Historic Chicago Thompson Center effort takes urgency with death of Helmut Jahn

As the clock runs a process that takes several months, the state of Illinois entertain auction potential buyers of the site, which houses the state offices. In April, state officials said the goal was to select a buyer by the end of 2021.

The timing “will be very tight,” said Blasius.

The decision to protect the building was announced in a May 7 statement by a group including AIA Chicago, Preservation Chicago and Docomomo US, which advocates works of modern architecture. The effort took on new urgency days later, after Thompson Center architect Helmut Jahn was killed while riding his bike.

The placement on the National Register opens up tax incentives that could be used to subsidize the rehabilitation of the building, potentially making it more affordable than demolition and new construction at the Randolph Street site.

At the old main post office, for example, tax incentives totaled approximately $ 100 million on the restoration of $ 800 million. John Murphy, whose Murphy’s Real Estate Services rehabilitated the former Cook County Hospital, said historic tax credits stood at at least $ 27 million on the $ 140 million project.

“Without the tax credits, the rehabilitation would not have happened,” Murphy said.

How much would a rehabilitation at the Thompson Center bring in tax incentives? This cannot be determined until a proposal is in place.

Bonnie McDonald, president and CEO of Monuments Illinois, said the state’s bid for the building was essentially dishonest, failing to note in her request for proposals that the Thompson Center was deemed eligible for the National Register in 2009.

The eligibility only clarifies that the building could do the registry, McDonald said, but the request for proposals does not mention it. “We think this is a curious omission,” said McDonald. “It is important to point out to developers that tax incentives would be available to redevelop the building.”

Built in 1985, the Thompson Center does not have a historical designation that would prevent demolition, nor would it be listed in the National Register to prevent demolition. Ward Miller, the chief of Preservation Chicago, said the city’s lack of tracking is due to the fact that “the city respected state jurisdiction over its own building” and that the state of Illinois did not did not continue marking the field.

Since 2016, two successive Illinois governors, Bruce Rauner and JB Pritzker, have attempted to offload the building, in part to help fill the state’s budget deficit with the proceeds from the sale. The Thompson Center has been mocked by state employees almost since the day it opened.

Hailed as a postmodern masterpiece by architects and fellow fans, the building is, like many others of its day, “in the sweet spot of an age when they lack maintenance and look tired, their designs irrelevant, ”said Liz Waytkus, director of York-based New Docomomo. With more time, she says, they take on a patina of age and nostalgia.

In 15 years, “more and more people recognize them as great architecture,” Waytkus said. The effort to get promoters to preserve the Thompson Center, she said, “would give it that time.”

Murphy isn’t sure the tax incentives would do the trick at the Thompson Center like they did in his Cook County Hospital project. One problem: finding a new use for the structure. The 17-story atrium, a magnificent composition of color, light and space, is essential to the appearance of the Thompson Center.

“I don’t know how you reuse the building without changing the atrium,” such as adding floor space that would encroach on the atrium, Murphy said. Yet that would eliminate the possibility of tax credits, which are intended for preservation. Murphy stressed that he did not delve into what it would take to adapt the building for another use.

Tax incentives have also played a role in saving the Chicago Athletic Club on Michigan Avenue and the Reliance Building on State Street, Blasius said. In both cases, “we would have lost gems”.


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About Ethel Nester

Ethel Nester

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