Old Cook County Hospital has sat empty since 2002, when the medical professionals who staffed it and the patients they served began working in a new building with
As the Beaux-Art affects on Old County’s 1913 facade weathered the seasons, a fight about the future of the building broke out. The late president of the county board, John H. Stroger, was unapologetic about backing demolition, but a group of commissioners argued for reuse, citing architectural details and the building’s place in medical history.
Backed by the city’s historic preservationist organizations, the commissioners favoring reuse won the legislative fight to keep the building standing, if vacant. Current board president Todd Stroger supported reuse in his 2006 campaign, departing from one of the policy planks his father held steadfastly.
Now the building appears set to become – or at least recommended for – office space used by county administrative staff and healthcare workers, a project that would cost an estimated $107.7 million. A report drawn up for the county board by real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle is being considered.
The board hired Jones in the spring to analyze the market and financial feasibility of a variety of uses, according to the Nov. 4 county board agenda. Among them: a hotel, dorms, rental units, senior housing and condominiums and educational facilities.
But Jones Lang LaSalle concluded that the most affordable and lowest-risk reuse option is to renovate the building for administrative offices; the likely occupant being the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. It’s location at 1900 W. Polk is scheduled for demolition.
Chris Geovanis, spokesperson for board President Stroger, said the report is still in draft phase and couldn’t be released.
“There’s a pretty acute shortage of space for the Health and Hospital System on this issue,” Geovanis said. “This reuse is designed to mitigate that.”
News of the Jones report drew praise from some of the elected officials and advocates who petitioned to save the building, though it hasn’t circulated publicly yet.
“I think we’re making progress and progressing toward reuse of the building, and reuse of a historical landmark,” said Larry Suffredin, the Evanston-based commissioner perhaps most associated with the push to save the old hospital building.
Rehab of the hospital could be paid for by historic tax credits, county capital development funds and possibly tax increment financing dollars from the city, Suffredin said.
The old Cook County Hospital sits within the Central West TIF district.
“As long as they find a reuse for it, we’re happy,” said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “It just didn’t make any sense to tear it down. It’s a great old building. It can have a life for the next 200 years.”