By Steve Musal
The James R. Thompson Center will be for sale at public auction within the next year, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner announced today.
The building, which currently houses roughly 2,200 state employees and several retail outlets, requires about $100 million in repairs, according to Rauner.
“From a pure financial point of view, this is a compelling opportunity for the people of the state,” Rauner said at a press conference in the Thompson Center. Under his plan, current employees would move, either to other locations in Chicago or to Springfield.
The driving force behind the sale, Rauner said, is saving state taxpayers the costs of repairs and upkeep, which outstrip the one-time revenue gain from the sale.
“Ignoring anything else, just occupancy cost, we could save anywhere between $6 million and $12 million a year,” Rauner said. “We could pay people to take this building from us and save a lot of taxpayer money.”
The governor acknowledged that the buyer, who will be decided at a to-be-scheduled public auction, will have the final say in what happens to the Helmut Jahn-designed building. But Rauner repeatedly expressed hope that it could be replaced with something new.
“This building is ineffective,” Rauner said, adding that state employees complained of noise and that offices took up three times as much space per person as other state offices in Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office declined to comment on the sale. However, Rauner suggested the sale would be good for Chicago, estimating that private ownership would provide the city $20 million each year in taxes not currently applicable to the state-owned building.
There was no response to Rauner’s announcement from the office of Illinois House Speaker Rep. Mike Madigan, who has vocally criticized the governor’s budget plans in the past weeks, though Rauner described him as “forward leaning and positive” about the plan. However, the governor refused to comment on whether his conversation with the speaker had led to any forward progress on or renewed discussion of the ongoing budget impasse.
“I’ve learned over the last nine months that discussing our conversations, the timing, the nature of who’s in them, with the media tends to be counterproductive,” Rauner said. “So I’ve specifically not been doing that.”
However, he did ask the media to call out what he saw as hypocrisy from Democrats in regards to the budget.
“We’ve got baloney going on, ladies and gentlemen, in the arguments,” Rauner said. “I need you to call it, so we stop it and get a budget with real reform.”