Room to Operate

Room to Operate

Most of the white brick buildings will likely be demolished.
Courtesy Children’s Memorial Hospital

No one associated with the proposal to redevelop Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago’s Lincoln Park holds any illusions. The project is complex, and the surrounding community is vocal. After an intense competition to purchase the six-acre site, the hospital decided that McCaffery Interests’ mixed-use residential and retail proposal, which beat out eight other entries, was the most viable.

“The Children’s Memorial Hospital site is one of the most desirable pieces of land in the country,” Dan McCaffery said in a statement. McCaffery acknowledged that the initial ideas that won him the contract would now have to be vetted by the city, Alderman Michele Smith, and the community.

“It should be a new neighborhood crossroads that’s great for residents and visitors alike,” said Alderman Smith. “There’s real opportunity to have communication between all the arts venues. After the hospital leaves, the biggest industry in my ward will be live entertainment.”

Aerial view of the Children’s Hospital campus.
Courtesy Okrent Associates

It’s no surprise that the developer turned to Antunovich Associates to help lay out a plan of action. Besides building a relationship with the developer on projects in the Washington D.C. area, Antunovich had already navigated the neighborhood for the last thirty years while working for DePaul University. “It’s a difficult community, but for the right projects they’re supportive,” said Joe Antunovich. In addition to his experience on the ground, Antunovich said the firm cruised the neighborhood websites to gage the conversations about the project before submitting their proposal.

The architect said that among community expectations, preserving the older buildings tops the list, while developing a strong retail corridor along Lincoln Avenue runs a pretty close second. Creating a center of gravity for the project will be key to fulfilling the developer’s stated mission of creating “a new town center” for Lincoln Park. With the areas north and south of the site well-established, the space left behind when Children’s moves to Streeterville in 2012 will offer significant opportunities.

The architect said that the hospital’s 800 parking spaces would likely remain, though neighbors can hope for a spruced up version of the garage with street level retail. The modern white brick buildings will probably be torn down to make way for residential properties, more retail, and “special gathering places.” The heights of the new buildings are not expected to exceed those there now.

Despite reassurances, the community remains vigilant, though most are adopting a wait-and-see stance. “I’ve told a lot of people be prepared because something big is going to go there,” said David Varnerin, secretary for the Lincoln Central Association, whose neighborhood includes the parking garage. “People say they want retail, but I think it’s going to be mostly residential.”

Meanwhile, the architects have been pouring over historic photos of lost detailing on the older red-brick buildings on the site. Antunovich said restoring those elements was a way to reach out to the community almost immediately. “If we brought all that back, it could be marvelous,” said Antunovich. “The outreach is staring you in the face on Orchard Street.”