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City Council OKs Blackhawks practice facility, Rush expansion

The old Malcolm X College will be demolished to make way for a Blackhawks practice facility and a $500 million “academic village” for Rush University Medical Center that includes a dormitory for 300 students.

The City Council on Wednesday approved both projects, which will share the 11-acre site at 1900 W. Van Buren. Four acres will go to the Blackhawks; seven acres to Rush.

Together, the Blackhawks and Rush will pay $26.7 million for the land. That matches the value placed on the 486,526 square feet of land by the city’s third-party appraiser.

But only $24.3 million of that money will be paid in cash. The rest will be a credit for “community benefits.”

City Hall expects to spend $8 million to demolish the old Malcolm X and prepare the site for construction, leaving Chicago taxpayers with a net profit of $16.3 million from the deal.

Peter Hassen, senior executive director of marketing for the Blackhawks, has estimated that the community would have access to the two-rink facility 50 percent of the time. He pegged the value of community benefits at $3 million over five years.

“We’re looking at how much the ice time is, how much transportation is, how much food costs are, how much the equipment is going to be, how much staffing is,” he said.

At a Plan Commission meeting last month, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz said a single rink would have been enough to meet the practice needs of the Stanley Cup champs and still accommodate “a little bit” of community involvement.

But two rinks will accommodate the “explosion” of youth and women’s hockey triggered by the Hawks’ three Stanley Cup championships and still allow Blackhawks Charities to oversee year-round programs and clinics for underprivileged youths.

“We’ve been on the West Side for almost 100 years. It’s been very good to us. We want to be very good back to the community,” Wirtz told the Plan Commission.

“You can’t teach people how to play hockey or anything about the game if you don’t know how to skate. . . . It’s something we’re excited about. What we’ve done in the schools and in the gyms — now it’s time to bring it to the ice.”

The new $500 million hospital campus will include five buildings built over a 27-year period. That includes academic buildings with a mix of office space, community health clinics and ground-floor retail as well as a dormitory with rooms to accommodate 300 students at both Rush and Malcolm X.

“When this opportunity came up as part of our master planning, it’s a perfect fit. Seven acres that can really house the next generation of what we’re trying to do academically,” said Peter Butler, president of Rush University Medical Center.

“In the last 10 years, Rush University has doubled in its enrollment to 2,500 students and health professionals,” he said. “But our classrooms are 45 years old with 45-year-old technology. Today’s educational models need something much more than that. So, we really plan an academic enterprise on that side of the highway that has it all, that makes it not only current educational but provides a setting for students.”

The extended 27-year time frame has raised eyebrows and prompted some Plan Commission members to demand that Rush return to the body for periodic updates.

But former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s longtime corporation counsel Mara Georges, an attorney representing Rush, has said there’s good reason it’s such a long-term project.

“Rather than overtax our resources or over-promise to this body, we wanted a structure that was achievable and a schedule that everybody felt comfortable with and we knew would be accomplished,” Georges said.

Rush University Medical Center was rebuilt in 2012 on the south side of the Eisenhower Expressway. The new hospital was preceded by new orthopedic and cancer centers. The new academic village will be on the north side of the expressway.

That prompted Plan Commission member Linda Searl to question how students and doctors will travel between the two.

“You almost need a pedestrian bridge to do this. Hopefully that will be part of the future plan,” Searl said.

Local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) said he’s thrilled that Malcolm X students will share the dormitory space with students from Rush.

“This proposal was initially at another site. We couldn’t convene all of the land. And I guess the mayor came up with the great idea of using the Malcolm X site. Coming with that idea, the city made some money off of it,” Burnett said.

“I guess that’s how the mayor’s ideas work. You make money off his ideas for the city of Chicago.”

<small><strong> A rendering of one of the ice rinks inside the Blackhawks practice center on the West Side. | Provided</strong></small>
A rendering of one of the ice rinks inside the Blackhawks practice center on the West Side. | Provided