LINCOLN PARK — Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared "the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Lincoln Park" with the groundbreaking Thursday for the Lincoln Common development on the former site of Children's Memorial Hospital.
It was a triumphant day for developer Dan McCaffrey, who thanked dozens of local residents in attendance for "your vigorous support and your opposition — which I wish had been not so vigorous."
McCaffrey, however, quickly added that the long, arduous process of getting the project approved by residents and the city had made it "much more refined ... and I think everyone is going to be very, very proud of this one."
Emanuel compared it jokingly to the endless pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
Lincoln Common will create two luxury apartment buildings on the triangular lot formerly occupied by Children's Memorial at 2300 N. Lincoln Ave. It will have 540 units as well as 60 low-rise condominiums, 160,000 square feet of retail space and an acre of open space available to the public, not just residents.
McCaffrey said it would be completed in two years.
"Lincoln Common will be the new crossroads of Lincoln Park," said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who also touted that it would include 55 units of affordable housing, a 10 percent figure that would also extend to the adjoining Belmont Village assisted-living development. "This is the first new affordable-living facility built in Lincoln Park in 35 years," she added.
Jim Walsh of Hines Interests, McCaffrey's partner on the massive development, called it "a vital and dynamic anchor to the Lincoln Park neighborhood."
"Today is a point of transition for our neighborhood," said Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central Association. "The property assumes its new identity — the Lincoln Common."
Emanuel, however, also offered a personal and heartfelt appreciation for Children's Memorial, which occupied the site for 130 years before moving to Streeterville as Lurie Children's Hospital. He said he himself had been treated there following the infamous loss of his right middle finger in a teenage misadventure with a meat slicer, an injury that became infected.
"I spent seven weeks of my life in that hospital," Emanuel said, "and if it wasn't for the nurses and the doctors I wouldn't be here." He added that he'd also gone on rounds with his pediatrician father in the hospital.
But otherwise it was a day of triumph and celebration for city officials and the developers, with McCaffrey calling the groundbreaking "one of those ceremonial things with the shovels."
On a raw and windy day, it was held in the parking lot across Lincoln Avenue from the old hospital site, with McCaffrey insisting, "We're not going out there to do it."