EDGEWATER — Residents living near the Edgewater Medical Center are calling for Ald. Pat O'Connor and the city to tear down the former hospital — which has "devolved into a decrepit hulk" — if a developer isn't found within 60 days to take over the site.
They sent a letter with their demands this week to O'Connor (40th).
"Basically, we told him that the purpose of the letter was to put a timeline in place for the demolition of the EMC," said Lisa Hand, president of the West Edgewater Area Residents, a neighborhood association that claims the long-vacant center threatens the public's safety. "We’re really hoping that this letter spurs the city and alderman to use any tools they have to remedy the situation."
Hand and her neighbors said they've waited 13 years, since the hospital was shuttered, for the now-bankrupt estate to do something else with the empty buildings at 5700 N. Ashland Ave.
Last year, O'Connor introduced to the City Council a planned development that would allow an apartment building with street-level commercial and a row of townhouses along West Edgewater Avenue.
But months have passed and no developer has come forward to claim the land.
Now residents are asking, why can't the buildings be torn down?
In 2003, the Edgewater/Ashland tax increment financing district was established on just a few blocks, mostly encompassing the ex-hospital site and a handful of single-family homes to the north.
The district's balance at the beginning of 2013 was $1.68 million, according to city records.
Hand said the funds were intended to be used toward the eventual demolition of EMC.
"There’s significant amount in there," she said. "We think it’s enough to get that process started."
O'Connor didn't respond to a request for comment about the group's call to action. But in February 2013, he told dozens of neighbors at a community meeting about development plans for the site, including that the TIF money would be used to demolish the buildings when a developer was found.
Since then, however, residents said they have seen the buildings spiral into disrepair. The city's Buildings Department has also cited the estate with multiple code violations, including a failure to keep the building in a "safe condition so it does not constitute actual and imminent danger to the public," according to city records.
"A few of them have been addressed and taken care of, but most of them haven't," said Maurine Berens, a member of the neighborhood group.
She said her neighbors had run out of patience.
"The issues weren’t being addressed, and they’re not going to be addressed," she said. "If we keep waiting for a developer to come along, you know, it’s just getting unsafe. We felt it was time to get a little more aggressive."
Even the court-appointed custodian, Eugene Crane, and his legal team, claim the center had "devolved into a decrepit hulk" since it closed down, according to a motion filed last month in federal bankruptcy court.
The motion requests that a judge waive $14.1 million in unpaid county property taxes and penalties levied against the estate. The taxes were only levied after the nonprofit Edgewater Medical Center went out of business.
Crane, the attorney for the estate that took over control of the site, contends in the motion that his client's nonprofit status should exempt it from property taxes, as the hospital was. He also noted that the estate maintained medical records throughout the years as a service to the public but wasn't making any money.
On May 8, crews began working to remove and destroy the unorganized, waterlogged patient records.
Karen Vaughan, spokeswoman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said the county was aware the court motion had been filed and would "continue to monitor this matter and our position as the proceedings move forward."
The bankruptcy case's next court date is scheduled for July 9.
Attorney Scott Mendelhoff, the estate's spokesman, didn't return a request for comment.
In a declaration also filed in court last month, Edward Polich, the founder and owner of Waveland Partners LLC, the management company hired to maintain the property and market the planned development to potential buyers, said it would have been a "misuse" of the estate's money to "spend more than a minimal sum on upkeep" of the site.
"While EMC did expend funds as necessary for security, minimum-required utilities, and the like, the sheer size of the structures made air-tight security impossible," he said in the declaration.
Over the years, trespassers removed "virtually all" of buildings' copper piping and brass fittings, he said, adding that the estate had "waged a near-constant battle" against trespassers and graffiti.
He also said the buildings had suffered significant water damage, which had taken "its toll on the building, and any residual value it might have had even for scrap."
Polich also says his team had helped former patients retrieve records from the site — in accordance with center's tax-exempt mission to maintain them for the public.
If the unpaid taxes were not waived, Polich says, the center would be unable to sell the property, leaving creditors "empty handed" and the community "with a shuttered hospital property that but for the tax liability is poised to be developed, rejuvenating the Edgewater neighborhood."
But residents, such as Joe Drantz, say the estate would be disingenuous to claim to be a charity organization while not maintaining the buildings within the community it should serve.
"They don’t spend any money to fix it," he said. "I think that’s pretty hypocritical. You can’t have it both ways. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see the holes in this. They don’t give a damn what happens out here in the neighborhood."
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