget. Unless House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton decide there's political gain in granting the governor's wish, it's hard to envision this transaction going forward.

Then again, in a state that's now spending billions more dollars than it will take in this year, there may be advantages all around to selling a huge parcel located right in the heart of one of the hottest commercial real estate markets in the country and, arguably, the world. An infusion of cash always is welcome to any government, and the pile of money comes with future savings to the state and brand new property tax income for Chicago city government.

Here are five arguments to scrap the Thompson Center:

  1. The Thompson Center has been an albatross ever since it opened. The things that make it unique architecturally -- chiefly the vast, open atrium -- make it uniquely unsuited as a workplace.

  • Efficient use of tax dollars is Job No. 1 for any government. The Thompson Center costs a fortune to heat and cool and, according to Rauner, requires three times as much space per worker as in a conventional office environment. When government can save 6 million to 12 million a year by not operating a facility, as Rauner says is the case with the Thompson Center, it has an obligation to go for the savings.
  • The Loop commercial real estate market may never be hotter as Chicago continues to grow as a magnet for corporate headquarters. Boeing, ADM, ConAgra... the list goes on and on. Allowing a developer to buy and build on the Thompson Center site -- an entire block bordered by Clark, Lake, LaSalle and Randolph streets -- would bring a huge infusion of cash to the state while enhancing Chicago's commercial real estate offerings. It'll also create a lucrative new source of property tax revenue for Chicago, which receives nothing from the state-owned Thompson Center.
  • For all its grand aspirations and Helmut Jahn pedigree, the Thompson Center is ugly and dated. While some works of great architecture are timeless, this is more locked in time, much like the bad pop music that was on the radio when it opened.
  • The building's state of disrepair makes it beyond redemption. Rauner cited 100 million in deferred maintenance. For 100 million, you can build a pretty nice building that isn't roach infested, can be temperature controlled to match the seasons and, overall, is not a symbol of dysfunction in a state that needs no help projecting dysfunction.
  • And here are five reasons for keeping the Thompson Center.

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