October 13, 2015 / 5:01 PM / 3 years ago

Illinois governor eyes sale of landmark Chicago state building

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois will seek to auction off its main building in Chicago, Governor Bruce Rauner said on Tuesday, adding that the Thompson Center is inefficient and that the sale will save the state money and generate property tax revenue for Chicago.

Rauner declined to indicate the market value of the building, which houses 2,000 government workers and which he said will likely be demolished by new owners. Both Chicago and the state of Illinois are mired in financial crisis and the state is currently running without a budget for the fiscal year that began on July 1.

The Republican governor who took office in January said the 30-year-old building is noisy, smelly and too expensive to heat and cool given its immense, 16-story atrium. Keeping it would require $100 million for deferred maintenance and repairs, he added.

The glass-clad Helmut Jahn-designed building is named after former governor James Thompson. Located on the north end of Chicago’s LaSalle Street financial district, it will likely be torn down by a private developer who will return a new development to the property tax rolls generating $20 million annually for cash-strapped Chicago and its public school system, Rauner said. He pegged the state’s savings from moving workers out at up to $12 million a year.

“We think this is a home-run decision in every regard,” the governor told reporters.

Disposing of the Thompson Center is not a new idea for the state. In 2003, facing a $5 billion budget hole, former Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich proposed mortgaging the Chicago-based headquarters of state government in a maneuver his administration predicted could yield $217 million.

But the deal approved by the state legislature fell apart a year later after Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled lawmakers had acted unconstitutionally because too few votes were cast in favor in the Illinois Senate. The votes narrowly missed a three-fifths majority required whenever the state borrows funds.

A spokesman for Rauner said the administration was pursuing a legislative route for authorizing the building’s sale. Rauner said he has discussed the idea with legislative leaders.

“We will review the proposed action in light of state law on property control and facilities closures,” said Moira Dolehide, a spokeswoman for Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.

Former governor Thompson said the building was originally a structural gem that won architectural awards. He told Reuters that he had repeatedly lobbied previous Democratic Governor Pat Quinn to repair the complex, but the pleas fell on deaf ears.

“The carpeting is 30 years old. Who has wall-to-wall carpeting that lasts 30 years?” Thompson said. “It should have been replaced long ago.”

Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Matthew Lewis

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