There is no question that the Edgewater Medical Center located at 5700 North Ashland is a huge hulking eyesore in our neighborhood. A building that serves no purpose other than to loom eerily over a nice neighbor hood of small attractive homes on the city’s north side. But despite its Gotham like presence, we should all appreciate what this wretch of a building has done for our community. I am not speaking of the past 80 years where for most of that time the building served as a center of healing, taking care of the sick and providing jobs for our community. But rather of the past decade where it has sat idle and deteriorating blighting our community. Without its presence, the center of our neighborhood would have been redeveloped years ago in to more mind numbing condominiums, shops or apartments providing its own sort of blight: Development . Development for development sake is bad enough, but development for the sole reason for a French bank to get a few million dollars back on its wayward investment in a defunct hospital is a terrible idea.
The delays in the redevelopment of the site, caused by divided ownership and a long drawn out bankruptcy have given our community some time to evolve and mature. What we could have never tackled a decade ago, fighting city hall, seems more reasonable today. Our community is now made up with a tremendous mix of professionals; teachers, lawyers, doctors, architects, real estate professionals and everything in between. The people in our community have the capacity to recognize when our city isn’t listening or when circumstances are orchestrated to leave no other choice than to hand a defunct hospital over to developers to profit from, something that would not be completely distasteful except for the use of public funds through the local Tax Increment Financing. This site has negative economic value. Left to the market, the land value will certainly rise over time, but it could be five or ten years before it would be economic to tear down the building and develop the site as a
commercial property. We know this because the bank has already tried to sell the building to every private developer in the city without success.
So how does the community rid itself of this horrible, ugly, defunct hospital without being forced to accept more mind numbing development that will increase the housing supply and depress property values? How does a community with the highest density in the city break the chain of development and bring a public park the West Edgewater community? Simply put, out community has to take action now.
Chicago is the city of parks. We have one of the largest public shorelines of any city in the country. We have Grant Park, Lincoln Park, Garfield Park, Montrose Beach, Foster Beach, nearly every community in the city has its own park space. Open spaces that define their communities, providing space for residents to congregate, communicate and support civic activities. Without a park or a lake or even a community center, a community, like West Edgewater, is an endless series of homes and businesses, and while people can live and survive in such settings, the quality of their lives is not as rich or fulfilling as it would be with a communal are for people recognize as home.
How do you measure the impact of a community park? A park on the Edgewater Medical Center will mean that we will not build apartments or small retail, which will cost some temporary construction jobs and cost some tax revenues. For answers to this question, I turned to a study from The Trust for Public Land, Measuring the Economic Value of a City Park System. Here is the website. Please look it up yourself. http://www.tpl.org/tier3_cd.cfm?content_item_id=22879&folder_id=3208
The financial element that jumped out at me was the direct impact on property values. Parks conservatively add 5% to the value of the properties within 500 feet of the park. By some quick calculations (counting properties on Google Maps), I believe that there are $250,000,000 in properties in this area. According to the Trust for Public Lands piece there is additional benefits for properties within 2,000 feet, but taking a conservative approach it is much more difficult to define this value. The 2,000 feet zone is just under a half mile and I think is a reasonable distance that people will walk to get to a park – Its useful zone. Even given the 500 foot ring and $250,000,000 in property values at a 5% increase, the annual revenue to the cities coffers is $125,000. This if for just having a public park!
While certainly 30 homes on the same property might generate more revenue, by my calculations $150,000 (30 * $5,000 = $150,000), the city would also have to provide numerous services to the new residents; schools, fire and police, and mental health services for the people crammed into an area without public parks! Another critical point is that a park has far fewer redevelopment costs than a commercial development. By using TIF funds to pay for the deconstruction and site preparation for a commercial development, as a public good, rips off the city and tax payers. An example is the physical removal of the hospital materials. For a park site, much of the building can be collapsed and left in place on site. Expensive remediation of mold can be minimized or eliminated because mold is not going to grow under ground and people will not be using the space for living. These kinds of expenses are going to be glossed over in any redevelopment plan and the burden passed to the tax payers because the site is not economic to develop in the first place.
A large development would be worse than the current medical center. At least with the current buildings, we have fewer people and less density. Some of the proposals that have been discussed would put dozens of apartments or townhomes on the site, thus putting more pressure on the community’s culture and human development needs. Parks actually reduce crime and provide a healing center where people have to share and learn to live in common with others. The mores of our community will act as a filter and moderator of strong opinion. The park will be a place where our community members will have to be nice to each other, at some basic level anyway.
Finally, a park is the correct use for the Edgewater Medical Center. This is the cornerstone of our community. While we are not likely to have many tourists coming from the suburbs, or from Europe, to see our West Edgewater Park, we may get people from other parts of the north side to visit and spend money in Andersonville. This park could be a fine site for our farmers market and we could even have some space for community garden. In the end a park will simply make our community a community and provide a much nicer place for our citizens, animals, and children to live, play and breathe.
In this time of economic woe, we really need the City of Chicago to be careful with our taxes and only spend the communities TIF funds on projects that provide a significant multiplier effect such as high-tech industries or even hospitals, not on small retail or apartment complexes. That is actually negative economic development for the long run.
The property itself has negative value. An $8 million deconstruction project sitting on top of $8 million worth of property has no economic value. If the city, and Alderman O’Connor, will just stay out of the way and not provide the TIF funds or a zoning variance to redevelop the site, then the bankruptcy judge will have no choice but to declare the site of no value. The only value the property will have then is as residual value and maybe then we can get our public park.
By Chris Swan