IMD plans for future use, density and scope of residential towers, worry Tri-Taylor community
July 5, 2019

Renderings courtesy the Gateway
Retail development and various public open spaces form part of the Gateway development in the Illinois Medical District.

By Nathan Worcester

Controversy erupted in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood after the Illinois Medical District (IMD) released a “flyover” video outlining its vision for the area’s future. The video debuted Gateway Chicago, a mixed-use development covering ten acres between Harrison and Polk Streets on the eastern edge of Tri-Taylor, set to open later this year. The video was released in May of 2018 but has begun to spark debates in recent months.

“We are not aware of any controversy surrounding the video,” said Ryan Gage, IMD director of marketing and communications.

“Why controversial now? Who knows?” said Susan Tyson, Tri-Taylor Community Association (TTCA) communications director. “There is much speculation on alternative plans, including eliminating 311 and the senior center, but those are speculative in nature, likely drawn from the marketing video that was released.”

“It just recently got noticed and circulated online by TTCA this spring, so I guess that is why now the comments,” said Sara Beardsley, an architect with Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture who resides in Tri-Taylor. “The neighborhood comments were that the 911 center was deleted, two tall towers were on Polk overlooking the park and across the street from two-story homes, and the senior center was deleted. But if these are just visioning and not serious proposals then residents will not be as concerned.”

To some residents, the video’s 3D renderings seemed to imply officials would tear down the 311 Center at 2111 W. Lexington St. and the Central West Regional Senior Center at 2102 W. Ogden Ave. The video does not seem to show those buildings. IMD marketing and communications staff have confirmed to both Gazette Chicago and the TTCA, however, that IMD has no plans to demolish either the 311 Center or the Central West Regional Senior Center.

“These claims” concerning tearing down the buildings “are unequivocally false” said Gage. “The IMD has no plans that call for the removal of the 311 Call Center. We do not own the land or the infrastructure at the 311 Call Center site.

“We do not own the Central West Senior Center, or the parcel on which it stands,” added Gage. “Aside from the fact that we don’t own the buildings, to entertain the thought of removing them, or the services provided, would contradict the very core of the IMD’s mission to improve health and social equity. The video is not to be interpreted to mean that any business or service is slated for removal.

“We have always been transparent with our stakeholders about our development plans,” continued Gage. “Any suggestion that we’ve presented plans to remove those buildings would be entirely false. The renderings in the video depict the type of urban-style, mixed use infrastructure for which the district is zoned. As an example: Cook County recently demolished the old Fantus Clinic and built their new health center at an adjacent site. New building, same services.”

The video renderings “are not indicative of any plans that have been developed, finalized, or approved,” added Gage. “The video is simply a depiction of what we believe the IMD can become when we reach our full potential.”

Illinois Medical District officials say they plan on putting up the new Gateway development but will not demolish the existing 311 Center or the Central West Regional Senior Center.

Vision reflects master plan

Gage emphasized that the IMD’s current vision is not new, saying it reflected the agency’s 2016 master plan update and the local life sciences industry’s current state, which he characterized as “ailing in terms of growth and patient and community outcomes.”

“We believe an innovation district that brings life sciences and tech together will help both sectors grow, stay competitive, benefit the City and State—and, most notably, improve local health outcomes, particularly in underserved communities,” added Gage.

When asked about an innovation district’s timetable, Gage did not provide specifics, instead pointing to the IMD’s recent white paper, Restoring Chicago’s Life Science Leadership: A State and City Partnership.

“Transforming the IMD into a world class life sciences innovation district will take a coordinated, multiagency effort by public and private sector organizations,” Gage explained. “This work is ongoing.”

Asked how officials will fund the innovation district, Gage noted that, in June 2018, the IMD redeemed $40 million of Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) revenue bonds early.

“The IMD borrowed funds from the IFA via tax-exempt and taxable revenue bonds in January 2006 for the acquisition and strategic development of vacant land,” said Gage. “This debt relief helped secure our financial health and provides the IMD with greater flexibility to pursue its strategic vision. We also developed a five-year financial road map to help us identify and pursue viable revenue streams.”

Controversy about towers

The flyover video raised another controversy over the appearance of two large towers abutting the Tri-Taylor Historic District. The towers appear to be at least 20 stories tall.

“Plans for the Gateway development call for two 15-story residential towers in the southern portion of the site,” said Gage. “These plans have not changed since they were approved by the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development in July 2015. Additional residential towers are contemplated for future development on the site of the Old Cook County Hospital.

“However, the residential towers are not part of the near-term development,” added Gage. “Phase one infrastructure construction is underway and includes retail spaces that will bring much needed amenities to the district. We expect infrastructure construction to be complete later this summer, which will be followed by tenant build-out. The retail corridor should be open for business in 2019.”

A new hotel will provide an important component of the Gateway development, which will bring more visitors, workers, residents and jobs into the Illinois Medical District in this community.

Retail leases signed

Gage confirmed that Gateway already has executed lease agreements with Jimmy John’s, Eye Q Optique, and Habit Burger.

“We’re still finishing up leases with a handful of other tenants,” said John Higgins, development manager at East Lake Management, who added that they were “very recognizable food service and service-related tenants.

“We expect to have another four deals to announce in the next week or so,” said Higgins. “The first ones will probably open for business in September.”

Though some Tri-Taylor residents and business owners welcomed the IMD’s clarifications regarding its flyover video, concerns about the development’s scope and transparency remain.

“As a long-time resident of the Tri-Taylor Historic District, I strongly believe that new IMD development adjacent to the residential area should be sensitive to the quiet character of the neighborhood,” said Beardsley. “The zoning process needs to be done with community input and should consider a lower scale buffer zone between the existing low-rise residential buildings and tall towers which could add excessive traffic, windy corridors, shadows, noise, and other concerns. New development should also include, and protect, retail and community amenities that enhance the neighborhood.”

Some IMD materials may sug-gest Tri-Taylor’s existing small businesses, which are often family owned and of long standing in the community, constitute less of a priority for the agency. In maps on pages 22 and 46 of the IMD’s 2016 master plan, for example, the entire retail corridor along Taylor Street in Tri-Taylor is colored yellow, coding it as “Residential.” The local businesses so classified in the residential area include Ferrara Bakery, Jarabe Mexican Street Food, Lulu’s Hot Dogs, and Conte Di Savoia. Other businesses in the IMD, however, including the chains in the shopping complex at Roosevelt Road and Paulina Street, are colored pink, coding them as “Commercial.” The Costco Wholesale at 1420 S. Ashland Ave. likewise is colored pink, as is the Sbarro at 1717 W. Polk St.

“The retail corridor in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood on Taylor Street is labeled via text on page 40 of the master plan,” said Gage. “The fact that the retail corridor wasn’t labeled via a separate color designation should not be interpreted as anything other than a graphic design decision.”

That page designates “Tri-Taylor Retail,” although it does not identify specific businesses.

Staff at 311 Operations at 2111 W. Lexington St. would not comment on the record about the proposal. Staff at Central West Regional Senior Center did not respond to requests for comment. Alderman Jason Ervin did not respond to requests for comment.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Joseph Grieco, general manager of Lulu’s at 1000 S. Leavitt St.

“I don’t think anybody likes being overlooked or neglected,” said Alexis Vejar, general manager of Jarabe at 2255 W. Taylor St. Vejar said that the Tri-Taylor corridor is “right in the middle of everything, and people tend to forget that there are businesses there. They could use a little bit of marketing.”

See the flyover video at http://medicaldistrict.org/real-estate/. For more on the IMD, log on to https://medicaldistrict.org. For more on the TTCA, log on to tritaylor.community.