CHICAGO (CBS) — It has sat vacant for nearly 15 years, and become a popular target for graffiti artists, but the old Cook County Hospital building could get new life as a hotel and apartment building, with stores at ground level.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office unveiled the ambitious redevelopment plan on Wednesday.

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The Civic Health Development Group, led by MB Real Estate and Walsh Investors, has been chosen for the $550 million to $700 million development plan, and will restore the old hospital’s historic Beaux Arts façade as part of the project.

“I think that renovation of this facility will have a transformative effect on the Illinois Medical District,” Preckwinkle said.

Rendering lays out four phases of the Cook County Hospital redevelopment. (Credit: The Chicago Consultants Studio)

Rendering lays out four phases of the Cook County Hospital redevelopment. (Credit: The Chicago Consultants Studio)

The county would retain ownership of the land and lease the campus to CHDG for 99 years, starting at $2 million a year. Rent would go up as the years go on, and the county would have two 25-year options.

Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, said she’s glad to hear the county has come up with a long-term plan to preserve the hospital building.

“You’re going to walk into the interior, and have this grand lobby space. So they’re going to be restoring lobby in the center; and then as you move through, you’re going to see retail on the first floor, and then go up into the hotel space,” she said.

The redevelopment plan would go beyond the old hospital building itself, and would include construction of a new research and technology center east of the hospital, new buildings with additional retail and residential space, more parking, another hotel, and new park space.

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Preckwinkle’s office said the developer would have to come up with all of the funding for the project on its own. While the developer also would be on the hook for annual rent, CHDG would be able to take advantage of tax breaks offered to companies that restore historic properties.

“The taxpayers get the benefit of having the developer pay the rent on the building. The developers are using a land lease, so they can actually use the incentives; so they’re looked at sort of like an owner, but don’t take ownership of building,” McDonald said.

The old Cook County Hospital building was closed in 2002, when the county opened John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital across the street.

Rendering lays out part of the plan for the  Cook County Hospital redevelopment. (Credit: The Chicago Consultants Studio)

Rendering lays out part of the plan for the Cook County Hospital redevelopment. (Credit: The Chicago Consultants Studio)

Since then, the county has struggled to come up with a plan on what to do with the original hospital, which dates to 1913-16. The old hospital was home to the nation’s first blood bank and first comprehensive trauma center in the U.S.

The county also plans to build a new office building and clinic nearby, at a cost of about $113 million to taxpayers.

Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System, said the office building and clinic would be a replacement for the aging Fantus Health Center, which was built in 1959.

“This 9-story building will have 3 ½ floors of clinical space, and about 4 ½ [or] 5 floors of administrative office space; but it also has the flexibility to expand some of that administrative space in the future into clinical space,” he said.

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Shannon said the $113 million cost for the new office building and clinic would be less than the cost of long-term maintenance and operation of the buildings it will replace.