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Old Cook County Hospital rehab gets thumbs up

Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County commissioners Tuesday endorsed a $550 million-plus plan to rehabilitate the long-shuttered old Cook County Hospital and surrounding area on the city's Near West Side in what could become a signature project for County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

With only one dissenting vote, the Finance Committee endorsed the plan, making the full County Board vote slated for Wednesday's meeting little more than a formality.

CommissionerLarry Suffredin, D-Evanston, an occasional critic of Preckwinkle, was effusive in his praise, noting all the attention given to movie mogulGeorge Lucas' efforts to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a lakefront museum of narrative arts.

"There's been a lot of talk in this community about one individual who wanted to invest $700 million to build a museum in the city of Chicago," Suffredin said. "This is a $600 million investment.

"This is as significant, if not more, because of the location where it is. This preserves the historical integrity of the old Cook County Hospital. This gives the medical center a front door. This gives us buildings and affordable housing that has not been in the medical district."

Other commissioners echoed that view, with several noting that the development team led by MB Real Estate Services planned to invest between $550 million and $700 million in the project, which would transform the 102-year-old Beaux Arts building into a hotel, restaurant and shops.

The building's rehabilitation would be the first phase of a privately funded plan for 13 acres of county owned land in the Illinois Medical District that also includes Stroger Hospital, which replaced the old county facility;Rush University Medical Center; and the University of Illinois' medical campus.

Three other phases, to be completed over the next 10 to 15 years, would bring a technology and research center, medical office building, additional apartments, another hotel and parking decks.

The county would lease the land and buildings to the development team, which would pay initial annual rent of $520,000, a figure that would rise to $2 million at completion of the overall project. The lease would be for 99 years, with two 25-year options.

The county has spent about $3.2 million on planning for the development, and could be on the hook for as much as $5 million in shared environmental remediation at the site over the life of the project.

Only CommissionerRichard Boykin, D-Oak Park, voted against the plan, saying more should be done to ensure that ex-offenders and other unemployed people from the Austin community that he represents are hired to work on the project.

The agreement sets a hiring goal for developers to hire Cook County residents for half of the total hours worked on the project. Another aim is to hire people from within a three-mile radius to do 7.5 percent of the work — an area Boykin wanted to expand to include Austin and West Garfield Park, where unemployment is high.

"It's a sham," Boykin contended, referring to the hiring goals. "I want the public to know. It's a tiger without teeth. It's a sham. You guys know it. It's not a requirement. It's a suggestion."

CommissionerJesus "Chuy" Garcia, D-Chicago, who is Preckwinkle's floor leader, fired back by calling it an important project that would benefit local folks with jobs but was not intended to be "a save-all of the West Side or the Southwest Side or other affected communities on the Northwest Side."

Also endorsed Tuesday was a plan to spend up to $118.5 million to build a new administrative and clinic building at the southwest corner of the site that includes Stroger Hospital, southwest of the old hospital building. County officials said it was less expensive than repairing three outdated structures it would replace.


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