A look inside ‘old’ Cook County Hospital’s $145M facelift

CHICAGO -- It’s been over 16 years since the closing of the old Cook County Hospital. The legendary facility played a key role in the history of medicine and over the decades, it’s been featured in numerous TV shows and movies.

The abandonment and neglect are finally over for the historic building.

An ambitious makeover is now underway.

Resurrection of the hospital involves rehabilitation, renovation and restoration.

For developer John Murphy and his partners, the work goes way beyond a facelift.

“It’s almost sad to see the decay that’s taken place over the years but I do take pride in being part of bringing it back to life,” Murphy said. “When we’re completed, it’ll be 100 percent as it was when it was delivered in 1914.”

On all eight floors, Walsh Construction is busy with destruction. Almost every wall is coming down.

In about a year, the old hospital will be home to two new hotels, medical offices, retail spaces and a small museum dedicated to the history of this building and its influence on healthcare.

Since it’s on the National Register of historic places, $24 million in federal tax credits are curbing the $145 million initial cost of the transformation. Twelve million dollars are going into the façade alone.

“Hopefully, we’ll bring it back in a condition to last it another 100 years,” Murphy said.

While the hospital project is a major undertaking in and of itself, the historic building is just one piece of an ambitious plan to transform the entire Illinois Medical District - all 560 acres of it.

About 80,000 people commute to the district every day. The old hospital and four current hospitals are anchoring a number of new mixed-use projects in the pipeline.

IMD CEO Suzet McKinney believed the area needs to evolve.

“We will have a number of amenities that are currently missing… hotel, restaurant, retail, residential,” she said. “But I think what’s also very important is with the inclusion of all those things, we will also be bringing jobs to the west side of Chicago.”

Jobs in the old hospital will mainly be in hospitality, since Stroger took over the healthcare load as planned.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle inherited the abandoned dilemma when she took office in 2010. It’s taken years for just the right development plan to come along.

“We wanted to be sure that the hospital got renovated and re-used,” Preckwinkle said. “We made that the first priority instead of having it done down the road or maybe never getting to it.”

“This profile of architecture is very important to the history of Chicago,” Murphy said.  “We’re going to carry it forward for as long as we can in order to not only recognize the past, but also to inspire others going forward as to what they build and weave into the fabric of Chicago.”

A good portion of the renovated building is expected to open next fall.  Later phases will bring new mixed-use buildings near the hospital, including a residential tower. Nearby, 30-acres of the Illinois Medical District are among the sites still under consideration by amazon for its second headquarters.