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Marlen Garcia: New hospital could boost Little Village

An artist's rendering of the new St. Anthony Hospital in Little Village. | Provided photo

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It has a long way to go, but once completed, the new St. Anthony Hospital should be a boon to the Little Village neighborhood.

The plan by Chicago Southwest Development Corp., the nonprofit that will build it, is to create a $600 million sprawling 22-acre campus at the blighted corner of 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue. In addition to the hospital, there will be retail stores, a child care center, fitness center, soccer field, banquet rooms and affordable housing.

“It can’t just be St. Anthony,” James Sifuentes, the hospital’s vice president for community development, told me. “We went into the community and asked, ‘Given this property, what would you like to see on it?’ ”

OPINION

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They came up with Focal Point Community Campus. Hospital officials say it will be the first in the nation to offer a multitude of amenities. The targeted completion date is fall 2020.

The project took a step forward last month when City Hall began the process of acquiring an eight-acre industrial warehouse adjacent to the original site through eminent domain, Sifuentes said. It will complete the 22 acres.

“The whole land thing has been holding us up,” Christine Raguso, the hospital’s vice president of professional services, said. “But now we have a good story to tell. The question had been, ‘Where are you with the land?’ We can aggressively pursue funding.”

The project will depend on fundraising, a bond sale and federal grants. Raguso says it will bring 3,500 jobs in construction, 500 in retail and 400 new jobs at the hospital.

Little Village needs all the jobs it can get. The Mexican neighborhood is known for its authentic restaurants and shops on 26th Street but also for poverty and violence.

Jaime di Paulo, executive director of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes the possibility of increased competition from the Focal Point retail shops, along with the prospect of additional shopping traffic in the neighborhood, will motivate 26th Street business owners to invest more in their stores.

Focal Point developers hope to attract big-box stores. They point out that Little Village residents buy groceries and home goods at stores in Berwyn and Cicero.

“It’s great to keep dollars in our community,” di Paulo said of the possibility of getting stores such as Target, Walmart, Jewel or Mariano’s.

Something else to cheer about: The developer will include a parking garage and covered walkways that can keep visitors protected from Chicago’s brutal cold in the winter.

All of this grew out of a request for land from St. Anthony CEO Guy A. Medaglia to former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2010.

St. Anthony is a safety-net hospital that has technological needs beyond what its cramped space at 2875 W. 19th St offers. Safety net means almost all patients rely on Medicare, Medicaid or are uninsured. The plan is to repurpose the current building, constructed in 1898, into an assisted living center.

I expressed some skepticism to Sifuentes and Raguso, wondering aloud if all that is being promised can be delivered. Sifuentes pointed out other successes in hard-luck areas, such as the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood.

“This hasn’t been easy,” Sifuentes said. “This project is not for the faint of heart.”

I have no doubt that once it is built, people will come.

Email: MarlenGarcia777@yahoo.com

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