GSA Considering Demolition of Berghoff Restaurant for Federal Center Expansion

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(Photo: GSA to Chicago: Don’t get used to this building? Credit: Looper.)

Today at the Chicago Cultural Center, Friends of Downtown presented a lecture on the General Services Administration’s expansion plans for the Chicago Loop Federal Center complex. Since 2005, the GSA has acquired all buildings on the block bounded by State, Dearborn, Adams, and Jackson save for the erstwhile Berghoff building, in order to meet a forecast need for an additional 1.5 million square feet of office space by 2032.

Up to now, the GSA has taken pains to point out that the agency has no plans to acquire and potentially demolish the Berghoff space, assurances repeated at today’s lecture. However, the public distribution copy of the expansion plan distributed at today’s event tells a somewhat different story. Option V-b, one of six conceptual plans for the block, specifically calls for the demolition of “all existing buildings, including 17 West Adams (The Berghoff Restaurant)” (emphasis added) in order to fully build out the block.

There’s the soft-shoed approach and then there’s sheer disingenuousness. At today’s event, GSA assistant regional director J. David Hood explained each of the six conceptual plans in detail, continually referring to the agency’s commitment to keep the historic reataurant space right where it is. Given that the above-quoted passage comes from the opening sentence of the description of Option V-b contained in the expansion plan, it’s curious that that particular detail was completely absent from Hood’s presentation.

Don’t go picketing the Kluczynski Building just yet, though. Beyond stabilizing the facade of the historic but long-vacant structure at 202 S. State Street and potentially closing Quincy Court to vehicular traffic, due to the glacial pace of the Congressional funding process, nothing more significant than awning and lighting improvements for the newly purchased buildings is expected to happen…for the next eight to ten years. Sometime in the middle of the next decade, however, the GSA may raze some or all of the buildings fronting State Street and build a short tower. Or a tall tower. Or an infill tower. Respecting the architectural integrity of the State Street street wall. Or not. If anyone went into today’s lecture looking for clarity about the GSA’s long-term plans for the block, I assure you they’re still looking.

Moreover, if the GSA didn’t have a clear idea about what it wanted to do with the block before asking Congress for the $53 million it took to buy it out, then this country’s in worse shape than I thought. But don’t go by me, read the GSA’s “Chicago Federal Campus Expansion Plan” for yourself. You can request a public copy from the GSA’s Great Lakes Regional Office by calling 312-353-5395–in theory. Although when I called they had no idea where to find one.

More easily, you can download a PDF copy of the public document that Yours Truly manually scanned over lunch (but beware, the file is 20 MB so don’t try this on dial-up).

Also overheard at today’s lecture, an unidentified developer discussing the potential for the GSA to acquire floorwide office space in a State Street building that will come on the market next year “above two floors of retail”. Does that sound like the soon-to-be-vacated Carson Pirie Scott store to you? According to a report yesterday from Crain’s Chicago Business Online, since buying the fading retailer out of its lease at 1 South State Street, the savvy owners of that building, Joseph Freed and Associates, have been besieged with inquiries from retailers chomping at the bit to be housed on the two lower floors of the landmark, behind windows covered in exuberant Louis Sullivan cast-iron floral filigree. However, less has been known about Freed’s intentions regarding potential tenants for the building’s middle floors (from an earlier conversion, the site’s topmost floors already host private offices and classroom space for the School of the Art Institue).

Memo to Freed: if you do get the GSA to sign on the dotted line, best to send the documents by messenger. They may own $53 million worth of abandoned buildings, but I get the feeling they don’t own a copy of Acrobat…

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