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Springfield's Capitol Complex:
making it look more like a Capitol Complex

The Capitol Complex is the center of state government in Illinois and the second biggest tourist attraction in Springfield after the Lincoln home. It is not a pretty sight. Coming into the 18-block area around the state Capitol from almost any direction, a visitor will encounter the ugly relics of failed previous efforts to improve the Capitol Complex.

Viewing the Capitol from two blocks north, the foreground includes two vast parking lots that look like the remnants of a rock quarry. Buildings on the lots were torn down to make way for an office building that was never constructed.

Coming from the east, a visitor will pass another parking lot that, under one plan, was supposed to be a courts complex. Continuing on the same route with the Capitol dead ahead, a visitor goes under a railroad bridge that was supposed to be removed under yet another plan.

From the south, where one plan actually called for parking lots, there is a gas station, weed-choked lots and a series of small office buildings featuring a hodge-podge of architectural styles.

Only from the west does someone entering the Capitol Complex encounter what state planners remotely had in mind when the last Capitol Complex development plan was put together in the mid-1970s. The Visitors Center, featuring landscaped parking lots partially screened from the street, was opened in 1988 in an area planners thought should be low density state or private development to act as a buffer between the Capitol Complex and the nearby residential neighborhood. Although the Visitors Center was originally planned for a different location, it does fit the planners' land use criteria.

But even the view from the west is marred by the Stratton Office Building whose exterior is so ugly Secy. of State Jim Edgar wants to cover it with a new facade. Edgar is charged by state law with maintaining most state-owned Capitol Complex buildings and grounds, and his staff played an integral role in developing the latest Capitol Complex plan.

At least some of the Capitol Complex appearance could change if the state follows through with yet another plan to guide development around the Capitol. With reminders of previous failed plans still littering the Capitol area, a special committee formed by Gov. James R. Thompson has

Looking south, across a sea of surface parking lots, the Capitol in the background is the architectural center of the Capitol Complex. The new plan includes renovation of the Armory (far left) and also of the Waterways Building (far right). A new State Police headquarters building is scheduled to be built between the Armory and the Waterways building.

12/January 1990/Illinois Issues

Photos by Randy D. Squires

Stratton Office Building

Supreme Court Building

Centennial Building

devised what is at least the eighth document covering Capitol development either directly or indirectly since 1924. It is an ambitious plan that includes extensive landscaping, new parks, new buildings, parking areas and a unified historical theme. It's a plan that must balance practical considerations of developing usable and much-needed office space around the Capitol with aesthetic concerns for making the area look more like, well, a Capitol Complex.

The new seven-year plan must further balance those efforts with both fiscal and political reality. What the planners want will cost money, about $136 million if the latest plan is fully implemented. From a political sense the latest development effort is getting underway at the worst possible time. The final plan was drafted and presented to Gov. Thompson in May, only two months before he announced he will not seek another term. Changing administrations with different priorities have brought more than one previous Capitol Complex plan to an end before it could be fully implemented.

The state has already made a start to implement the plan. Some $21.7 million was appropriated for Capitol Complex projects in the current fiscal year, although not all of that money will be spent. Nearly $7 million was earmarked for projects that weren't supposed to get underway until years two and three of the seven-year plan. State building officials said they will not start those projects early even though the money was appropriated. The state will proceed with design work for a new State Police building, renovation of the old Waterways building for the Fourth Appellate Court offices, construction of a parking ramp, and landscaping around existing Capitol Complex buildings.

The state has also spent nearly $2 million to buy a private office building just northwest of the Capitol at 222 So. College which houses a bar and some state offices. That building will be used as temporary quarters for workers displaced during renovation projects contained in the latest plan.

If there is uncertainty about how far Capitol Complex development will go under the latest plan, there was agreement that some plan was needed and that aesthetics had to be part of it. "You can't print what I think the area looks like," said Sen. Roger Keats (R-29, Glencoe), a member of the committee assigned to develop the latest plan. "The present campus is clearly one of the ugliest, most atrocious complexes in the country. The Capitol is gorgeous. The Centennial Building and the library are beautiful. Then, you have all of those parking lots."

Springfield city officials and local civic leaders are no less adamant in their belief that the complex must be spruced up. Tourism is a vital part of the city's economy, and the state Capitol is the most visited site in Springfield after Lincoln's home. "Our complex does not provide the physical environment that a lot of complexes provide," said Michael Boer, president of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Capitol Complex Committee. "The ones I've been in, there are no sidewalks that are cracked and broken. There are better streetscapes. The ambience of the central business district plays a big role in the vitality of an area. There are a lot of people who draw a first and lasting impression based on what they see [around the Capitol]. I think improved aesthetics will have a positive impact on the tourism business."

