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Letter to the Editor: Northwestern Expansion

Chicago Tribune

August 16, 2012

For years, Northwestern University has publicly championed plans to build a 21st century biomedical research facility on the site of old Prentice Hospital in Chicago to expand our medical school's research capacity and improve people's lives. Recently, however, preservationists have campaigned to landmark the unused building, which dates back to the 1970s and was designed by Bertrand Goldberg. Northwestern remains determined to replace the outdated building with an efficient, cutting-edge facility that will enable lifesaving research.

Architects disagree on the value of this particular building. The community group representing the surrounding Streeterville neighborhood does not support landmarking the building. Even before Northwestern acquired old Prentice, the university made clear its plan was to raze the structure and build a new medical research facility.

Expanding the scale of research at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine will bring more than 1,000 construction jobs for Phase I alone, and, eventually, more than 2,500 construction jobs overall for the site's full proposed redevelopment. The new research center is expected to add more than 2,000 professional and related jobs. The project is expected to generate $390 million annually in net economic impact for Chicago.

Some have urged us to build our new facility on other land downtown, but we don't own those properties. The location we do own is essential because it can connect directly on all floors to our existing and planned research buildings. This will enable doctors and researchers to walk down the hall to interact with their peers, a key requirement for the most efficient and effective research.

The interdisciplinary approach to research is widely credited with many medical breakthroughs. That was a key reason for Lurie Children's Hospital's recent move to Streeterville and is a critical factor in attracting top scientists and researchers.

It is not feasible to renovate Prentice and convert it into a competitive research facility. A renovation would not provide adequate space to meet the research needs of the university or the necessary technical and sustainability standards of a modern research facility.

Northwestern has a strong record on historic preservation. The buildings on our Chicago campus designed by renowned architect James Gamble Rogers have been carefully maintained and renovated by the university for nearly a century. We consistently win historic preservation awards for the restoration and renovation of major buildings on our Evanston campus.

Morton Schapiro, president and professor of economics, Northwestern University, Evanston