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Northwestern University can save Prentice Women’s Hospital if it tries

The former Prentice Women's Hospital Streeterville.  |  Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

The former Prentice Women's Hospital in Streeterville. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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David Roeder reports on real estate 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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Updated: October 4, 2011 12:35AM

Northwestern University wants to tear down the old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Streeterville, a neglected work of Bertrand Goldberg that bears his curved-wall calling card. Preservationists are horrified. The familiar battle lines are drawn.

Depending on your perspective, it’s either a greedy or harassed property owner against noble or busybody preservationists. Both sides are appealing to the city to either commence landmark protection for the building or let it be wrecked.

I’m with the preservationists here, but let’s stipulate a couple of points: Property owners have rights, and advocates of landmarking can be good at spending property owners’ money.

To head off that last objection, the group Landmarks Illinois, which is leading the charge here, put together a study with a favorable outlook on the building’s reuse potential. Northwestern rejected it, saying the building doesn’t meet its singular need: medical research facilities.

Opinions on the merits of Prentice vary. Architects love it, non-architects not so much, so I at first thought the owner’s wishes should take precedence. And then I took a walk through Streeterville.

We think of the neighborhood as being jammed, and it is in terms of traffic. But it has open land. Immediately south of Prentice is an empty city block, suitable for any pressing need of the university.

The land, once the site of the Lakeside VA hospital, is under the control of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Northwestern the university and Northwestern the hospital are separate, but the medical school’s faculty practices at the hospital, and the institutions have more than a working relationship.

The university has a need and the hospital has land it is not using. They need to work out a trade.

Instead, Northwestern University wants to tear down Prentice and create another vacant parcel while it raises funds to build something taller in its place.

I wouldn’t call that greedy, but it seems careless. Money and land are assets. Somebody should get the school and the hospital together to coordinate their assets in Streeterville the way good stewards should.

I imagine that out of that process, a new life for Goldberg’s Prentice will become apparent. Call it a landmark if you want, but at least fix it up and show it off as part of Chicago’s architectural heritage.

Put hospital or academic administrators — there are always plenty of them — in that cloverleaf. Everyone could get a window office.

SPLIT PERSONALITY: The Chicago-area office market is headed in two directions, based on the midyear numbers of Cushman & Wakefield Inc. Its report showed that downtown vacancies are declining, from 16.4 percent at the end of the first quarter to 14.9 percent now.

Suburban vacancies, however, are rising. Cushman places the suburban average at 25 percent, vs. 24.1 percent at the end of the first quarter. The market is weakest in the Northwest Suburbs, where vacancies are in the 30s.

Susan Rosen, executive director at Cushman, said big companies such as Motorola Inc. and AT&T Inc. throwing space onto the market plague the suburbs. Downtown is benefiting from leasing in the modern towers of the West Loop, she said.

“It’s a classic flight by tenants to what’s new and to better technology,” said Marilyn Lissner, also a Cushman executive director.

Lissner said that in the suburbs, it make take five years before much construction of new office space can ramp up.

ACCOLADE LADLE: It must be party time at the firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture LLP. Smith has won the 2011 Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the final word on measuring building height.

Also, his firm won the commission to design the 119-story Wuhan Greenland Center planned for Wuhan, China. At 1,988-feet, it will be about 500 feet taller than Willis Tower and would be the world’s fourth tallest building. It’s to include all the usual suspects—offices, homes, a five-star hotel and a private club.

DOING THE DEALS: CB Richard Ellis Group Inc. secured a $99 million first mortgage construction loan and a joint venture deal so Magellan Development Group LLC could start construction of a 45-story, 499-unit apartment tower at Lakeshore East. The joint venture partner is JP Morgan Investment Management. … Chicago’s only Rolls-Royce dealership opens Thursday at 834 N. Rush, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attendance expected. … Holly Duran Real Estate Partners LLC negotiated a long-term lease for a new restaurant to open July 11 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Center, 10 and 30 S. Wacker. Called the Rittergut Wine Bar Restaurant and Social Club, it will expand the Rivers restaurant.

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