Houses and some commercial buildings around the Capitol have given way to parking lots, parking lots and more parking lots. Most of them are not black-topped nor fully landscaped, giving them the appearance of parking facilities at live bait stores on the Illinois River.

Some private buildings have gone up around the Capitol like Lincoln Tower that bear little resemblance to the stone-clad government buildings Edgar thinks should dominate the area. The Willard Ice Building (housing the Revenue Department) on the northern fringe of the Capitol Complex is another example, a space-age edifice that threw traditional design to the wind.

To improve the aesthetics of the complex, planners came up with two recommendations to guide future construction. One recommendation was that "all buildings should be complementary to the Capitol in design and the selection of the exterior facade." To Edgar, that means a complex filled with buildings that are stone-clad and similar in appearance to the Supreme Court, Centennial Building and the Capitol. The $36 million State Library building under construction near the Capitol is the latest example of this style. It was a design personally selected by Edgar who, as state librarian, has jurisdiction over the state library.

Interestingly, while Edgar has pushed for uniformity in Capitol Complex buildings, Gov. Thompson took an opposite tack

January 1990/Illinois Issues/13

Capitol Complex Plan

1. New State Library (under construction)

2. Visitors' Center (opened 1988)

3. New State Police Headquarters

4. Parking Structure I

5. Parking Structure II

6. Stratton Office Building renovation and new construction filling in east and west sides

7. Armory renovation

8. Parking Lot upgrade

9. Tunnel connecting new library to Capitol (not shown on map)

10. Parking Structure III (location to be decided after traffic flow study)

11. Purchase of 222 S. College building

Addition to plan: Renovation of Waterways building, northwest of Capitol at Monroe and 1st

Source: Capital Development Board and Final Report of the Governor's Capitol Complex Planning Committee, adopted June 1, 1988.

when the plan was presented to him last May. Thompson, who selected the design for the State of Illinois Center in Chicago, suggested a different approach when talk turned to making the Stratton look like other Capitol Complex buildings: "Let's jazz it up a little. Let's add some color." To date, the plan has not been altered to "jazz it up."

Planners didn't limit to new construction their belief that Capitol area buildings should be similar in appearance. One component of the plan includes major renovation of the Stratton Office Building, one of those 1950s relics that features a bland, utilitarian design. Included in this plan is putting a new stone facade on the Stratton at a cost of $12 million to give the building the same exterior look as other buildings in the complex. (Edgar is quick to point out that the existing facade is deteriorating rapidly and money will have to be spent to repair it, whether with a new stone exterior or something else.)

Of more immediate visibility to the public will be the landscaping plan adopted by the planning group to give the complex a unified look. Developed by Upchurc and Associates, the landscape plan is supposed to give the entire complex a late 1800s feel to simulate the area as it was when the Capitol was finished in 1888. The landscape scheme calls for Victorian-style street lamps to be installed throughout the complex, along with trees and benches. Sidewalks around the core of the complex will be replaced with new sidewalk featuring an "amenity strip" of concrete pavers that will resemble bricks. Kiosks, trees and other plantings will round out the land-scape theme. With the exception of the Victorian street lamps, the Capitol Complex landscape scheme closely resembles the landscape plan the city of Springfield is slowly bringing to the downtown area near the Capitol.

Even at $ 1.2 million for landscaping and $12 million to put a new exterior on the Stratton Office Building, aesthetics will account for only a small part of the $136 million outlay for the Capitol Complex plan. Even if the cost were higher, Keats, a conservative member of the Illinois Senate, said the outlays should not be unpopular with the public. "I don't have any trouble with it," Keats said. "People don't [complain] about money spent on the Lincoln home or the Dana-Thomas House. There

l4/January 1990/Illinois Issues

are certain things you just spend money on. People should be proud of the complex.'' What the public complains about, Keats said, are some of the other ways the legislators find to spend money, like on pay raises for themselves.

The bulk of the Capitol Complex budget will go toward the more practical aspects of the plan providing additional office space near the Capitol to consolidate state government operations and taking the first steps toward solving the parking problems that exist there.

The largest single outlay $50.6 million projected will go toward upgrading and expanding the Stratton Office Building. That estimate includes the cost of placing a new facade on the building. Plans to infill the courtyards of the H-shaped building will add 269,000 gross square feet to it, enabling further consolidation of state agencies.

