LINCOLN PARK — While issues of increased traffic and density remain, a slimmed-down Children's Memorial development proposal presented Tuesday night appeared to receive support from the majority of the massive crowd gathered to scrutinize the plan.
The common thread at the meeting at DePaul University's student center, attended by more than 500 people, was that the project needs to move forward for the benefit of the neighborhood.
It has been more than two years since the first meetings were held and a conceptual plan was presented. Tuesday's presentation laying out details of what McCaffery Interests hopes will be the final plan was the first presentation in 1½ years.
A ranking member of Children's Research Fund urged neighbors to accept the new proposal, pointing out that the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago supported selling the former hospital property at a reduced price of $50 million to compensate the developer for the shorter buildings and lower density at the site.
The property was first appraised in 2007 at $99 million to $120 million, according to Peter Bensinger, vice chairman of the board of the Lurie Children's Research Center. When McCaffery presented the original proposal in 2012, it was appraised at $64.5 million, Bensinger said.
"It's a sacrifice the board of the hospital made in order to accommodate concerns in this community, but now it's time to move forward," Bensinger said. "Now it's time for this community to support a reasonable plan, a fair plan."
The sale to McCaffery is pending approval of the final plans.
The new proposal, which McCaffery made available online in December, calls for three main buildings, two 19-story apartment towers and an 11-story apartment building. The 2012 proposal called for a 27-story building, a 24-story building and a 14-story building.
After the 2012 offering, Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) asked McCaffery to come back with two plans, one with less density and buildings no higher than those at the hospital site, and the other with an even less dense footprint and a height limit of 65 feet.
The newest proposal meets neither the height nor density parameters.
Dan McCaffery, chairman and CEO of McCaffery Interests, said he worked on plans that met those criteria, but none of them made sense economically.
"The requests ... were considered. They were deliberated, they were spoken about," he said. "Your alderman gave everyone in this room a fair shot at pushing me to push those plans, but they just didn’t work."
The plan also calls for 105,000 square feet of retail space, down from the 164,500 square feet proposed in 2012.
Seven of the existing buildings on the Children's Memorial campus would be retained or replaced with buildings of the same scale, and the remaining three would be knocked down to construct the apartment towers.
Many of the residents of the area immediately surrounding the hospital applauded the compromise, but neighborhood groups were split on the proposal.
A spokesman for the Park West Community Association said the group's board wants to limit the height of the buildings to 65 feet.
Other neighboring groups, such as the Lincoln Central Association, supported the plan, saying the former hospital site needs to be developed to reinvigorate the neighborhood.
Deirdre Graziano, vice president of the association, said Lincoln Avenue was once "a vibrant strip" that has become a "dead zone."
"We feel like this is a workable plan," she said. "It can be adapted, but it will only happen if we as a community take the effort and understand that moving forward is the key."
The vibrancy of the neighborhood and the climate caused by the departure of Children's Memorial Hospital and its approximately 4,100 people on campus every day were the biggest concerns raised by small businesses at the meeting.
At least nine businesses in the neighborhood have closed since Children's Memorial moved to Streeterville, said Kim Schilf, president of the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce.
"Right now, we have days where very few people even walk down the street on that stretch," Edzo's owner Eddie Lakin said.
Smith, who held up the project for the last two years until the overcrowding issue of Lincoln Elementary was resolved, said she remained undecided on the proposal.
Smith refused to give a timeframe on when she might reach a decision and said there was still a lot of neighborhood feedback to sort through.
"I think we did hear a lot of people saying it's time to move forward, and we will be doing that," she said after Tuesday night's meeting.
The major concerns besides height and density were the flow of traffic down Fullerton Avenue and a truck route that would run down Orchard Street, which runs one-way and is very narrow.
"Fullerton, the gateway to Lincoln Park, the beach and Lincoln Park Zoo, is almost impassable in the summer," said Norm Wolfe, of the Park West Community Association.
Another issue was the entrance to the underground loading zone, which would be accessible to trucks from Fullerton Avenue down a ramp adjacent to the proposed "Memorial Garden," a park honoring the history of the hospital.
McCaffery said those plans were not set in stone, and he urged residents to contact his office with suggestions to tweak the proposal.
"I’m not here trying to shove this thing down your throat," he said. "I really honestly believe in this project."