Built in 1914 and designed by architect Paul Gerhardt, the Cook County Hospital in Chicago is o the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also laid dormant for over a decade, succumbing graffiti tagging and vandalism. Now Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has plans to redevelop the building with a hotel, apartments, and retail.
As Hal Dardick writes in the Chicago Tribune, Cook County Hospital “was known, above all, as a place where society took care of those who could not otherwise afford medical care.” It was brimming with civic pride, however, even lion and cherub decorations have not been able to fend off the pitfalls that comes with 13-years of neglect.
Preckwinkle’s plans to restore the building to its former glory, though not as a hospital, a function for which it’s evidently obsolete. By transforming the building into a place for a hotel, apartments and retail, former hospital can at least be used and its Beaux Arts facade fully restored and appreciated (once again). The building would house 150 apartments, of which a fifth will be affordable housing.
The plan relies on private funding, with Cook County Hospital being first on the list as part of a wider scheme that would see further developments across 16 acres of county-owned land. Other developments would include a technology and research center, medical office building, additional apartments, as well as another hotel which would be installed in the next 15 or so years.
As for the hospital, developers are pressing to start next year, with the project complete by 2018. An estimated minimum of $550 million will be needed to see the scheme through. Despite the large amount of funds needed, the plan has been met with optimism.
Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois and a historic preservationist who has seen past rehabilitation plans fall by the wayside, spoke of the project’s promise. “I am confident that this is the best approach that has ever been forwarded and we will see a completed building at the end of the process,” she said.
Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, who was born at Cook County Hospital, also spoke highly of the scheme. “I’m totally excited about it,” he said. “I think it’s the right thing for us to be doing. … This one is going to work.” Preckwinkle also appears to have the hospital’s history at heart too. The developers Civic Health Development Group were selected due to their pedigree with historic renovations and plan to restore the facade. “They had the strongest proposal,” Preckwinkle said, adding that they were “head and shoulders above the competition.”