Daley wants old Michael Reese site turned into technology park
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org May 11, 2011 4:28PM
Demolition at the Michael Reese Hospital Complex last year. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times
Updated: August 30, 2011 12:15AM
It could take 20 years to turn the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital into a technology park, but the “once in a generation opportunity” should be pursued for the 25,000 jobs it could create, Mayor Daley was told Wednesday.
Days before leaving office, Daley embraced a report that confirms his revised vision for the site he calls the “last big parcel of land available on the Near South Side.”
“This is Chicago. No one makes little plans,” the mayor said, rephrasing Daniel Burnham.
City Hall bought the 37-acre hospital site for $86 million to make way for an Olympic Village and watched the price rise to $91 million after Chicago’s stunning first-round knock-out in the 2016 Olympic sweepstakes.
The cost of demolishing all but the hospital’s main building — a move that infuriated preservationists — has since pushed the pricetag well over $100 million.
On Wednesday, a panel of experts chaired by Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark concluded that Chicago could get its investment back — and create as many as 25,000 jobs — by converting the land into a combination tech park and thriving residential neighborhood for the creative young people who work for technology companies.
The report cites the parcel’s proximity to “high-bandwidth fiber lines” and three renowned research universities: the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Also working in Chicago’s favor is the “rapid growth” of technology start-ups such as Groupon, GrubHub and Cleversafe.
But, the panel also cited serious obstacles, including “difficulty securing financing” and anchor tenants because “perception lags reality of Chicago as a technology hub.”
Other problems include: limited access to mass transit; a “lack of basic infrastructure” and “possible environmental issues” at a “relatively small” site that overlooks an ugly truck staging area for McCormick Place. The report includes no cost estimate for, what it hopes will be a public-private partnership.
Daley believes the city can overcome all of those obstacles — and the changing of-the-guard at City Hall — to turn the site into a mecca for jobs and innovation.
The panel is recommending that Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel pick up the baton by soliciting ideas and design concepts for the park and surrounding neighborhood.
“This is a long term project — perhaps 20 years or more. I hope it’s less. ... Once you get a major tenant — one or two — it changes the whole concept,” Daley said.
Daley then quoted from, what he considers the most important sentence in the report. “While it is not clear what came first — park or culture — most thriving tech parks are located in communities that celebrate entrepreneurship and risk-taking.”
He added, “That is a perfect description of Chicago all through history — always taking a risk. And that is why I firmly believe that we should look at someday building this park.”
Community Development Commissioner Andy Mooney, who will stay on under Emanuel, said he was pleasantly surprised to learn from the report that the number of tech parks around the world has doubled in recent years.
“That tells us that there is a very strong market for the right kind of companies to come into these kind of tech parks,” he said.
“That’s why it takes a long time. … You’re not looking for any kind of development. You’re looking for very specific types of uses. So, you have to be patient in order to get there.”