The 560-acre Illinois Medical District (IMD) on Chicago’s Near West Side could look very different in the coming years thanks to an ambitious initiative aimed at transforming the area’s vacant land into a burgeoning mixed-use innovation district.
“We are trying to market the district in a way that embraces more urban-style development,” Ryan Gage, communications director with the Illinois Medical District, told Curbed. “If you come to the district now, some of the development is older and has a suburban office park feeling. Outlined in our master plan, we would offer a broader mix of uses and foster a physical environment that creates public gathering spaces to encourage collaboration.”
A recent promotional video previewed the IMD’s more urban future, showcasing new retail, hotel, and civic components as well as a pair of striking gold-colored towers rising near the intersection of Ogden and Polk. While the conceptual towers are little more than eye-catching placeholders at this point, the animation illustrates the area’s untapped potential.
“This is about putting a new face on the IMD,” explained Christine Carlyle, principal and director of planning of Solomon Cordwell Buenz, the Chicago-based architecture firm heading the master plan. “In the past the medical institutions have been more inward facing and islands, but new these new pedestrian spaces and redevelopment opportunities could bridge the gaps and enliven the area.”
The district is currently home to 40 healthcare institutions including the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, and Stroger Hospital and is the largest urban medical district in the country. Its leadership, however, believes there is much more to come.
“Life science in Chicago is lagging behind other cities,” Illinois Medical District CEO Suzet McKinney told ABC7 news on Saturday. “It is our goal to change that.” McKinney says her team is encouraged by new incentives such as opportunity zones implemented under the recent overhaul of federal tax laws to attract new investment.
While the IMD’s latest push to revitalize roughly 31 acres of vacant land will have a significant impact on the area, some other nearby developments are already moving forward including the retail portion of the mixed-use IMD Gateway project at Damen and Harrison.
Work is also underway to convert the historic Cook County Hospital main building into hotel rooms as the first phase of a larger residential, office, and hospitality project known as Harrison Square. Rush is planning a new $500 million outpatient care facility, and the 19-story SCIO apartment tower is slated for Ashland and Taylor.