Thursday, October 15, 2015

Losing the Thompson Center?

We’re still a long ways away from seeing the Thompson Center state government building in Chicago torn down and turned into an annex of the Trump Building a few blocks away.

Will Bilandic Bldg. have longer legacy than Thompson?
After all, the Illinois General Assembly would still have to sign off on any plan to sell the structure to a real estate developer – who could then tear down the 30-year-old building and erect something else (possibly gaudy) in its place.

CONSIDERING THE CURRENT mood of the state Legislature when it comes to all things gubernatorial, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Democratic majorities that dominate both the state Senate and Illinois House of Representatives were to reject the plan purely out of spite.

It will be disguised by the Chicago-based legislators as a desire to maintain the physical presence of Illinois state government within the state’s (by far) most significant city.

Which actually wouldn’t be a bad reason. For a part of me wonders how much Gov. Bruce Rauner is motivated to take this action by a desire to reduce the level of influence that Chicago has over state government operations.

Take away a building that some view as an alternative work place to the Statehouse in Springfield and make some think that the capital city itself doesn’t matter much.

SCATTER THOSE STATE employees who do need to be Chicago-based around various downtown buildings so they quit thinking of themselves as a force. And you also strengthen the morale of those state workers at the Capitol – who often complain about being dissed by their Chicago-based colleagues.

This intersection won't be as political if Gov. Rauner gets his way
I’m sure that when Rauner earlier this week threw out the suggestion that some Chicago-based employees would have their jobs transferred to Springfield, it burned the bottoms (so to speak) of many state workers who would never accept such a move.

Which could make for a round of hiring to get downstate-oriented workers within state government! Politically, it helps make sense to bolster the level of influence Rauner would have over state government.
Remember the 'cocaine' scattered on the floor?
Although in terms of providing actual service to constituents (which theoretically is the only reason government exists to begin with), it’s kind of short-sighted.

NOW AS SOMEONE who once did a two-year stint representing the now-defunct City News Bureau in the press room at the state building (when the structure was only about five years old and also got a tour of by my father back when it was a construction site), I’ll admit I’ll miss the building. The same as I miss the old Sun-Times Building with all its own barge-like lack of style right on the Chicago River.

But I’ll also admit to noticing the level of decrepitness the structure has achieved in recent years. Famed architect Helmut Jahn admits his concept of an urban take on the open-air space under a Capitol rotunda has been allowed to go to seed. I don’t know if I’d feel the same level of sentiment if I had to work there now.

But that doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t have a strong physical presence in Chicago. Although I wonder if this means the Bilandic Building (that houses the appellate and Supreme courts in Chicago) could revert back to its old “State of Illinois Building” status.

With a few stray agencies scattered around the Loop. And most people thinking of state government solely when they visit their local driver testing facility to get their licenses or license plates renewed.

SO PERHAPS IN the long run, it won’t impact many people. Although I wonder what happens when a future governor who thinks a little more long-range than the current occupant of the Executive Mansion does decides Illinois needs its own building in Chicago?

Will we be scouring the city for a location – when the perfect site right across the street from both City Hall and the old State Building is taken by a developer who turns it into an over-glorified shopping center with condos on top?

A historic relic of the future?
And if the Thompson Center really does disappear, then what happens to that black-and-white blob of a sculpture by Jean Dubuffet that has sat outside the structure for decades.

Auction it off to the highest bidder (some overly-wealthy individual who’s willing to buy anything)? Or perhaps move it to the Chicago History Museum – put it in the entrance right before you get to see the dioramas of “historic” Chicago.


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