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Preservationists offer more options for old Prentice hospital

Jim Peters Save Prentice makes announcement about future Prentice Hospital tower AIA Chicago Monday January 3 2013. I John H.

Jim Peters of Save Prentice, makes announcement about the future of Prentice Hospital tower at AIA Chicago, Monday, January 3, 2013. I John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:28AM

Preservationist groups Thursday presented new proposals for saving the former Prentice Women’s Hospital in Streeterville, arguing that doing so would create more jobs and tax revenue than the current plan to tear it down.

Northwestern University owns the distinctive, clover-leaf shaped building at 333 E. Superior. It wants to demolish the 1975 work of architect Bertrand Goldberg in favor of a new structure for medical research.

The building has temporary protection from the wrecking ball. Preservationists are in court battling the city over its denial of landmark protection for the building, and a judge has barred its destruction while he hears the case. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11.

The school has insisted Prentice is incompatible with its needs. Groups that have fought the demolition said Northwestern could build what it needs on adjacent property while preserving Prentice for other uses serving its medical school and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The alternatives were offered by architects and consultants aligned with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago. They said saving the building would bring all the benefits of Northwestern’s construction plan, plus 980 permanent jobs and $1.1 million in annual tax revenue.

Preservationists hope the argument will sway city officials and Northwestern. Jim Peters, past president of Landmarks Illinois, said the groups hope to prove that creative solutions for Prentice are still possible.

“We keep trying to show that there are ways to do it. Up to this point, Northwestern hasn’t really listened,” he said. Peters said the latest ideas are being forwarded to Northwestern and City Hall, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has favored demolition.

Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage had no comment on the preservation alternatives, saying the school had yet to see them. A spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, which handles zoning and landmarking issues, had no immediate comment.

Goldberg was one of Chicago’s most famous architects and Prentice was recognized for innovation in design and engineering. But to some Chicagoans, the building is a concrete eyesore.

Peters reviewed Northwestern’s history of building in Streeterville and said it has pushed the community toward large-scale development characterized by “aesthetic degradation and the loss of natural light and open space.”

Northwestern, Peters said, “has been pursuing a strategy of disposable development in which it demolishes existing buildings, banks land for indefinite periods of time and then erects prefab structures of minimal aesthetic value.”

Among the proposals was one by Kujawa Architecture LLC to squeeze a new tower into Prentice’s north side. But to make the floors large enough for Northwestern’s needs, the building would have to extend over Superior.

Another proposal, from Loebl Schlossman & Hackl, calls for new construction on two blocks of empty land just south of Prentice. Northwestern hospital owns the land and has its own plans for it, the university has said.

“A rehabbed Prentice would in fact support medical research while strengthening our economy and serving as a fitting centerpiece for Chicago’s bio-medical research hub,” said David Urschel, principal at Loebl Schlossman.

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