Judge dismisses Prentice lawsuit


Source: Creative Commons

A lawsuit alleging wrongdoing by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks was dismissed Friday, allowing NU to proceed with plans to demolish Prentice after a 30-day stay. The University and preservationists have grappled for decades over the fate of the old women’s hospital.

Susan Du, Photo Editor

A Cook County Circuit Court judge dismissed a lawsuit Friday alleging the Commission of Chicago Landmarks illegally declined to recommend landmarking of Prentice Women’s Hospital at its Nov. 1 meeting.

Judge Neil Cohen found that although the procedure undertaken by the landmark committee was “arbitrary” and “nontransparent,” commissioners did not violate city ordinance.  He offered the National Trust for Historic Preservation, plaintiffs in the suit, 30 days to amend their pleadings.

Northwestern, which plans to tear down Prentice and build a biomedical research facility in its place, is ordered to observe a 30-day stay before it can apply for a demolition permit. University spokesman Alan Cubbage said that will be NU’s first order of business if preservationists ultimately fail to convince Cohen of the legitimacy of their claims.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling, and it will hopefully enable us to move forward with our plans to build a new medical research building on that site,” Cubbage said. “I think it’s a very good plan, and building a new building answers the needs of not just the University, but of the entire Chicago area. Our goal is to save lives and bring jobs.”

Preservationists claim the landmarks commission failed to “uphold the spirit of city ordinance” by not giving proper notice that it would consider both the architectural integrity of Prentice and a report by the Department of Housing and Economic Development. They allege that granting a preliminary landmark recommendation and then passing a final vote to the contrary merely hours later was a “pre-orchestrated” act on the part of city panelists.

The city, a defendant in the suit, maintains the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ procedure did not deviate from city ordinance. Because the Nov. 1 meeting was not actually a hearing, it was not necessary to involve the public in the panel’s deliberations, the defense argued.

City codes state the commission’s final decision must take into account a staff architecture assessment and an economic development report. Although the commission may choose to recommend landmark designation for a building, only the Chicago City Council has the power to grant that status – another point of contention during Friday’s hearing.

Attorney Michael Rachlis, who represents The National Trust for Historic Preservation, said he is glad Cohen acknowledged preservationists’ concerns in his resolution.

“The court has indicated that there may be due process questions that may be included, so that’s something that we would be looking at,” he said of plans to amend the suit. “I think at this time it’s an opportunity to present a new complaint. We are confident that we have identified that there are issues with the way in which the process occurred.”

As preservationists continue pushing for NU to adopt plans for reusing Prentice instead of demolishing it, the University is determined to stick with its vision, having gone one step further in realizing it.