Quid Pro Quo

Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money

Midwest Preservation
Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money. Seen here: James R. Thompson Center. (Photo Rainer Viertlboeck - Courtesy of JAHN)
Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money. Seen here: James R. Thompson Center. (Photo Rainer Viertlboeck - Courtesy of JAHN)

In an act of political wrangling that typifies the relationship between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced that if the city would allow the sale of the Helmut Jahn–designed James R. Thompson Center, he would provide the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with additional funding. Last week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he would block the sale of the postmodern building out of fear of having to replace the large CTA subway station beneath it.

Over the past few years, the city and state have played tug-of-war over funding for the often-beleaguered public school system. In his address, Governor Rauner promised to provide an additional $45 million a year through 2040 if the city permitted the sale of the building. It was only a few months ago that Rauner has vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million to CPS’s pension fund.

The battle over the Thompson Center officially began back in October 2015, when Rauner announced his intention to sell the building. He called the building “ineffective,” and “just not useable for much of anything.” The building is facing a deferred maintenance bill of over $100 million and costs the state roughly $12 million a year to operate. Despite that cost, the building contains one of the largest interior public civic spaces in the city, and many fear selling the building to a private developer would be a major loss for the city.

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