Google Buys Thompson Center, Will Preserve Much Loved, Loathed Loop Landmark

Video: Bonnie McDonald, President and CEO of Landmarks Illinois; and Elizabeth Blasius, an architectural historian and co-founder of Preservation Futures join “Chicago Tonight” to talk about Google’s purchase of the Thompson Center and the building’s renovations.  (Produced by Jennifer Cotto)

Google will buy the much beloved and equally loathed James R. Thompson Center in the heart of the Loop for $105 million and transform it into a second Chicago headquarters, officials announced Wednesday.

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Google’s announcement that it would take the Helmut Jahn-designed structure off the state of Illinois’ hands caps a years-long effort to figure out what to do with 1.2-million-square-foot building at Randolph and LaSalle streets with its distinctive red-and-blue accented steel frame.

Named for the former governor, the building opened in 1985, and almost immediately fell into disrepair, leaving the state with a $325 million bill for deferred maintenance and seemingly no good options. 

Google’s announcement means that the building will not be demolished, delighting preservation advocates, and represents a major coup for Chicago officials battling concerns that the shift to remote work will leech the Central Business District of vitality amid a continuing spike in crime in and around downtown Chicago.

Google’s decision to expand its Chicago operation will also boost the re-election bids of Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who celebrated the tech giant’s bet on downtown Chicago at a news conference underneath the building’s soaring atrium.

“Google’s announcement of their expansion today is a massive win for the city of Chicago and for Illinois taxpayers,” Pritzker said.

Seven months ago, Pritzker announced the state had reached a deal to sell the Thompson Center to developer the Prime Group for $70 million. The state planned to keep 425,000 square feet of office space at the Thompson Center and contribute $148 million toward the renovation of the building.

However under the revised plans, Google will take over the entire building, which means state officials have to relocate those offices. 

State officials will use $75 million from the sale of the Thompson Center to purchase 115 S. LaSalle St., the former headquarters for BMO Harris Bank. Those offices will house nearly 1,800 employees who now work at the Thompson Center and other leased offices, officials said. More than 2,000 state employees already moved from the Thompson Center to 555 W. Monroe St. and nearby public buildings. That purchase cost $73.3 million, officials said.

“This transformative agreement will save our taxpayers nearly a billion dollars over the next 30 years – and further Chicago’s reputation as one of the great tech hubs not just of the United States, but of the world,” Pritzker said.

The interior of the James R. Thompson Center is pictured on July 12, 2022. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)The interior of the James R. Thompson Center is pictured on July 12, 2022. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

Returning a 3-acre, full city block in the heart of the Loop to the property tax rolls will add $20 million to the city’s coffers — and another $25 million to other taxing agencies like the Chicago Public Schools, officials said.

Lightfoot said that move will help revitalize the La Salle Street corridor, which has struggled in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, Lightfoot said she expected Google’s decision to expand its operation in the Loop will have a catalytic impact like the one that came after the tech giant’s decision to move from River North to the Fulton Market district, where it now has 1,800 employees.

Prime Group’s Michael Reschke called Google’s decision to buy the Thompson Center a “major vote of confidence for downtown,” and said it was the largest corporate expansion in Chicago in more than two decades.

Karen Sauder, the head of Google’s Chicago operation, said she expects the renovation of the Thompson Center to be completed in 2026.

“The way we see it, the Thompson Center is more than just a building,” Sauder said. “Establishing a presence here in the Loop allows us to get in on the ground floor of revitalizing and breathing new life into the heart of the city. Just as we're proud of the role we played in turning Fulton Market into one of the most vibrant and energetic neighborhoods in the city, we have the opportunity to do it all over again here.”

There will be no change to the CTA’s Clark and Lake super station, which is connected to the Thompson Center, officials said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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