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Preckwinkle's County Hospital rehab plan draws last-minute fire

Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

Declaring that kids are more important than developers, Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin today moved to at least temporarily block plans to rebuild the old Cook County Hospital until the county finds more money to prevent gang violence.

But County President Toni Preckwinkle immediately vowed to press ahead with the massive, $500-million-plus proposal to bring a hotel, apartments, shops and more to the Near West Side, a top priority for her administration. And Boykin hinted that he's not interested in obstructing the project as much as using it as leverage to fund things like summer jobs for unemployed youth in his West Side district.

In a news conference attended by several dozen chanting protestors, Boykin said if Preckwinkle can find the time and energy to get the hospital plan underway, she can also get the money needed to help keep young people out of trouble.

"I don't have any problems with redevelopment. But we had 50 people shot and eight killed this last weekend," Boykin said. "Our house is on fire. . . .It's a question of priorities."

Boykin, who earlier had pitched a gasoline tax to funds efforts to quell street violence, said any delay of the hospital plan could be minimal, maybe "48 hours." It's up to Preckwinkle, he added. "Where there's a will, there's a way."

Preckwinkle gave no sign of backing down. The County Board Finance Committee is due to vote later today on a proposed redevelopment agreement authorizing the plan.

Except for possible environmental remediation, the plan calls for all development costs to be paid by developer MB Real Estate Services, which would also pay the county annual rent, county spokesman Frank Shuftan said. And while the county would spend more than $100 million for new medical offices and a clinic, the work is needed and will be funded out of bonds, not operating funds, he added.

"The market-rate redevelopment of the old Cook County Hospital building is a transformative project that will create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs, many of which will be filled by area residents," Shuftan said. "Anti-violence, restorative justice and anti-recidivism programs remain a priority for our partners."

Boykin complained that the redevelopment agreement mandates that only 7.2 percent of the construction jobs be filled by local residents, and none are guaranteed for ex-offenders.

Shuftan replied that the 7.5 percent figure is a floor, not a cap.

Update, 4 p.m. — As expected, Preckwinkle won, but with a lot of absences. The proposed redevelopment agreement was approved 10-1, with six commissioners not voting.

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