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posted: 3/3/2010 12:01 AM

Cook Co. board votes to save, rehab abandoned hospital landmark

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The Cook County Board endorsed a plan to rehab the historic, abandoned Cook County Hospital building today, but rejected yet another attempt to fully roll back the 1 percentage point increase in the sales tax imposed in 2008.

In a move sure to cheer architecture aficionados, the board agreed to back a County Hospital preservation plan that immediately allots $5 million to get the project rolling.

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The county's Health & Hospitals System will move its administrative offices from 1900 W. Polk St., Chicago, to the almost 100-year-old Beaux-Arts structure at 1835 W. Harrison St., according to Bruce Washington, director of the Office of Capital Planning and Policy,

Cook County Hospital has been shuttered since Stroger Hospital replaced it in 2002, and today it's probably best known as the facade of the fictional County General in the long-running NBC series "ER."

Total cost of the "adaptive reuse" was budgeted at $107 million. Washington said the county would be borrowing about $80 million, but key to the deal was a measure insisted on by Bartlett Republican Commissioner Timothy Schneider that Chicago contribute about $23 million from tax increment financing, which comes from additional property taxes generated after a designated property increases in value.

"What was built back then is a heck of a lot nicer that what we build these days," Schneider said.

The rehabilitation project will actually cost more than razing and rebuilding on the site, county officials said, yet Democratic Chicago Commissioner Jerry Butler said the money would be better spent elsewhere on the actual hospital system. Citing the book "The Old Lady on Harrison Street," he said, "We are not saving the Old Lady. We are just saving her dress." Even he relented in the end and support the rehab plan, saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Riverside Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica, however, adopted the opposite tactic in again presenting a proposal for a full rollback of the 1 percentage point Cook County sales-tax increase. The board voted late last year to cut the hike in half, moving the county's share of the sales tax from 1.75 to 1.25 percent effective July 1, but Peraica sought a return to 0.75 percent, saying it offered "relief to the taxpayers."

"It's still a political stunt," replied Evanston Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who advocated "a sane policy for repealing this tax" as part of the 2011 budget process. "This is not a sincere effort. There will be sincere efforts in the future," he added. "I will not be part of the circus."

The measure failed by the same 11-6 vote as before, with Chicago Democratic Commissioner Forrest Claypool joining suburban Republicans Peraica, Schneider, Liz Gorman of Orland Park, Gregg Goslin of Glenview and Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park in favor of the cutback.

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