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Emanuel still hoping for compromise on Prentice building

The former Prentice Women’s Hospital 333 E Superiorr.  |  John H. White~Sun-Times.

The former Prentice Women’s Hospital, 333 E Superiorr. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:15PM



A downtown alderman’s gutsy decision to declare his support for demolishing the old Prentice Women’s Hospital was not enough Wednesday to persuade Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do the same.

One day after Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) did the mayor a favor by taking the lead, Emanuel was still talking about finding common ground between preservationists who want to save architect Bertrand Goldberg’s unique building and the clout-heavy forces of Northwestern University that want to tear it down to make way for a center for biomedical research.

“I’ve met with Northwestern. I’ve met with the architect and preservationist community. And most importantly, I’ve met with the neighborhood groups. I keep repeating this. I don’t want to see the neighborhood groups cut out of this conversation,” the mayor said.

“I’m gonna have [a] follow-up meeting ... to see if we can’t find what I think are the right priorities for the city going forward. ... This was a conversation between Northwestern and preservationists. There’s people [who] live there, operate there and have businesses, and they should be part of that conversation as well because they’re part of that community.”

Once again, the mayor was asked how it would be possible to strike a balance between two sides diametrically opposed.

Northwestern is determined to demolish the building at 333 E. Superior to make way for a biomedical research facility with as much as 500,000 square feet of new space.

More than 3,500 people, including prominent Chicago architects and preservationists, have signed petitions urging Emanuel and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to save the building.

“I understand that is the riddle. I’m working towards that. And there may not be a common ground or a third way. And then, we’ll have to deal with that,” Emanuel said.

Earlier this week, Reilly got off the fence on the hot-button issue.

The alderman said he was inclined to support demolition because a “re-use” study by preservationists suggested only three alternatives — a dormitory, a hotel and a research lab — and all three fall short of Northwestern’s need to “operate a world-class research facility” that creates thousands of jobs.

“I’m a huge fan of Goldberg’s work. ... It’s not something I’m excited or happy about. And I’m very, very sensitive to the preservation community’s concerns. But, you can’t saddle a university with land that’s not useful to it,” he said then.

By taking the lead — and the brunt of the heat from preservationists — Reilly made it easier for Emanuel to follow.

On Wednesday, the alderman said he’s not surprised by the mayor’s decision to remain on the fence, nor is he feeling lonely out on the limb.

“I’ve been working through this issue for the better part of a year. . . . Despite our best efforts, this is where we are. We don’t have good options for that building,” he said.

Asked whether he believes Emanuel can find middle ground, Reilly said, “If that happens, I’ll be the first person to cheer. But so far, better part of a year, that solution has not presented itself.”



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