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Developer, Neighbors Look to Move Forward on Old Children's Memorial Site

By Paul Biasco | July 25, 2013 9:26am
 The former Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park has been vacant for more than a year.
The former Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park has been vacant for more than a year.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Now that the Wrigley Field renovation deal has been approved, the parties involved with the redevelopment of the former Children's Memorial Hospital hope to get the ball rolling.

Talk of a new school at the site continues, although the funding source remains a mystery.

It's been more than a year since Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) rejected the mixed-use plans that included residential high-rises at the site.

Since then, Smith has demanded a proposal with less density from developer McCaffery Interests and has stayed true to her vow to hold up the project until overcrowding issues at Lincoln Elementary are addressed.

"I would have to say that the city has had their hands full negotiating Wrigley Field, and I would hope that maybe now that that is somewhat out of the way, maybe we can move forward to our project," said developer Daniel McCaffery, chairman and CEO of McCaffery Interests.

Chicago Public Schools has insisted it doesn't have the $30 million to $50 million for a new school, but that doesn't mean it's a dead deal.

There are rumblings that money for a new Lincoln Elementary might come from sources outside of CPS, and McCaffery said he was open to the idea of building a school on the site.

"We have given [Smith] lots of different alternatives to putting a school there," McCaffery said Thursday. "I've heard that there may be money for the school, and it'd be wonderful if there is. I'm not objecting to it."

The site is prime real estate, and during discussions last summer, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago was asking for $60 million, according to Crain's Chicago Business.

Though the hospital is anxious to get its money, Smith appears no closer to making a decision on what to do with the former hospital. Citing concerns about density, height, historic preservation, loading, traffic and the school, she said other city officials need to get involved.

"Other governmental entities need to help us address this issue," she said.

At a Lincoln Elementary Local School Council meeting in the fall, CPS strategist Adam Anderson told parents "CPS does not have [the] dollars," and went on to say that "dollars from beyond the CPS world are being looked into."

Parents fighting for the school have looked to state and federal legislators for help.

Smith called the chance to address overcrowding at Lincoln by building a new school on the Children's site a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Some members of the Lincoln School community disagree, and said the alderman needed to reach out to the school community for solutions to overcrowding.

"The story is lack of information," said Ed Burns, a longtime neighborhood organizer who was also involved in the community hearings surrounding the Lincoln Park Hospital redevelopment.

Burns criticized the alderman for not keeping the neighborhood informed over the last year and questioned why there has not been a meeting on whether the second Lincoln Elementary should be built.

"She’s never had the discussion with the public," he said.

The school has been overcrowded for a number of years and has been forced to seek classroom space in a nearby DePaul University building for the upcoming school year.

Parents, however, have avoided taking to the streets with their concern — citing a desire to stay on good terms with the powers that be.

"We have our problems, and we want solutions to them, but you aren't going to get solutions if you are screaming for solutions," said Lincoln parent and LSC member Jerry Quandt. "We don't want to be politically jammed up at all."

McCaffery is on the same page.

"There's so many things intertwined here," he said. "There's been a lot to be addressed in the school world this year, with the teachers and with the buildings themselves."

The original plan was to have the former hospital demolished by the end of 2012 and to start construction in the first quarter of 2013, according to documents on Smith's website.

As the building sits vacant, Lurie Children's Hospital is losing money.

"It's frustrating, and it's frustrating for the hospital," McCaffery said. "The hospital hasn't gotten paid for this property yet, and it's costing them a lot of money to hold onto it. They've got a mission to look after poor children, and it's not helping their pocketbooks."