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Columbia College Chicago
Columbia College Purchases Iconic Johnson Publishing Headquarters Building

Columbia College Purchases Iconic Johnson Publishing Headquarters Building


Letter from the President

Columbia College Chicago is purchasing the Johnson Publishing headquarters at 820 S. Michigan Avenue. In difficult economic times and with a shrinking budget, you may wonder why we would be making this decision now. You may recall that in early 2009, we discovered that due to the Library’s growing collection over time, the weight of the Library itself had come to exceed the capacity of the 624 S. Michigan building structure.  The building remains safe to occupy because we have made some interim changes to address the situation, such as distributing books over a larger area and instituting a policy of no net addition of books in 624 S. Michigan.  (The Library collection growth is being accommodated by using spaces in other buildings.) However, this is obviously only a temporary solution. 

One long-term solution we explored was strengthening the structural capacity of 624 S. Michigan. We determined that process not only would be logistically very difficult but would also be cost prohibitive.

Purchasing the Johnson building presented a rare opportunity for the most cost effective solution to the library situation. Situated across from Grant Park in the middle of our campus, this plan will have the Library centrally located to best serve the entire college. Because the 11-story, 110,000 square-foot building has more space than is presently needed for the Library alone, we will gain the added benefit of having additional building space for future college needs.

This building has historic and legendary importance to the city of Chicago and to African Americans around the globe. It has been home to Ebony and Jet magazines for almost 40 years, was completed in 1972 as the first major downtown Chicago building designed and built by an African-American since Jean Baptiste Point DuSable’s trading post built two centuries earlier. In our commitment to appropriately honor Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and the building, a committee of civic leaders and celebrities is being organized to help determine the appropriate manner of recognize them.

I have never been a fan of rented property, therefore, the excess space in the Johnson Building and/or the space vacated by the Library will make it possible for us to reduce our present use of leased properties and relocate the departments in rented spaces to college-owned buildings.  The cancelation of the majority of the leases will produce important future annual savings which may be used to support the construction needed to accommodate these moves.

Johnson Publishing plans to remain at 820 S. Michigan for the next 18 months. Through our space planning process, we expect to make decisions on the use and configuration of the Johnson building and the space eventually vacated by the Library in the upcoming months.  Many of you will be involved in this planning, and we will keep the entire college community informed of developments and planned relocations as they are determined.

Warrick L. Carter, Ph.D.
President, Columbia College Chicago


Johnson Publishing Building Purchase FAQ

Q: What is the benefit to Columbia College?
A: The purchase of 820 S. Michigan not only provides a cost effective solution for a long-term location for the Library but also provides additional space to enhance our academic and student service programs, which directly enhances the quality of education and the college experience of our students.

The space vacated by the Library also will make it possible for us to reduce our present use of leased properties and relocate some functions to either the Johnson Building or to 624 S. Michigan.  The cancellation of the majority of the leases will produce important future annual savings.

Q. When will Columbia move in?
A: The Library will likely be the first move, and we don’t know the exact date yet, but the space will first need to be renovated to meet the Library’s needs.  Construction would not be able to start until after Johnson Publishing moved out, designs were completed and City permits were obtained. Johnson plans on remaining in the building for about 18 months.

Q: What other programs will be located in the building? When will you determine those programs?
A: We intend to decide how the remainder of the building will used in the upcoming months. However, the space vacated by the Library will make it possible for us to reduce our present use of leased properties and relocate some functions to either the Johnson Building or 624 S. Michigan.

Q: How did Columbia College come to purchase of the building?
A: We were made aware that the building might be available and we pursued it as a possible solution to the Library situation and were pleased to discover that it worked for that purpose.

Q: What is the purchase price for Columbia?
A: Columbia and Johnson have agreed to keep the transaction details confidential. However, the College was able to purchase 820 S. Michigan from its reserves and has not had to assume any debt with this purchase.

Q: Why did you also purchase the parking garage at 801 S. Wabash?
A: If we did not purchase the garage at 801 S. Wabash, we would not have been able to purchase the building.  The acquisition of the parking garage provides the College the ability to offer parking to faculty and staff at reduced rates as well as the opportunity of a centrally located future development site in the heart of our campus.