Two massive redevelopments for the Illinois Medical District got the thumbs up from nearly all County commissioners at Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting. Together, the redevelopment plan includes the demolition of three Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) buildings dating back to as early as the 1930s, and the total rehab of the century-old County Hospital and its surrounding area.

By 2028, according to county plans, the area will feature a new CCHHS building for administrative offices and outpatient facilities, a restored hospital building, and a new hotel, housing, retail, pocket parks, and infrastructure. The two ordinances are up for full board consideration today.

The two plans have been hailed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle as a way to “create a state-of-the-art medical campus adjacent to a vibrant, mixed-use community.” The new CCHHS building has an estimated cost of $118 million, and will be paid by a bond issuance expected to go out in the fall, County CFO Ivan Samstein said. The old hospital redevelopment will be funded by Civic Health Development Group, which will invest roughly $600 million in the project. The county will be responsible for up to $5 million to clean up the site. Construction on both projects is scheduled to begin in 2017.

Comm. Larry Suffredin called the old CCHHS structures slated for demolition–Fantus, Polk, and Hektoen–”terrible buildings” he was glad to see go. Comm. Peter Silvestri said a visit to Fantus years ago was like walking through a clinic in a third world country, and said the county would need to invest a significant amount of money to meet the high patient expectations for a modern healthcare facility. “Everybody wants an omelet but nobody wants to break an egg,” Silvestri said of the $118 million bond issuance. “If we want this omelet… we have to spend.”

Nearly all hailed the site redevelopment as a new gateway to the West Side. But for more than an hour before the near-unanimous approval, commissioners heard public testimony from West Side activists who said the plans didn’t go far enough to address unemployment and a lack of affordable housing.

Kia Giles, an activist wearing a bright green Westside Health Authority shirt, gave some of the most impassioned testimony of the day. “It has been 90 shootings, 17 homicides just this month… nothing stops a bullet but a job. We’re not playing, we’re hurting for real. If it hasn’t affected your family, believe it, it’s coming. Regardless of what race you come, this is a plague that’s slowly killing all of us.”

“Too often, tax payer money in the form of subsidies and tax breaks maximize gains for private investors without any benefit to the communities from which they profit,” a statement from The Westside Community Benefits Coalition read. “Throughout the city of Chicago, private development in low-income areas has led to gentrification and displacement of the most vulnerable residents.”

Shortly before the committee hearing, Comm. Richard Boykin held a press conference aimed at delaying a vote on the redevelopment. He said commissioners should prioritize spending on immediate violence prevention and job creation, and called for passage of his Community Stabilization and Anti-Violence Act.

Later, at the committee hearing, he faced off in a tense back and forth with defenders of the plan. Jessica Caffrey, the county’s Director of Real Estate Management, told him the county had worked with stakeholders to create a community benefits agreement that would prioritize jobs for local workers as part of the redevelopment. The agreement, in part, mandated roughly seven percent of the construction jobs be filled by residents within a three mile radius of the site. She said the project would create 3,200 construction jobs and 2,600 permanent jobs.

“How for the life of me can anybody agree to this? This is ludicrous,” Boykin said, calling the agreement a “sham.” He later said the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership is a “horrible organization,” and blasted the project for not prioritizing jobs for Austin residents living in the 29th and 37th Wards. 

Commissioners fired back at Boykin. “We need to be very honest with everyone who has sat in or listened to the conversation today: this is not a jobs program for everyone,” Comm. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, said. He was seated next to Boykin, but did not speak directly to him. “This is a construction program in its essence. This will go to people with jobs in building and trades. Do they exclude a lot of people? Yes. We’ve been raising that issue for decades… This project is not a save-all of the West Side.” Garcia said the West Side organizations who testified had not contacted him on the issue. “I didn’t receive one phone call, one letter, one email. No one came to visit me at my district office [on the South West Side] or here at Cook County. Why not?”

“Good job, Chuy,” Comm. Suffredin told him. Others, like Comm. Deborah Sims, and Finance Chair John Daley echoed Garcia. Boykin asked for a roll call he ultimately lost.

Roll Call: 

Yes – Arroyo, Butler, Gainer, Garcia, Gosselin, Morrison, Silvestri, Sims, Suffredin, Daley
No – Boykin
Absent – Fritchey, Moore, Murphy, Schneider, Steele, Tobolski