Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Fol­low the Edi­to­rial Board on Twit­ter: @ cste­d­i­to­ri­als

Make it work or tear it down.

Chicago’s Old Main Post Of­fice, strad­dling the east­ern end of the Eisen­hower Expy., has been sit­ting empty now for two decades.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to use the city’s power of em­i­nent do­main to gain ti­tle to the enor­mous struc­ture, and that sounds right to us. The cur­rent owner, Bri­tish de­vel­oper Bill Davies, has done noth­ing with the Art Deco build­ing for eight years, even as that cor­ner of the Loop strug­gles to thrive.

Plans have come and gone. Enough al­ready.

Emanuel has said he wants to tear the build­ing down; he wants to take it over and so­licit bids to re­de­velop it. But there must be se­ri­ous doubt at this point as to whether any­body will ever hit upon a prac­ti­cal new use for this white ele­phant from a lost day— back when mail, not email, was king.

We’re talk­ing 2.5 mil­lion square feet of floor space. Sixty acres.

The en­tire neigh­bor­hood could be so much more vi­brant, dy­namic and com­mer­cially de­sir­able. But the empty post of­fice sucks in the en­ergy like a black hole.

Emanuel wants to get started on re­quests for pro­pos­als im­me­di­ately, with a win­ner to be given the go- ahead by this sum­mer. Whichever de­vel­oper gets its hands on the pro­ject will be ex­pected to move for­ward with­out help from tax­pay­ers.

Ter­rific. But let’s also start a clock tick­ing. If the city and a de­vel­oper can’t put to­gether a fi­nal use for this build­ing in some short but rea­son­able span of time— let’s say a year— how about we just tear it down?

Don’t yell at us. We’d hate to see that, too. The Old Post Of­fice was de­signed by the same ar­chi­tects who gave us the Field Mu­seum, the Mer­chan­dise Mart and Union Sta­tion. It’s close to all sorts of trans­porta­tion links. Ward Miller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Preser­va­tion Chicago, says, “This is an amaz­ing struc­ture in ev­ery re­gard. We would like to see this build­ing re­tained and reused.”

But even the most ar­chi­tec­turally sig­nif­i­cant build­ing has to serve a pur­pose. And right now the old Post Of­fice is in dan­ger of de­mo­li­tion by ne­glect. It has been cited for build­ing code vi­o­la­tions.

Ev­ery­body has had an idea for this thing, and ev­ery idea has gone bust. Make it a retail mall, or a casino, or an in­door auto mall, or a high- speed rail ter­mi­nal, or a park­ing lot, or a wa­ter park, or a ho­tel, or an of­fice build­ing, or the big­gest condo build­ing in the world, or an ex­hi­bi­tion hall for the hard­ware in­dus­try.

Al­low­ing a mu­nic­i­pal­ity to move in and con­demn a pri­vately owned build­ing is a dicey propo­si­tion. Where does such govern­ment in­tru­sion end? Em­i­nent do­main is a power eas­ily abused.

But the co­er­cive use of em­i­nent do­main in this case is en­tirely jus­ti­fied. Two decades is a more than rea­son­able amount of time to let pri­vate de­vel­op­ers get their act to­gether, which they have not.

In the mean­time, the Old Post Of­fice looms empty and dark above the ex­press­way, a mes­sage to ev­ery­body driv­ing by that Chicago doesn’t have its act to­gether.

Ev­ery­body has had an idea for this thing, and ev­ery idea has gone bust.

The Old Main Post Of­fice

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