“Tearing down a pair of early 20th-century towers and their neighbors on State Street would be a waste of money, natural resources and the city’s architectural heritage, speakers at a federal hearing said Thursday night.
“The hearing was the start of the General Services Administration’s public engagement process for its proposed demolition of a row of four buildings, the 16-story Century Building, the 22-story Consumers Building and two low-rises between them. Earlier this year, Congress allocated $52 million for demolition of the strip, from 202 to 220 S. State St. The move is designed to reduce security risks for the Everett Dirksen U.S. Courthouse immediately to the west.
“About a dozen architects, preservationists and others all urged the GSA to back off the demolition plan. No commenters at the hearing stood up for demolition.
“‘Everyone involved should be ashamed,’ said Chicago resident Aoife Fahey, who attended the meeting virtually.
“Demolishing the buildings would be ‘a waste and a bad decision,’ said Keith Giles, a veteran Chicago developer who was a partner in a $141 million residential redevelopment project for the buildings before Chicago officials halted the plan in 2019 because of the federal government’s security concerns.
“‘I respect and understand the importance of security, particularly in today’s world,’ Giles said. ‘However, eliminating these buildings and creating a large empty plaza with a few security guards will be a mistake if it happens.’
“Renovation is one of the possibilities, the GSA noted in its introductory slide show Thursday, but it would come with a set of 15 stipulations aimed at helping with security. Among them are no residential use of the buildings, no occupants with sight lines into the Dirksen or other federal properties, and no parking in or next to the buildings.
“In May, a coalition of archives proposed a [Chicago Collaborative Archive Center] plan they believe meets all the stipulations. Filling the building with several private archives would limit the number of people using the buildings and allow for extra security measures that might feel burdensome to more bustling users.
“Pallmeyer said there is ‘a lack of significant federal funds to make long-term improvements’ to the buildings. Speakers from Preservation Chicago urged the GSA to put the allocated $52 million toward restoration of the buildings with safety concerns in mind. Making that switch would entail getting two words inserted into the legislation: ‘demolish’ would become ‘demolish or renovate.’
“Preservation Chicago’s Adam Natenshon said that while there’s no solid estimate of the cost to renovate the buildings, he felt confident it would be less than demolition. The recent renovation project at Lane Tech High School, he said, entailed rehabbing more than twice the combined square footage of the State Street quartet, but the total cost was $52 million. That’s the same amount allocated for demolition on State Street.
“At the meeting, the GSA laid out a timeline for the engagement process that will last two years before a final decision is made. The four buildings, which have sat unused for almost 17 years, will remain in limbo during that time.
“‘It’s tragic that the buildings will stand another two years vacant and with few repairs, when there are viable reuse options,’ said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s executive director.