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Old County Hospital wins a new reprieve

Friday, January 23, 2004
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

After a sometimes raucous 90-minute debate Thursday, Cook County commissioners again put off a decision on whether to demolish the old Cook County Hospital. A committee hearing was set for Feb. 4, at which developers will present renovation proposals for the 90-year-old building, and they will be expected to provide details for funding the project. County Board President John Stroger wants the old West Side building torn down and has been seeking a vote on demolition bids. In December, Stroger agreed to a month delay and Thursday, when he did not have the votes to go forward with demolition, Stroger went along with another postponement. Larry Suffredin, a veteran lobbyist and first-term Democratic commissioner from Evanston, is leading the charge on the board against demolition. Suffredin is also instrumental in the budget standoff between Stroger and the board, and increasingly Thursday it appeared that he and Stroger were in a larger showdown for control of the 17-member body. Joseph Antunovich, an architect working with one of the developers, said he would be prepared to make a presentation at the hearing. David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, which has worked with Antunovich and the other developers, said Antunovich's plan would call for a private developer to renovate the building and then lease it back to the county for use as medical office space. In pushing his argument for demolition, Stroger acknowledged Thursday that the county has a need for medical office space. The new hospital, which opened last year next door and is named for Stroger, lacks offices for doctors. Stroger also said that the adjacent Rush University Medical Center has been looking for room to expand. Preservationists said the argument for the need for office space plays into their hands because that is what the Antunovich plan would provide. Suffredin and Commissioner Mike Quigley said developers have been discouraged to submit redevelopment proposals, an assertion Stroger and his staff denied. Developers now must demonstrate that preserving the old hospital makes financial sense. "We're still alive in this process," Suffredin said. "Now we're going to have to spend some time on the finances. That's what we're going to have to work on."

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