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Emanuel Says He Won't Take Sides In Prentice Hospital Debate

By Samantha Abernethy in News on Sep 26, 2012 4:40PM

Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital is either an architectural gem or an eyesore blocking medical advancement. Is there a common ground? Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he wants preservationists and demolitionists to "work together," but what is in between the two?

Emanuel said he met with leaders of the Streeterville Organization for Active Residents (SOAR) and other local leaders, as well as architects and Northwestern officials. He told the Sun-Times:

“I’ve taken the recommendations of the neighborhood back to Northwestern and to the architects. It is part of a conversation that [needs to take place]. I want to see all the parties work together,” Emanuel said.

“I thought the neighborhood individuals and organizations had good recommendations that I will now take to Northwestern as well as to the architects and see if they can be addressing those.”

So that's it? How can there be common ground between tearing a building down and not tearing a building down? Emanuel is trying to please both sides, and he'll just wind up leaving every one unhappy.

It's been a decade since Northwestern University first announced its plans to demolish the 37-year-old building at 333 E. Superior. Goldberg is best known for creating Marina City Towers, and the cloverleaf Prentice building was considered a design ahead of its time with "cutting-edge cantilevered concrete design, advanced engineering and its progressive plan for the organization of medical departments and services."

Northwestern plans to tear down the building to make space for a new 500,000-square-foot biomedical research facility. Preservationists and others have signed petitions asking Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) to join their side. "Save the Prentice" ads have flooded local media. They want Northwestern to instead build their new facility on the vacant lot across the street, which the university also owns. Northwestern says this is a decision between saving a building and saving lives.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has Prentice on its list of things to do "by the end of the year." A landmark designation would stop demolition, but the lack of specifics in the commission's plan leaves questions. Preservationists came up with a list of 70 well known architects, including Frank Gehry. Northwestern countered with a shorter list of architects supporting their plan, but every person on it had worked on commissions for the university.

Christina Morris of the office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation told the Sun-Times that Emanuel only meets with SOAR representatives who support demolition. She claims:

“It’s well-known that SOAR is divided on this issue. If the mayor has met with a full cross-section of SOAR’s membership, he knows that many SOAR members support landmarking Prentice. The Save Prentice coalition was not included in these recent meetings, but we would welcome the opportunity to meet with the mayor and discuss how the building qualifies for landmark status under the city’s ordinance,” Morris said in an e-mail to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Northwestern continues to present a false choice between research and preservation. We know both are possible.”

Northwestern claims 72 percent of people polled by the university want the building torn down. Northwestern spokesman Al Cubbage told the Sun-Times:

“There aren’t any bad guys in this. The question is, what is the greater good for Chicago? We believe very strongly that having a biomedical research facility that does life-saving research into cancer, cardio-vascular disease and Alzheimer’s is a huge benefit to Chicago—not just in terms of 2,500 construction jobs and 2,000 full-time jobs and an economic impact of $400 million. It’s research that saves lives.”