Give an Old Building New Life
Monday, June 30, 2003
Faced with the dilemma of what to do with significant but outdated buildings, Chicago public officials have made some brave decisions -- preserving the old Chicago Public Library -- and some unforgivable blunders -- demolishing the Chicago Stock Exchange.
Cook County commissioners are scheduled on Monday to consider what to do with the old Cook County Hospital building. They know one vote: Board President John Stroger is adamant in his plan to demolish the building.
It's time for the commissioners to show some independent thought, to decide in good conscience to hold off the bulldozers long enough to properly consider what to do with the building.
Consultations with private developers may point to a number of options that would make financial sense for the county and its taxpayers.
It may turn out that there is no financially sensible way to save the building. But tearing down the hospital cuts off all options. Stroger's offer to save a few pieces of the facade for placement in a park -- a Stonehenge-like memorial to a rash decision -- is hardly a substitute for thoughtful consideration.
For all of Stroger's zeal to demolish the building, the fact is the board has never fully thought through what to do with this building which has played such a central role in the history of the city and its residents.
No private developer has ever been asked a simple but key question: Do you have any ideas or interest?
Demolition has been taken for granted. End of discussion.
Yet the surge in residential construction and loft conversions on the Near West Side -- often of far less worthy buildings -- plus the need for office space in the Medical Center suggest there may be commercial life left in the old hospital.
Any sort of commercial development, even if the county turns the building over to developers at a nominal cost, would generate property taxes and spur further development in the area.
Demolition would cost county taxpayers millions of dollars and generate nothing except empty land.
On Monday, county commissioners will not be voting for or against Stroger, or to make the final decision on the fate of the old hospital.
They will be voting for more time -- time to make sure all possibilities have been properly considered before we turn another piece of Chicago history into rubble.