Little Opposition to R.I.C.’s New Hospital Tower in Gold Coast
A few days before the Thanksgiving break, a public meeting was held to explain the new skyscraper that the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago wants to build at 630 North McClurg Court. If that address sounds familiar, it should. It’s the former location of the CBS building, and if you hated this past election for what our political process has become, it all started in that building. But that’s a story for another time.
In the space that was once occupied by a two-story building, R.I.C. wants to put up a much larger structure. 480 feet tall — about the equivalent of a 48-story building, but we haven’t seen a firm floor count yet. Because of the way the building is being designed, the floors are expected to be much taller than traditional floors. So far, the only breakdown we’ve seen is:
- 9-story podium
- 1-story sky-lobby
- 17-story patient tower
- 3-stories of offices, which may or may not be part of the patient tower count.
There was surprisingly little opposition to the plan from the neighbors in attendance at the event last week. Most of the concerns were about traffic and parking.
Since the tunnel between the current R.I.C. Building (345 East Superior Street) and Northwestern Memorial Hospital has been shut down, patients have been shuttled between the facilities. That circulator traffic is expected to decrease significantly with R.I.C.’s new building because the new tower will have much of the same equipment that Northwestern has, so there will be little need to send patients out of the building.
The other big concern was the immense amount of parking spaces planned by the Institute. 830 is a lot of spaces. R.I.C. maintains it needs all of those spaces because it has several overlapping work shifts, where 300 people may be arriving for work when there are already 500 on duty.
The audience didn’t buy it, and noted that more parking spaces just encourages more people to drive, instead of walk, bike, and use public transportation.
42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly explained to the Rehabilitation Institute that his views on parking have changed over the last few years. He used to believe, as they seem to, that more parking is good because it removes cars from the streets. But he now works with a Field of Dreams vision of parking spaces — “If you build it, they will come.”
Here are the other highlights about the tower:
- Architecture firms: HDR Architects and Gensler
- R.I.C. will be included in the Institutional Traffic Management Plan for Northwestern hospital, so its traffic strategies will be reviewed annually and be part of the larger master traffic plan for Streeterville and the Gold Coast.
- Lot size: 66,602 square feet
- Hospital beds: 242
- Parking spaces: 830
- Height: 480 feet
- The typical floor size is 50,000 square feet.
- The typical patient floor will have 36 beds arranged around the perimeter.
- The hospital is required to provide patient rooms with natural light, so the tower will be set back from the parking garage to the west by 30 feet.
- Existing building opened in 1974.
- R.I.C. first opened in a warehouse nearby in 1954 at the corner of Ohio and McClurg Court. It’s now a surface parking lot.
- In 2011, R.I.C. had to turn away 75-100 patients a month because it didn’t have tha space to help them.
- The traditional, and well known “therapy gym” is going away. It will be replaced by a new therapy regimen called the “ability lab.”
- The skyscraper is being designed around these ability labs, which bring medical and research teams to the patient, and allows the patient to go directly from their rooms to the ability lab.
- Parallel bars are a thing of the past. They will be replaced with anti-gravity harnesses that hang from the ceiling and allow patients to walk around the lab and even up stairs.
- This is not just a larger building, it’s a new building designed around new therapy concepts.
- The interior will be designed with lots of curves instead of straight hallways and sharp angles, because patients move better in curves.
- Curves in the buildings facade provide setbacks behind the columns at ground level for outdoor seating and green space.
- The main entrance is off of Erie.
- A supplemental entrance for the medical offices will be on Ontario.
- All loading docks will be indoors, behind garage doors, to cut down on noise, smell, and visual pollution.
- 10th floor will feature a public sky garden, security checkpoint, staff garden, gathering spaces, auditorium, and a chapel.
- Portions of the building’s curtain wall will be/ arranged like shingles, so instead of reflecting the neighboring buildings, people will see the sky and clouds.
The big unanswered question at this point is what will become of the Rehabilitation Institute’s current 19-story tower on East Superior Street? At this point, it’s anybody’s guess. R.I.C. owns the building, but the land it sits on is owned by Northwestern. R.I.C. has about 50 years left on the land lease.
Northwestern has been itching to knock own the old Prentice Women’s Hospital in order to build a new laboratory and office building. Some preservationists hope that R.I.C. moving to a new location will provide an opportunity to save Prentice, especially considering that R.I.C. is next door to Prentice.
Others are not so optimistic, noting that Northwestern seems more interested in banking vacant lots these days, and has been incredibly resistant to listening to any suggestions about changing its internal plans for the future of the neighborhood.
Here’s a gallery of interesting images presented by R.I.C. at the meeting last Tuesday: