CHICAGO (WLS) --It was the first hospital to provide care for the poor, the first blood bank in the nation, the first place to care for AIDS patients and the setting for the television show "ER." Over 100 years old, the Cook County Hospital is going to be renovated and restored to its former grandeur while being converted into a hotel, residences and retail space.
Private developers plan to transform the historic building, which has sat empty for over a decade. Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle says it's because the real estate market has finally picked up.
The grand French design with fluted iconic columns, which spans two blocks, was built 102 years ago and provided care for generations of Cook County patients who could not afford health care. While the hospital relocated in 2002, the old county building sat empty. It became a magnet for graffiti and thieves. Now, 14 years later, a plan is in the works to redevelop it.
"I think the renovation of this facility will have a transformative effect on the Illinois Medical District," said Preckwinkle. "It's a place tens of thousands of people come to on a daily basis, yet it is hard to find a coffee shop."
Preckwinkle has chosen a team of private developers who plan to transform the building into a hotel, extended stay facility, apartments and retail. The plan dictates 20 percent of the units will be affordable housing, and Preckwinkle says no taxpayer money will be used unless there is an environmental issue.
"We are fairly confident there won't be any problems," she said.
And even if there are problems, there is a cap on the amount of mone4y the county can spend.
Saving the building something Landmarks Illinois has been working on since before the hospital closed.
"The challenge people saw was the deteriorating exterior of the building," said Bonnie McDonald of Landmarks Illinois. "And there was an assumption it couldn't be reused, and that was quite the opposite."
Landmarks Illinois says the structure is very sound. Top floor surgical theaters remain intact after all these years. Those who often come to the Illinois Medical District say renovating the historic building is a long time coming.
"I'm so glad something good is going to be done for it," said Vicki Vaughan. "It really needs it and it will be good for Rush as well."
"I think it'll be great for the area, and the city as well," said Maurice Johnson.
If the board approves the project, Preckwinkle says it will be complete by 2018-2019. She also wants the board to approve another project: a state of the art health care facility only a few blocks from the hospital, which will be paid for with taxpayer money.