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The Thompson Center’s Comeback
The Thompson Center, one of Chicago’s most polarizing landmarks, is getting a second chance, thanks to Google.
The tech company is taking the property off the state’s hands and giving downtown Chicago hope for an office comeback. It’s been a long road for the structure. “Opened in May 1985 as the State of Illinois Center, the building was renamed in 1993 to honor former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson. It sits on an entire city block bordered by Lake Street, LaSalle, Randolph and Clark Streets in the heart of downtown Chicago,” according to the State of Illinois’ Central Management Services’ website. Architect Helmut Jahn designed it with his unique aesthetic in mind. “Tall, gridded walls face LaSalle and Lake streets, but on the other sides of the building, Jahn broke from the rigid straight lines of modernism,” writes Chicago Architecture Center. “The southeast profile of the Thompson Center is a slice of a hollow sphere, clad in curved blue glass and salmon-colored steel.”
The building was originally intended as office space for state agencies. But Curb writes that the Thompson Center “racked up $326 million in deferred maintenance and cost $17 million a year just to operate” and “in 2015 the state government decided to offload its money pit, and it’s been largely empty ever since.” After several years of uncertainty around whether the Thompson Center would be demolished, the state and a major developer came to an agreement that would preserve the architecturally significant structure. WTTW reports that earlier this year, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker “announced the state had reached a deal to sell the Thompson Center to developer the Prime Group for $70 million. The state planned to keep 425,000 square feet of office space at the Thompson Center and contribute $148 million toward the renovation of the building.”
But last month, tech behemoth Google decided to make the Thompson Center its second Chicago headquarters. On July 27, Google released a company announcement that said “we intend to buy the iconic James R. Thompson Center building in Chicago’s Loop upon future renovation, which deepens our commitment to Google’s long-term presence in the city” and “we will be getting in on the ground floor of a broader revitalization of the Loop.” The purchase also gives Prime Group a role in Google’s transition. “The search engine giant, with 2,000 employees in Chicago, will occupy the entire building. The state, working out terms with developer Michael Reschke, will sell it to Google for $105 million,” according to The Chicago Sun-Times. “Reschke, CEO of the firm Prime Group, will manage a renovation of the Thompson Center for Google.”
Google’s decision to move into the Thompson Center signals a possible renaissance for the Loop, a location beset by pandemic-related office desertion. “Brokers who are marketing properties for sale or lease in the Loop will use Google as leverage. For tech companies, setting up offices in the Central Loop could suddenly flip from an odd move to a cool one,” Crain’s Chicago Business writes. “Such a shift would reaffirm the Loop as the gravitational center of downtown business for the next generation.” The deal’s ripple effect is coming at a critical time for Chicago. BISNOW reports that “the announcement was especially welcome following the high-profile losses of Boeing, Caterpillar and Citadel, which have all announced plans to move their headquarters out of the city. City and state officials said it also highlights Chicago’s viability as a key player in the tech industry while generating tax revenue for the city.”