General Assembly approves sale of JRTC

SB 886 contains provisions to allow the State to sell one of its principal pieces of property, the city block in downtown Chicago that currently contains the James R. Thompson Center. The 1.2 million-square-foot office building is currently home to 2,200 State of Illinois workers. However, the 1985 building has not been maintained and requires hundreds of millions of dollars in overdue upkeep and maintenance.

The building’s footprint, which is bounded by LaSalle, Lake, Clark, and Randolph Streets, could be re-used for development. A new building on the site could house private-sector workers, and its owner or operator would pay property taxes to Chicago Public Schools and other public-sector entities that face financial challenges in 2017. As a State building, the Thompson Center currently does not pay property taxes.

The square-block footprint of the Thompson Center is seen as a desirable development opportunity. The parcel of property currently occupied by the aging office building is seen as offering the opportunity to earn a potential one-time payment of $300 million from a developer or development team, representing the inherent value of the property location adjusted for associated costs of demolition and office removal. However, a loophole in the city of Chicago zoning law currently allows the city to effectively “veto” the development of the site.

SB 886, as approved by the Democrat majority, wields this potential veto in such a way as to require a potential Thompson Center developer to pay a large portion of this potential $300 million to the city of Chicago as compensation for the zoning adjustments that will be required to finance and implement the redevelopment. House Republicans voted against SB 886, which was approved by the House on Tuesday, May 30 by a vote of 67-48-0.

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