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Judge Dismisses Complaint Against City for Denying Prentice Landmark Status

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | January 11, 2013 12:44pm | Updated on January 11, 2013 2:37pm
 Prentice Women's Hospital on Northwestern University's medical campus in Streeterville.
Prentice Women's Hospital on Northwestern University's medical campus in Streeterville.
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Landmarks Illinois

CHICAGO — Prentice Women's Hospital could vanish from Streeterville's landscape in a month following the ruling of a Cook County judge Friday.

Judge Neil Cohen dismissed a complaint Friday that criticized the Chicago Commission on Landmark's process in denying the hospital building landmark status, but scolded the commission's behavior.

On Nov. 1, the Chicago Commission on Landmarks voted "yes" to recommend preliminary landmark designation for the Prentice building. But minutes later, the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHED), issued a report recommending against issuing landmark status, and the commission rescinded the offer.

The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois raised issue with the commission's failure to mail a written notification of its decision on Prentice's landmark status to the property owner, Northwestern University, as required.

The preservation group has been fighting to protect Prentice, designed by modernist architect Bertrand Goldberg in the mid-1970s, for the last five years. The four-tower building was named in the group's 2008-09 "watch list" of endangered architectural gems in the city, where it was heralded for its "highly sculptural" artistic value by Heather Barrow of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In his decision made at the Daley Center, the Cook County judge ruled that the landmarks council, which made the complaint, didn't have the legal standing to contest the city's handling of the process, and said his hands were tied by precedents that prohibit attempts to overturn legislative decisions based on administrative objections.

That assertion referred to a 1988 Illinois Supreme Court decision cited in court by attorney Mardell Nereim, who represented the city.

The city celebrated the finding in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

"Moving ahead with this state-of-the-art medical research facility will bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in positive economic impact to our city," spokesman Roderick Drew said in a statement. "We look forward to the positive impact it will have on the Streeterville neighborhood and Chicagoans everywhere."

But Cohen voiced concerns about the order of events within the commission, noting that DHED "has 60 days to do that, but they did it in six minutes."

"The amount of time and notice given" and the manner by which the city rescinded its recommendation "was arbitrary and non-transparent," Cohen said in his ruling Friday. "But there's nothing I can do about that, because my Supreme Court has told me I can't and I'm following the law," Cohen said.

Cohen ordered a stay on any demolition at the Streeterville site until the matter returns to court at 10 a.m. Feb. 15. That allows Landmarks and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which Cohen said does have legal standing, time to amend the terms of their complaint.

"There are cases in this scenario that very much give the court the power to look at and remedy the situation," said attorney Michael Rachlis, co-counsel to attorney Michael Sinclair, who represented the landmarks council. "The court has suggested one way to do that is due process issues. We're going to look at that, but we believe that there are ways in which the court can and appropriately should take a look at [this]."

Northwestern University, which owns Prentice and has been fighting for the right to replace it with a more modern biomedical facility, issued a statement minutes after the ruling applauding the judge's decision.

"Northwestern University is pleased that a Cook County Circuit Court judge today dismissed a complaint that the action by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks in November not to give final landmark status to the former Prentice Women’s Hospital was not legal," NU spokesman Al Cubbage said.