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Preckwinkle wants consultant to draft plan for county-owned real estate

Monday, April 30, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County government is known to most as a jailer, courtroom operator and health care provider. But it’s also a landlord and a building maintenance manager, and a top official wants advice for those duties.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is proposing to hire an outside consultant to draft a plan for county-owned real estate. The county owns 17 million square feet that vary greatly in visibility and value, from the Daley Center to tiny parcels left over from expressway construction decades ago.

Ideas for managing it efficiently are what Preckwinkle wants from the consultant. At Tuesday’s meeting of the County Board, she is scheduled to ask its approval to hire Chicago-based U.S. Equities Realty for the task.

The proposed contract calls for paying U.S. Equities a maximum $9.8 million. It is supposed to develop databases that will help the county manage its holdings and prioritize repairs.

“This is all about getting the information we need. We want to make sure we are using everything efficiently,” said Anna Ashcraft, the county’s director of real estate.

Ideas will be on the table for everything, although Ashcraft and John Cooke, the county’s director of capital planning, said dramatic changes in use are unlikely. Do not expect courtrooms to be turned into condominiums.

Cooke noted that while the county has a five-year, $730 million budget for capital improvements, “the most challenging part is getting our hands around a proactive plan so we’re not just responding to day-to-day repair needs.”

The proposal calls for U.S. Equities to deliver a preliminary report to the county in September and a final version by May 2013. It’s a tight schedule given the scope of the work, said Robert Wislow, chairman of U.S. Equities.

Wislow said he hopes to identify annual savings “that will at least be equal to the one-time cost of the contract.” He said outsourcing, or hiring a private firm to permanently run county property, is not being considered.

Holdings of the Cook County forest preserves, a separate agency run by the same County Board, are not part of the plan.

Officials said U.S. Equities was chosen from among six other respondents to an invitation issued last year.

It was not a request for bids, which would require the county to evaluate respondents mostly on price, but a “request for proposals” that allows factors such as qualifications or ideas to come into play.

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