BY Stephen Markley, Lincoln Park reporter · Monday, August 15, 2011
With McCaffrey Interests, Inc., beating out seven other competitors for the bid to buy and redevelop the Children’s Memorial Hospital site, the journey to reshape the heart of Lincoln Park has begun.
Details are sparse at this early stage, but early reports indicate that McCaffrey impressed with its proposal for a mixed-use “town center” that will include residential and retail space with some medium-income housing. It will also be no taller than the current peak of Children’s, which is about 160 feet. Yet McCaffrey will play out its hand slowly, organizing opportunities for the community to give its input.
“Basically, there are concepts, but the developer doesn’t want to go over the community’s head,” said Padraic Swanton, director of marketing and communications for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce. “From a chamber perspective, being a good neighbor perspective and a public relations perspective, it’s brilliant.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd)won a hard-fought campaign for her seat this year with a reputation for being hard-nosed with developers. She sees the redevelopment of Children’s as a vital opportunity for the ward.
“Children’s has communicated to the developer that they have to be willing to work with the community, and McCaffrey seems to have a reputation in that regard,” she said. “It’s going to be my job to help the community get the best development that they can.”
With a weak economy having slowed down potentially larger development deals downtown, not to mention its six-acre size and location in one of Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods, the redevelopment will be one of the largest and most high-profile construction projects in the city in the coming years.
This was evident in the bidding with the hospital. Developers were charged with winning over the surrounding community that has a record of being tough on developers. One need look no further than the protest that erupted in redeveloping the old Lincoln Park Hospital to see what residents can slow down or quash if they feel it’s not in the community’s interests.
To avoid these kinds of disagreements, the city and the hospital held a series of community meetings, which in 2009 produced a set of guidelines. These included height restrictions, the preservation of certain buildings and the need for mixed-income housing.
Smith said input from the community will continue on her watch.
“In kicking off the development process, I’m holding a community meeting to bring people up to speed on where we last left them and what the process is going to be going forward,” she said. “We’re making those plans now for sometime in September.”
Smith said she’ll announce the time and date of the meeting on her website and ward newsletter. She remains optimistic going forward.
“McCaffrey seems willing to work with the community,” she said. “From my perspective, I’m committed to a development process that is transparent, open and very data driven.”