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Children’s Memorial site edges toward redevelopment

Rendering proposed development site former Children's Memorial Hospital. | McCaffery Interests Inc.

Rendering of proposed development on the site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital. | McCaffery Interests, Inc.

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Updated: March 6, 2014 6:43AM

After years of debate and compromise, a $300 million plan to redevelop the Lincoln Park site of the now-shuttered Children’s Memorial Hospital is finally poised for political takeoff.

It happened this week after local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) gave her conditional approval to developer Dan McCaffery’s scaled-down plan — pending a community agreement that puts it all in writing and nails down final details.

The site at Lincoln and Fullerton, vacated in 2012 when Children’s Memorial built a new hospital in Streeterville, is widely viewed as one of Chicago’s premier development parcels.

Smith said a Jan. 14 community meeting served up a mandate that “this project should move forward.” That prompted a “series of intense negotiations” over the last few weeks that culminated in a final round of concessions to reduce density.

A proposed 11-story residential building was scrapped in favor of a five-story health club. There still will be two buildings in the development with 19 stories each. That would reduce the overall number of residences to 760 units — down from 996 units in McCaffery’s original proposal.

Roughly 540 of those residences would be rental units. The plan also includes 60 condominiums and a 156-room assisted living building for seniors.

The parking crunch would be eased by expanding permit parking on Orchard and Halsted, offering shoppers at new retail stores 90 minutes of free validated parking and by earmarking 35 of 850 parking spaces in the development’s main building for employees of Lincoln Elementary School and patrons of St. Paul’s Church.

Instead of letting trucks access the former “Nellie-Black building” on Orchard or Burling, McCaffery has agreed to “further excavate” a tunnel beneath Fullerton to “allow loading from the underground loading dock,” the alderman said.

McCaffery has also agreed to bankroll “traffic improvements” on Fullerton, Halsted and Lincoln that will include dedicated bike lanes on all three streets.

With all those changes aimed at “relieving traffic congestion and density,” Smith said she is confident the hotly debated project is finally ready to move forward.

If the Chicago Plan Commission approves the project this month and City Council approval follows, demolition could begin as early as this fall, last three to seven months and be followed by three years of construction.

“Our community has been working on this for 2½ years. We have done everything we can to right-size this development. It is significantly reduced from when it was first proposed. At a certain point, it’s time to move forward,” Smith said Tuesday.

The alderman said she has “listened to every constituent, read every single email and letter” and had hundreds of conversations in her quest to find a development that “balances the needs of everyone in the community and mitigates the impact of those who are concerned” about its density.

“If we did nothing, this property would sit fallow for years and years. Who knows what would come next?” she said.

“Everyone in the community knows stores have shuttered. This is a development that affects the heart of Lincoln Park. It won’t replace all of the employees at Children’s. But it will bring this very important section back to life. It will provide housing for people to patronize stores and shops that are still open but struggling and don’t have the patronage.”

McCaffery called the final plan a “damned good compromise” dictated by a local alderman who “stood tough on behalf of her community.” But he argued that it doesn’t “make sense” to reduce the density any further.

“It’s increased density over what was there previously. But it’s not necessarily an increased intensity within the community because the old hospital had a tremendous amount of in-and-out traffic 24 hours a day,” McCaffery said.

“Density is a reality — and it’s a good thing. It won’t do anything to harm property values. In fact, property values will increase. When you walk around that block, not a whole lot is attractive. We will have fountains and lawns and sculpture. It will be a beautiful crossroads of Lincoln Park.”

To those Lincoln Park residents who still believe the project is too dense, McCaffery said, “There’s no doubt there’s an emotional reaction to tall buildings shown in a plan. But very few people within two or three blocks of Sears Tower can even see it. They don’t look up.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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