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An Audacious Expansion is Coming to the Illinois Medical District

Saturday, May 25, 2013
Chicago Grid
by Sandra Guy

The Illinois Medical District plans a high-tech expansion as audacious as its decadelong mismanagement that ended in a $40 million revenue-bond default last year.

The district, whose 560 acres cover most of the Near South and West sides, is now off the hook after it leased space in its buildings and received a grant reimbursement in March 2012 from money never used to expand biotech, biomedical and life sciences buildings. An independent audit found no criminal activities in the fiasco.

“It was simply a matter of massive ineptitude in management of the bond funds,” says Warren Ribley, the executive director of the district’s governing commission.

“That was then. This is now,” he says. “We’ve undergone a fiscal and cultural transformation and we’re now bringing new money — and new life — back to the district.”

Plans call for development of 55 vacant acres, a link to the University of Illinois’ supercomputer and a retail, hotel, restaurant, office and convention meeting-space complex at 2020 W. Ogden Ave. aimed at giving employees and hospital patients’ families reasons to stay on campus to eat, shop and network.

The medical district houses four hospitals: Cook County, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

The expansion’s goal is to create 2,500 to 4,500 permanent jobs and more than $300 million in new revenue in the next 10 years.

The district’s most recent new revenue comes from a lease of three floors in a five-story vacant building at 2235 W. 13th St. to the Anatomical Gift Association, bringing in $170,000 yearly. The association, which returns after leaving the district nine years ago, provides cadavers for medical study.

Ribley, former head of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, was hired a year ago to take charge of the medical district’s makeover.

He wants to reinvigorate the park’s mission when it was created 72 years ago: to promote medical education and medical and health care research, set up research labs whose technologies could be commercialized, and create local businesses based on the lab research.

The health care improvements would result from the district’s new pact with private research firm Quintiles, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., to improve clinical trial results by improving patient recruitment, data analytics and clinical trial management.

The hospitals now are involved in 700 clinical trials and receive $220 million in research funding, but the management company could boost that by as much as 30 percent, estimates show.

Here’s how each of the goals works:

• Three developers are vying to build the seven-building retail and office complex on nearly 10 acres at the intersection of Ogden, Damen and Harrison.

• The 55 acres come with a variety of tax benefits, including 35 acres in an enterprise zone and 15 in a tax increment financing district.

• A high-speed fiber optic line slated for hookup this spring will link the park’s researchers to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s “Blue Waters” supercomputer, the most powerful supercomputer on a university campus.

• A flagship biotech “validation center” called the Health, Technology and Innovation Center, where biotech startups can convert their technologies into products and validate their products’ market viability.

Despite the medical district’s woes, it is the largest such urban district in the nation, with two universities (University of Illinois at Chicago and Rush University), four labs and 30 companies in the Chicago Technology Park.

The medical district’s tenants together employ 22,000 people and generate $3.3 billion in economic “activity,” which covers production, distribution, and consumption of goods, products and services.

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