—Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO of Cook County Health and Hospital System
Toward the end of a lively discussion about the future of the old Cook County Hospital on October 7 hosted by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Dr. John Shannon addressed the audience and spoke on behalf of a doctor who actually worked at the facility 14 years ago.
Shannon’s St. Elsewhere-style reference got a big laugh from the crowd, and then he got serious: “One of our challenges, 100 years from now, will anybody remember what the old Cook County Hospital was if only wealthy people can afford to go there? Can poor people look to it for hope and not a place they’ve been displaced from?”
Those questions came as a kind of reality check after the presentation of preliminary plans. They ranged from practical to fanciful to grandiose. Five separate charrette teams spent the past week and a half hammering out the details they described to a full house at C.A.F.
Setting the stage at the meeting was Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who told the audience about the legacy of Cook County Hospital, which in its heyday treated many immigrants.
“In its earliest decades, the hospital was sometimes referred to as ‘Chicago’s Statue of Liberty,’” Preckwinkle said. “It had the first blood bank in Chicago. In 1966, it had the first comprehensive trauma center. It’s been an icon for Chicago’s west side in health care. We believe it has inherent value and a thoughtful process can help us unlock the value.”
The meeting continued with an introduction by Kim Goluska of Chicago Consultants Studio, who provided some background.
“This is the second part of process of unlocking the value of the old Cook County Hospital,” Goluska said. “Over the past 10 days, the charrette teams brainstormed. What you’re about to see will stimulate the conversation for the old hospital building. Our participants have served the charrette process well.”
All teams worked on the process pro bono, and clearly spent some significant time and energy on their presentations. Those began with Landmarks Illinois, with Bonnie McDonald offering a description of her team’s essential theme: Delivering a real solution for the hospital. It included a comprehensive design courtesy of Antunovich Associates.
“Cook County Hospital is a landmark in every sense of the word,” McDonald said. “It still attracts significant attention and curiosity of what it could be. We view unlocking the value as financeable. We propose to establish a public-private partnership, where the developer finances the project.”
The Landmarks Illinois plan would capitalize on the existing structure, with adaptive re-use. The mixed-use plan would retain the sight lines of the existing façade of the hospital, and convert the interior space. One option, McDonald said, would be to turn the “creepy” surgical suite of the old hospital building into a modern lecture hall.
Following the Landmarks Illinois presentation, Chicago Central Area Committee took its turn, with Chairman Greg Hummel explaining the group’s plans.
“Our vision includes adaptive reuse of the old Cook County Hospital AND the land around it,” Hummel said. “It will honor history and use the buildings and the environs to build a rich legacy for good health.”
“People usually stop solutions at the property line,” Hummel said. “But sometimes solutions are beyond the borders.”
Below-grade parking and a self-funding utility grid (in which the medical center could resell excess capacity) were also part of the Council’s plan.
“The site is not an island,” Hummel said. “If we think beyond that, development will come.”
Next up was the Metropolitan Planning Council, whose original 81-slide submission “almost crashed the county’s website,” joked Goluska.
Presenters Marisa Novara and Patricia Saldaña Natke said as they brainstormed as a team, “We thought about ‘What is our concept?’ It’s the new epicenter of the Illinois Medical District. It’s where medical students, researchers, workers and residents gather to innovate interact, reside, work, live and heal.”
Novara and Natke offered specific options to support those activities, including an indoor/outdoor space in front of the hospital with an outdoor ‘healing garden.’ Dining, pharmacy and child care were also included in the Council’s plan. The focal point would be a 200-foot-tall hotel tower. Just as the Landmark Illinois team had presented, a landscaped bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway was included.
Lambda Alpha International was next up, with two separate charrette teams. The first was the Team Burnham, offering their H3 vision (meaning “health, heritage and hospitality”), with Christine Williams, Ewa Weir and Leslie Roth presenting.
Like previous teams, Team Burnham recommended expanding the perimeter of the design well beyond the old hospital building to create 1 million square feet of usable space. They suggested changing the face of Ogden Ave. and making it an entertainment district offering diversions for the medical district staff.
The old hospital building would be adapted for use as a hotel in this plan. Pasteur Park would also be used in the expansion plans, and the Fantus Clinic would be moved to Stroger Hospital. A new tower building, visible from the Eisenhower, and a sunlit winter garden were also included in the Team Burnham presentation.
The final charrette team, Lambda Alpha International’s Bennett Team, was led by Jennifer Tammen and Danielle Cassel. This team discussed fewer design specifics and more about strategy to maximize tax revenue by unlocking cash value. This concept led to eliminating—or greatly reducing—regulations.
“We asked, ‘what’s possible?’ said Tammen. “We concluded 4 R.F.P. features will drive economic benefits. What uses are allowed, bulk restrictions, regulatory impositions and third party consents and controls.”
Fewer constraints will lead to more bidders and higher bids, said Cassel. “And, a broader variety of approaches.”
Team Burnham suggested that in a 15-year hypothetical, changing the permitted floor area ratio from 2:1 to 5:1 could multiply the net present value of the property taxes by four.
Following the formal presentations, a panel of experts offered their initial reactions and responses. Roberta Feldman, professor emeritus at U.I.C. School of Architecture, told the charrette participants they did a remarkable job of displaying a variety of choices.
“I was particularly excited about the diverse uses for this (old hospital) building,” she said. “I’m very excited about some of the schemes that decided to move across the Eisenhower highway.”
Fellow panel member Hill Hammock, board chair of Cook County Health & Hospitals System, offered a reminder that baby boomers are aging and will need medical care. That will mean greater demand on caregivers and health care professionals.
“We have staff that work 70, 80 hours a week,” Hammock said. “To give them places for entertainment and exercise in their free time if they live nearby, that’s valuable for their lifestyle.”
He also cautioned that a more liberal interpretation of regulations—as presented by the Lambda Alpha International Bennett Team—could be difficult to accomplish.
“If we did away with all regulations, it would make it easier,” Hammock said. “That’s not going to happen, except in very special ways. We have elected officials that put those things into place. There’s nothing wrong with proposing stretching the limits, though.”
The third panelist, Susana Vasquez, LISC Executive Director, said she was intrigued by the concept of unlocking value, a theme carried by several charrette teams.
“Old buildings need new ideas,” she said in a twist on the Jane Jacobs quotation. “And this exemplifies some of that. Thinking about the different constituencies was really interesting. Individually they were interesting, but they all come together in a compelling way. I loved the bold connect out to neighborhoods ideas, responding to current market conditions or driving them. Everything has to serve a public purpose and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. We have to be mindful that as we’re trying to attract private developers, we’re serving a public purpose.”
All three panelists felt there should be more emphasis on affordable housing, both for medical students and the public at large. Susana Vasquez echoed the comment made by John Shannon about the population historically served by Cook County Hospital.
There should be, she said, a way of creating housing options “for the people who sweep the floor, the nurses and nurses aids. I would preserve the ethnic mix, rich and poor. I do hope that is considered. It was an innovative hospital. I would hope we could be innovative in housing.”
- You can view or download the October 7, 2014 charette presentation as a PDF document here.