- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Bruce Rauner has pitched vacating and selling the James R. Thompson Center, which houses state government offices in downtown Chicago. Here’s a closer look at the building:


Most residents know the Thompson Center for its location on a major Chicago Transit Authority stop or as the place to renew drivers’ licenses downtown. But the building is also where all statewide elected officers, including the governor, comptroller and treasurer, have offices. The same goes for commissions and Illinois’ professional licensing entity.

That means the building is a whirlwind of news conferences, public hearings, attorney meetings and protests.

There’s plenty of non-government activity too, with a food court, nail salon, steakhouse and state museum outpost. Tourists are a common sight both in the expansive atrium and outdoor plaza with a sculpture by artist Jean Dubuffet.


Since the 1985 ribbon-cutting, architect Helmut Jahn’s design has been a bit controversial.

For one, it sticks out. Surrounded by the clean lines of towering office buildings and solemn government facilities, the Thompson Center features a rounded glass-covered half-dome and blue and salmon-pink accents.

“People were both mystified and fascinated by it,” said Tim Samuelson, a cultural historian with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs who points it out on tours.

Jahn, who designed it when James Thompson was governor, has called it a symbol for the “transparency” of state government. Architecture experts say the idea was a play on the state Capitol experience with a dramatic look-up-at-the-ceiling moment.


The building has some drawbacks, too. Engineers say heating and cooling costs are extensive in the 1.2 million square-foot-building; employees complain of inconsistent temperatures.

Noise echoes: A 2012 popup concert featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Renée Fleming in the concourse-level food court reverberated throughout the building.

In 2009, a granite panel fell off the building outside. Nobody was hurt.

The upkeep is lacking, too, with frayed carpet covered by duct tape, rust-stained walls and unreliable glass elevators.

Rauner estimates there’s nearly roughly $100 million in deferred maintenance - money that isn’t easy to come by in a state with other serious fiscal issues.


The site has been floated as a possible casino in previous years, but several attempts to expand gambling in Illinois have failed.

Rauner has said the site would work well for a mixed-use facility, such as condominiums, stores, a hotel and a theater.

He added that it’s an easy tear-down, which irked architectural experts.

The Republican governor, who spends less time in the building than his Democratic predecessor Pat Quinn, declined to “comment on the aesthetics” of the building.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.


Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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