New plan for old county
Board seeks office conversion for vacant hospital
03/03/2010 10:00 PM
Old county hospital may get a new lease on life following the affirmative vote Cook County commissioners cast Tuesday for a plan that would see the vacant structure converted into medical offices.
The vote ends years of wrangling on the county board over the future of the hospital building, empty since 2002. Even Commissioner Jerry “Iceman” Butler, who had long argued for the building’s demolition, relented.
“They say if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” he said. “So I’m going to join them this time.”
Historic preservationists who had campaigned to save the building, pointing to its place in medical history and the Beaux Arts details that stud its façade, savored Tuesday’s decision.
“It’s sort of a testament to never giving up. You never know what’s going to happen,” said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, an advocacy group.
Financing for renovating the building, located at 1900 W. Harrison, isn’t set in stone, however.
Of the estimated $108 million it will cost to remake the building, the county hopes to secure up to $25 million from the city of Chicago in the form of a tax increment financing, said Bruce Washington, the county’s director of capital planning and policy.
The remaining rehab costs would be paid for through a bond issue.
“The agreement, at this point, does hinge on TIF,” Washington said. “If, for some reason, we’re not able to successfully get the TIF, we’ll go back to the commissioners. They’ll make the determination if we want to do something else.”
Molly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Community Development, said it was too early to comment on talk of TIF dollars for the project.
Use of tax increment financing dollars in the Near West Side medical district hasn’t been free of controversy in recent years.
The $75 million in TIF dollars the city granted Rush University Medical Center for its current building project was decried by some residents, who wanted the TIF money to pay for neighborhood projects.
Washington said his office will spend an initial $5 million for professional services related to the project, including a consultant needed to secure the city’s TIF dollars. That application process could take anywhere from five to nine months.
The renovation is expected to take three years, “once it gets started,” according to Washington. He described the building as gutted on the inside and abated for hazardous materials like lead and asbestos.
Employees for the county’s health care system would move into the renovated old county building, shifting from a former nurses’ dormitory at 1900 W. Polk. That building would be demolished.