The top brass in the field of design have long supported preserving Chicago’s Old Prentice Women’s Hospital. Now proposals to save the embattled Bertrand Goldberg building may have economics on their side, too, according to a new report commissioned by advocates who hope to convince owner Northwestern University not to demolish the four-pronged curvilinear tower.
Jim Peters, former Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, led the Save Prentice coalition Thursday. Placing the building in the context of architectural landmarks as catalysts for economic development, the group revealed several “counter-proposals” for reuse and an economic impact study that found reusing Prentice and building elsewhere onsite or nearby would generate “significant upfront and ongoing economic benefits.”
They accepted the University’s economic stipulations as a baseline; Northwestern has stated its proposal to demolish Old Prentice Women’s Hospital and rebuild onsite would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs, 2,000 permanent jobs, and $390 million annually in net economic impact for the city. Those benchmarks were cited by the landmarks commission and community groups urging demolition.
The proposals presented Thursday by Save Prentice promised to deliver those same economic benefits from new buildings constructed onsite and across the street on another vacant property owned by Northwestern. They also claimed rehabilitation of the Goldberg structure would generate an additional $103 million in one-time expenditures, $155 million annually in operating costs, $1.1 million in yearly tax revenue, and create 980 new jobs.
“Prentice is an additive element,” said Christina Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “You only get more by including it.”
The four proposals include a master-planning approach for Prentice and the surrounding area, a 36-story tower cantilevered partway over Superior Street to the North (which would require air rights from the city), and a curved tower that frames Prentice from the northwest corner of the site.
Kujawa Architecture’s proposal provides “a distinct visual marker of the biomedical research corridor,” according to principal Casimir Kujawa.
After a procedurally questionable snub from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in November, preservationists sued to obtain temporary landmark status for Prentice. Their victory surprised some observers, many of whom had written off preservationists’ chances when Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he supported Northwestern’s demolition plans.
On the heels of the court’s decision, which called for more time for public consideration of preservation and reuse options, the Chicago Architectural Club, CAF, and AIA Chicago unveiled the winners of their competition imagining alternate uses for the mostly vacant building. The winning entry by Cyril Marsollier and Wallo Villacorta was included in the counter-proposals released Thursday.
“It’s not too late,” Peters said. “The building still exists.”