New IMD head Warren Ribley meets community at WCA event
May 31, 2012
New IMD Executive Director Warren Ribley spoke at the April 11 WCA meeting.

By Sheila Elliott

The Illinois Medical District (IMD) has had a significant impact on healthcare in Chicago for more than 70 years, and more significant days may lie ahead for the world’s first urban medical district, said new IMD Executive Director Warren Ribley at the April 11 West Central Association (WCA) meeting.

“Lots of people don’t even know about the Illinois Medical District,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be that way.”

Recently named executive director of the IMD Commission by Governor Patrick Quinn, Ribley succeeds Sam Pruett, who resigned after the State gave the IMD $4.5 million when the organization appeared on the verge of defaulting on bonds it issued to build laboratory space for biotech and medical research.

Ribley, who had been director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said at the time of his appointment, “We will develop an aggressive plan to reinvigorate the nation’s largest medical district and expand on assembling that nation’s premier concentration of health care facilities and providers.”

“Warren Ribley brings to the IMDC a wealth of experience and expertise in managing innovation and economic growth,” said Jennifer Woodard, the commission’s new president, at the time of his appointment.

At the WCA meeting, Ribley noted his goals include an enhanced public profile and improved sense of community within the IMD itself.

Created by the Illinois State Legislature in 1941, the 560-acre IMD is bounded by Ashland Avenue on the east, the Eisenhower Expressway on the north, approximately 15th Street on the south, and Damen Avenue (and some points beyond) on the west. It holds more than 40 healthcare facilities including Stroger Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center, and theUniversity of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System.

Ribley said those four medical centers make the IMD a “very significant” economic force estimated to generate as much as $3 billion annually. Now the IMD Commission and its economic development arm must plan further development and build on that success, he noted. Directly seeking new businesses to enhance the area and developing available property are central to that purpose, he said. Ribley cited the Costco retail development on south Ashland Avenue and development of a five-acre parcel nearby for a new heliport as examples of changes underway.

Dark blue areas in the map above “are parcels owned by the IMD that are key development areas,” said Warren Ribley, IMD executive director. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)
“There’s a lot going on here in the Medical District, but there’s a lot more coming, he said. Other undeveloped property within the IMD borders “could figure significantly into its future,” he added.

In a subsequent interview with the Gazette, Ribley identified the 700 block of south Hoyne Avenue, 2020 W. Ogden Avenue, and some sites south of Roosevelt Road as “prime development parcels.” A three-and-a-half acre tract on the western edge of the IMD also is part of his office’s development effort, he said, noting, “We’re actively seeking business opportunities” for that site. He declined to comment on specific businesses or corporations being courted.

At the luncheon, Ribley said that, despite seeking business development, the IMD “will remain faithful to its core mission as a medical care center.” He cited businesses related to health care, information technology, pharmacology, electronic medical records, and assisted living as examples of what his office wants to draw to the area.

Calling the IMD’s development plan “outdated,” he said it needs a new plan that reflects current circumstances. “There are quality of life entities that are an essential part of any community, and we’re aware of that,” he said. The IMD will review numerous ideas, and“We hope to bring some of [them] before the community shortly, he said. “Right now, we’re in a listening mode.”

An audience member asked Ribley if his office knew about the scarcity of new public schools in the area even though the residential population has grown. Ribley called the question “an important one” but did not comment further.