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Preservationists worried that old Prentice is at risk again

The old Prentice Women's Hospital building 333 E Superior Street Friday May 20 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

The old Prentice Women's Hospital building, 333 E Superior Street, Friday, May 20, 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: August 19, 2012 6:31AM

A year ago, preservationists were angry about Northwestern University’s stated plan to tear down the old Prentice Women’s Hospital at 333 E. Superior. They wanted the Bertrand Goldberg design preserved and they demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel make it a landmark.

Emanuel didn’t do that, but he also wouldn’t acquiesce in its destruction as long as Northwestern wasn’t ready to build on the property. Sources tell me the mayor advised Northwestern, in colorful terms, that he wouldn’t stick his neck out for them unless they committed to new construction.

Now, an organization that added its voice to the “save Prentice” coalition suspects a deal is being cut and again is pressuring Emanuel and Northwestern. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has asked for meetings with the city to make a case for Prentice. It’s also challenging Northwestern’s assertion that the property is suitable only for a high-rise containing new medical labs.

Christina Morris, senior field officer for the trust, said she understood a decision about Prentice was coming by the end of this month, a view based in part on meetings with Northwestern. The trust has prepared a study of the surrounding properties, many of them owned by Northwestern’s affiliated hospital, to illustrate the large amount of land available for the medical campus’ expansion.

The biggest example is the roughly two square blocks of emptiness across the street from Prentice, the former site of the Lakeside VA Hospital.

Given the land options, the university’s determination to tear down Prentice speaks more of stubbornness than common sense, Morris said. In a letter to the city, she said Northwestern’s “position that it cannot come up with a reuse for Prentice is simply not credible. What’s lacking is the will to find a solution.”

A spokesman for the city said no decision on Prentice is imminent. Storer Rowley, spokesman for the university, said it has no plans to move forward on a Prentice replacement.

Northwestern has said it conducted a good-faith review of the building’s reuse potential and that it cannot be adapted for modern research labs.

Other uses for the building — an extended stay center for families visiting the hospital — could be possibilities. Goldberg’s cloverleaf, cantilevered design was a breakthrough when the building opened in 1975. Morris said it’s common for buildings of that era to go unappreciated.

People have varied reactions to Prentice, which doesn’t get the love that Goldberg’s Marina City towers receive. But it’s strikingly different from the Streeterville boxes that hem it in. Mayoral appointees should nudge Northwestern to think harder about saving it.

CHILDREN’S IN PLAY: The early version of plans circulated for the former Childrens’ Memorial Hospital site in Lincoln Park indicates the neighborhood is being asked to accept a tradeoff: Bend a little when it comes to allowing high-rises in exchange for getting more open space on the ground.

The six-acre site at Lincoln and Fullerton is an important piece of an area with killer demographics. Developer Daniel McCaffery is pushing two residential high-rises, 25 and 21 stories. McCaffery declined to comment on what he’s been showing community leaders in private meetings that will lead to a public unveiling July 26.

The local alderman, Michele Smith (43rd), said she’s listening to the feedback and hasn’t come to a position on the project, but she noted that McCaffery is proposing about an acre of open space. Her goal, she said, is to get a quality design that creates a “new neighborhood crossroads.”

ATHLETIC SUPPORT: The Big Ten conference is relocating from Park Ridge to Rosemont, with a targeted move-in date of September 2013. Under a land deal negotiated with Rosemont, the 12-team athletic conference is getting a 1.5-acre parcel at 5440 Park Place, within the MB Financial Park. It will build a 50,000-square-foot building that will include an interactive museum.

It will be twice the size of the Big Ten’s longtime home at 1500 W. Higgins in Park Ridge. The real estate firm Studley Inc. advised the Big Ten on the move and will market the Park Ridge building for sale.

NUMBERS RACKET: Mayor Rahm Emanuel said consulting firm Sagence Group will open its headquarters in Chicago. He said the decision “will bring 245 jobs to the downtown area.” That figure is a target, not reality. Sagence partner Marisela Lawson said the company employs about 60 people. “We have very aggressive growth projections,” she said.

Lawson said Sagence is leasing 9,500 square feet at 525 W. Monroe, where it plans to open by the end of this summer. It currently has a small shared office downtown.

David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on Newsradio 780 and 105.9 FM WBBM. The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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