Mayor backs controversial plan at old Children’s Hospital site
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter February 10, 2014 5:00PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Updated: March 12, 2014 6:22AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel chose sides Monday in a controversy that has divided Lincoln Park — by embracing a scaled-down, $300 million plan to redevelop the site of the now-shuttered Children’s Memorial Hospital.
Emanuel’s endorsement is a boon to embattled local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and developer Dan McCaffery, and a blow to historic district homeowners determined to shrink the massive project at Lincoln and Fullerton.
Under questioning from the Chicago Sun-Times, Sarah Hamilton, the mayor’s communications director, said Emanuel is on board with McCaffery’s revised plan to build two 19-story towers, 900 residential units, a five-story health club, an assisted living facility and 100,000 square feet of retail.
That sets the stage for approval by the Emanuel-appointed Chicago Plan Commission on Feb. 20.
“He generally supports this, as there seems to be a concensus around the plan, which is an honest compromise that balances both the economic development needs and the density of the neighborhood to meet the various interests of all sides,” Hamilton wrote in an email to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Smith, who was on the hot seat at a community meeting last week, said she was “delighted to learn the mayor has been following this and appreciates the great compromise” she has forged after two and half years of negotiation.
“We have stood up to one of the most powerful and popular institutions in the city and got significant concessions. A lot of people said it was a remarkable achievement. Now, it’s time to move forward,” the alderman said.
Smith acknowledged that a “focused group of people” remain opposed to the project. But she said, “This site, which stands at the commercial crossroads of Lincoln Park, is never going to be townhomes.”
Residents of the historic Mid-North district comprised of roughly 400 homes nearest to and most impacted by the project were not surprised by the mayor’s endorsement. They feared the project was a “done deal” when Smith embraced McCaffery’s latest plan.
But they scoffed at Hamilton’s suggestion that a community consensus has been reached.
“There is no consensus in the neighborhood that’s affected. One could say this is the best thing for the city or even the 43rd Ward. Michele [Smith] might be able to claim that, too. But it’s not a good thing for the people who live right here,” said Josh Glazier, president of the Mid-North Association.
Veteran political strategist Don Rose, who lives in Mid-North, characterized as “baloney” the mayor’s claim that Smith and McCaffery have struck the appropriate balance.
But Rose acknowledged that Emanuel “carried this area huge” and faces little political risk by wading into the controversy.
“Local development issues [don’t have much impact], unless they get very big like the Children’s Museum,” Rose said, referring to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s failed plan to build a new museum in Grant Park.
Daley rammed that project through the City Council over the objections of local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), only to have the threat of a lawsuit and the economic slowdown stall fund-raising for the project. That paved the way for Emanuel to reverse Daley’s plan in favor of renewing the Children’s Museum’s Navy Pier lease and giving the museum more space to expand there.