The next largest expense is construction of a new State Police headquarters at a cost of $38.2 million. It will be constructed west of the Armory and will provide a central location for all administrative and forensic operations.

Also on the building list is the state Armory, a building so ugly and in such disrepair that Edgar usually takes pains to mention that it is one of the few Capitol Complex buildings that is not under his jurisdiction (exemptions to the secretary of state's jurisdiction include the Armory, which is under the governor, the Attorney General's building and the Supreme Court building). More than $16 million is earmarked to completely rehabilitate the building, a process that will add about 30,000 net square feet just by making the existing space more efficient.

Finally, $4 million is earmarked to renovate the old Waterways building into a new home for the Fourth District Appellate Court.

Two 750-space parking ramps are also planned at a cost of more than $11 million for both of them. One ramp will be built north of the Visitors Center, replacing one of the surface lots that dot the complex. The second is planned for an area north of the new State Police headquarters on land that is now used for parking by a nearby hotel. Eventually, planners want to build a third ramp in the complex, the site to be chosen based on yet-to-be-done traffic studies. By the time that ramp is built, the estimated cost will have increased to $7.2 million.

Despite the proliferation of parking lots in the complex, there still is not enough capacity to handle the number of workers in the area, planners said. There are already nearly 3,800 spaces in the complex, but that only means one space for every 5.5 employees. The city of Springfield recommends one space for every three employees, still considered a low ratio by some, but substantially higher than what is available in the complex. Capitol Complex planners agree with the city ratio and say the state should try to move to that figure. But even if all of the parking ramps planned are built, the ratio will only drop to one space for every 4.3 employees.

After nearly 18 months of work, the governor's Capitol Complex Planning Committee produced a document that former Deputy Gov. James Reilly, the committee chairman, called feasible and affordable. The committee's job was made some-what easier when it decided to build on the mid-1970s plan rather than create an entirely new document. Construction of a new State Police headquarters, for example, is essentially a refinement of a 1970s proposal to build a major new office building just north of the Capitol.

Compared to previous plans, the latest Capitol Complex document is limited in scope to a relatively few years and a relatively few projects that the state could reasonably be expected to complete. "It was a pretty good job of scoping out specific projects that could realistically be done in the near future," Boer said. "It's pretty hard to do long-term planning for anything that relies on political considerations."

While the new plan may be limited in scope compared to previous efforts, that isn't enough to convince all of the skeptics that this latest proposal will end up as anything more than a document collecting dust on bureaucratic shelves. Had the previous seven plans been followed completely including the 1970s version the Capitol Complex would look vastly different than it does today.

The Capitol Complex projects are in direct competition for scarce state building dollars with hundreds of projects throughout the state. Thompson has said he is committed to the plan, but he will leave office in January 1991. Still, some $21.7 million has been appropriated to the Capitol Complex this fiscal year to begin work on the State Police building and one of the parking ramps.

Once Thompson leaves office, responsibility for following through with plans will likely fall to either Edgar or Atty. Gen. Neil F. Hartigan, the two leading gubernatorial candidates.

Edgar is pleased with the plan developed by the committee, but said only time will tell how much of the plan is executed. "We have to look at what else is on the table [for building projects]," Edgar said. "We're not going to put Springfield first and forget about the rest of the state. What's important is that we have a master plan so development is not helter-skelter. That's been the problem in the past. There is so much quick growth that we end up with buildings 20 years down the road that don't look good and aren't really functional.'' Edgar called the Capitol Complex plan "a reasonable approach that is not a long, long-term program. The question is will the resources be there. What was proposed was reasonable."

Atty. Gen. Hartigan expressed reservations about the lack of public input into the plan and, like Edgar, said Capitol Complex spending must be balanced against other state needs. Hartigan said he has unanswered questions on an administration plan to spend $100 million to buy a dozen Springfield buildings the state now leases. That purchase and the $285 million price tag Hartigan puts on the Capitol Complex improvements (Hartigan includes debt service costs.) would boost Springfield building projects to nearly $400 million.

"That's an enormous sum of money. We need to put the brakes on as far as state finances are concerned," Hartigan said. Hartigan questioned spending more than $12 million to put a new facade on the Stratton Office Building, but said parts of the plan may be justified. If elected governor, Hartigan said he would favor public hearings on the Capitol Complex plan.

Doug Finke is a reporter in the Statehouse bureau for the State Journal-Register Springfield.

January 1990/Illinois Issues/15

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