2014 promises to be a full year for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, with a number of ambitious projects coming down the pipeline.
Aside from vowing to take over the issue of overcrowding in the Cook County Jail, Preckwinkle and the Board of Commissioners are working to overhaul the county’s forest preserves, and redevelop the old County Hospital that has sat vacant for more than a decade.
Revamping the Reserve
The sprawling 30,000-acre Cook County Forest Preserve has long been dominated by overgrown invasive species, like honeysuckle and buckthorn. But a plan released late January suggests overhauling the century-old system to provide residents and visitors public enjoyment, and also bring in new businesses to serve those visitors.
The strategy calls for between and $1 and $2 billion in renovation efforts over a 25-year period. While some funds may come from a future increase in property taxes, the Board of Commissioners is not committed to going that route.
“We are not saying that today, or even in the next year, there will be an increase. We will go other places and explore other avenues first,” said Preckwinkle’s press secretary Kristen Mack.
The project has spawned the Forest Preserve Foundation dedicated to raising funds for the expansive project to offset cost to the county and its taxpayers.
Cook County Hospital
The Cook County Board is also working to restore another 100-year old institution – the old Cook County Hospital on Harrison that has sat vacant for more than a decade. The hospital was shuttered to make room for the John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County, one of two hospitals in the county health system that serves those residents without coverage.
While multiple plans have been created in the past for reopening the historically significant structure, county officials have created a new timeline for preserving the building. Redevelopment efforts include identifying new management and hiring a developer this summer to create a plan to be approved by the board in the fall.
With such ambitious projects in the early planning stages, Mack says that the board and Preckwinkle are dedicated to seeing both projects through.