THREATENED: GSA Releases Structural Report on Century and Consumers Buildings Confirming Decades of Neglect (Chicago 7 2011, 2013, 2022 & 2023)

“Putting a pair of empty State Street buildings to new use might be a little better than tearing them down as planned, a new draft report from a federal agency says.

“Demolition of the Century Building, 202 S. State, and the Consumers Building, 220 S. State, would have a ‘negative, moderate effect’ on the historic Loop retail district, its other structures and aesthetics, the report says. But adaptative reuse of the two buildings would have a ‘beneficial, moderate’ impact on the surrounding area’s economy, employment growth and historic integrity.

“In other words, demolition would hurt more than reusing the buildings, but not a lot more.

“Ward Miller, a leader in the effort to prevent demolition, told Crain’s he believes the report is ‘a farce.’ Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said that the report seems to “move the needle slightly’ toward saving the buildings but that it was another piece of ‘a railroaded process that has disappointed us all.”

“The report, a draft environmental impact report released Sept. 11 by the General Services Administration, is part of a mandated public engagement process on the fate of the buildings. Both towers, which date to the early days of State Street high-rises, have been at the center of a debate over demolition since early 2022.

“It started when Congress allocated $52 million to the GSA to demolish the buildings, which the federal government bought in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a 2004 threat of a truck bomb aimed at the Dirksen Federal Building, immediately west of the row. The primary justification is that the buildings could harbor someone who wanted to perpetrate violence, perhaps with a gun or bomb, against the judges and staff who work in the Dirksen building.

“Preservation groups, including Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago, immediately began decrying the potential loss of two early high-rises and the gap that demolition would leave on State Street. A third, smaller and less distinguished building between the pair is also in play.

“In May, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks recommended making the buildings city landmarks, which would create an obstacle to demolition. The GSA, which is officially neutral on the question of demolition, noted in its report that the $52 million federal allocation is for demolition only and cannot be automatically shifted to cover renovation for reuse instead.

“Miller said the government has “been doing the do-nothing alternative for 17 years” since acquiring the buildings. “It’s demolition by neglect,” Miller said.

“In April the GSA demolished a fourth building on the site, a three-story structure at 208-12 S. State, that the agency reported in a press release at the time had been unoccupied for several years, “is not structurally sound and presents risks, including potential facade collapse that would endanger pedestrians and street traffic.”

“Today Miller said the two distinguished century-old towers, Century and Consumers, which both have architectural pedigrees, ‘are being treated the same way’ as the now-demolished building that stood between them.

“In its report, the GSA includes a list of 15 stipulations it would attach to any adaptive reuse project for the two buildings.

“In May 2022, a group of archives proposed turning the pair of buildings into a large-scale joint research archive of the records of religious orders and other historical groups. Because it would have limited visitor access and could entail closing off all windows that face the Dirksen, it appeared to meet the security requirements.” (Rodkin, Crains, 9/12/23)

Read the full story at Crain’s Chicago Business

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