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County Board Holds Up Hospital Demolition

Friday, January 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
by Abdon M. Pallasch

The old Cook County Hospital won yet another stay of execution Thursday as opposition-bloc members of the County Board claimed the votes to defeat board President John Stroger's proposed contract to demolish the building.

Board member Mike Quigley said the reason only three developers have submitted proposals so far to rehab the 89-year-old structure is that county officials quietly warned other developers not to bid on the building.

"You don't want to do this," unnamed county officials told the developers, warning them their other projects around town could be jeopardized, Quigley said.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin said one developer called the county to offer a proposal and was told, "Give it to somebody who's interested -- my job is to demolish the building."

"Nobody said that," Mike Lamont, director of capital planning, said. He, Stroger, County Board Finance Chairman John Daley and other county officials said they have not warned developers away.

The point, Stroger and other county officials who want the building demolished keep saying, is that any developer who wants to rehab the old building better be ready to pay for it all because the county is not willing to subsidize it.

Explaining his determination to raze the building, Stroger has alternately said that he wants to preserve open space at the site and that he wants to keep land available in case of hospital expansion.

"I talked with the president of Rush-Presbyterian [hospital] and they're land-locked over there," Stroger said. "They need to expand. We haven't been discussing this openly but we're going to have to expand. Rush was trying to get some of our land -- what little we still have."

That prompted Commissioner Carl Hansen to say, "It bothers me we keep expressing concern about Rush -- is there some secret deal going on with Rush that we don't know about?"

Stroger denied any secret deals.

Commissioner Jerry Butler, a Stroger loyalist, told Stroger it might be best to let the preservationist commissioners go forward until they convince themselves the old building is unusable.

"Sometimes, Mr. President, you have to let people do what they want to do so they can find out the fallacies of their thinking," Butler said. "If I had my way, I'd tear that building down. I'd get a bulldozer and at 11:30 at night, I'd use it."

Butler and Lamont said preservationists were exaggerating the costs of tearing down the front section of the old hospital -- it would cost only $2.8 million, not $30 million, they said.

Suffredin said Stroger was exaggerating the cost of keeping the old hospital standing. Stroger said it costs $500,000 a month to send water, heat and electricity to the building. Suffredin suspects it's closer to $50,000 a month. He suggests the county shut off the lights, gas, and water to save money.

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