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Officials break ground on $1 billion overhaul of long-vacant Cook County Hospital

Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Gregory Pratt

Officials break ground on $1 billion overhaul of long-vacant Cook County Hospital

Construction is expected to begin immediately on an ambitious plan to redevelop the old Cook County hospital, a project Board President Toni Preckwinkle said will be an “anchor” for redevelopment in the medical district and Near West Side of Chicago, officials said Tuesday.

The plan to redevelop the county hospital, empty since 2002, is valued at more than $1 billion, and the developer has secured about $135 million in financing, Preckwinkle’s office said. Developers will first do interior, non-structural demolition for the project, and begin restoring the building’s facade in July, officials said.

“This beautiful building has been vacant for 16 years,” Preckwinkle said. “Far too long.”

A dual-branded Hyatt House/Hyatt Place hotel is slated to open in 2019 and 2020, officials said.

Workers have their work cut out for them on remaking the building, which has been ravaged by time, thieves, and graffiti artists. Acknowledging the challenges, Preckwinkle said the building is “falling apart.”

She joked the developer will move “expeditiously” on the project because they’re “probably going to lose their shirts on it.”

“But they will make a lot of money on the subsequent phases, so they have a real incentive to get this done,” she said, laughing.

John T. Murphy, who is leading the project, said eventually there will be about 210 hotel rooms in the building, more than 70,000 square feet of medical space, and a 4,000-square-foot museum recognizing the history of the institution.

Later phases of development may include mixed-use residential, office, retail and parking on county land north, south and east of the existing building, county officials said.

Redevelopment is headed by the Civic Health Development Group, led by Murphy and includes Murphy Development Group, Walsh Investors, MB Real Estate, Plenary Group and Granite Companies, officials said.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is the architect, while Walsh Construction is the contractor and Jackie Koo is the interior designer, officials said.

Cook County signed a 99-year lease with developers last year to redevelop the block-long property. The project will not require any capital investment or direct subsidy from the county, officials said.

The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and features a Beaux Arts facade, graced by pairs of fluted Ionic columns and a full complement of decoration including the faces of roaring lions and cherubs.

Over the years, it’s been called Chicago’s Ellis Island because so many impoverished immigrants were treated there.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Preckwinkle at a groundbreaking event to mark construction outside the hospital Tuesday, as did several aldermen and Cook County commissioners, including Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and John Daley.

Emanuel noted other development in the area, including a new $251 million Malcolm X campus completed in January 2016.

“You see this incredible economic development, job opportunities, and a new future that’s coming to the Near West Side,” Emanuel said.

Ald. Walter Burnett, 27th, who was born in the hospital, praised the building’s redevelopment as a “blessing.”

“It’s so wonderful to be here at a time we’re getting ready to do something with this building,” Burnett said. “(To) bring some life to a building that has given so much life to our city and our county and also to the state of Illinois.”

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