Back in July this page commended Cook County Board President John Stroger for announcing that he would give developers a fair chance to make the case for saving the old Cook County Hospital building. Shame on us for believing, for a moment, that Stroger actually meant what he said.
It's now clear that he was leading developers and preservationists on a fool's errand.
After Stroger announced he had an open mind on the fate of the stately building, the Cook County Board voted unanimously to invite developers to a hearing on how it could be done. The board members supposedly set in motion parallel processes for getting bids on demolition and proposals for renovation, so the board could pick the most attractive alternative sometime in the fall.
In practice, however, county bureaucrats have greased the path to demolition and obstructed developers' efforts to prepare proposals for renovation. The demolition bids have been received. Developers are still scrambling for complete specifications needed to bid on restoration -- more than three weeks after the Oct. 6 deadline for proposals has passed.
Stroger is bent on spending millions of dollars to rip down the old hospital, something to keep in mind on Thursday when he sets out his 2004 budget, which, no doubt, will include lots of wailing about how the county doesn't have enough tax revenue to meet its needs.
For the sake of honest dealing -- not to mention potential savings to taxpayers -- the county board members need to extend the deadline for submitting renovation proposals and stall the demolition. They ought to ensure the renovation option receives a full hearing. So far, county bureaucrats seem more intent on discouraging developers long enough so they will just give up.
The first bids for tearing down the fortress-like building ranged from $9.7 million to $13.6 million. Bids for environmental cleanup ranged from $1.6 million to nearly $8 million. The end result: open space that does not produce a penny in property tax revenue for the city or county.
Even if Cook County sold the building to a developer for a dollar -- essentially gave it away -- to be converted into lofts, office space or some other commercial use, taxpayers would save millions by foregoing demolition and could earn millions in property taxes collected on the development.
Stroger should advocate every money-saving option available to him, including reuse of the old hospital. Instead his administration appears to be pushing the demolition option as if it were a foregone conclusion. It is not.
The county board members have an obligation to manage the country's assets and to be honest with the voters who put them in office. They should honor that obligation, even if the Stroger administration does not.