For much of its history, Chicago Heights, Illinois enjoyed a reputation as an industry-friendly city connecting people with economic opportunity. Today, the struggling city about 30 miles south of Chicago promotes itself as affordable, livable and culturally diverse. In a move that many of the city’s 30,000 residents fear will vanquish a neighborhood staple, Franciscan Health, one of the largest Catholic healthcare systems in the Midwest, plans to end in-patient services at its aging hospital in Chicago Heights while expanding a newer facility in a neighboring suburb. The project has triggered a public outcry because the Chicago Heights hospital has served the community for more than a century. Civic leaders enlisted the help of the CRE Consulting Corps to analyze and identify synergistic solutions for the property. This transformative opportunity would effectively produce tangible benefits for Chicago Heights.
The challenge was to assist the city of Chicago Heights in creating a strategic plan to adapt the Franciscan medical campus to new uses. The inclusive plan would take into account objectives of key stakeholders and prime the community for economic growth and job creation while increasing the quality of life for residents. The site has strong attributes that lend itself to housing aimed at employee workforces in healthcare fields and institutional users that are on site and others that may be attracted to the location in the future. The city recognized the challenges associated with encouraging reinvestment and energizing economic growth.
Over the course of five days in April 2017, the six-member CRE Consulting Corps team conducted an analysis to evaluate specific needs, challenges and opportunities facing the city. They solicited feedback from city officials, hospital principals, real estate professionals, and other stakeholders. They examined copies of current plans and related studies applicable to the 14.5-acre Franciscan St. James Hospital site, including appraisals, environmental reports, market studies and engineering studies. Tours of the hospital campus, Chicago Heights, and neighboring suburbs gave the team a valuable opportunity to gain further insight into the area’s dynamics.
The consulting team believes Chicago Heights is likely to find success by emphasizing institutional and healthcare uses at the site and co-locating similar users to ensure that all available resources support the community’s vision. In addition, the site could be suitable for workforce housing in healthcare fields, institutional users currently on site, and others that may be attracted to the location in the future. Improving access to local employment opportunities is an important asset for businesses and would bring more jobs closer to residents. The site should be included in Chicago Heights’ inventory of underutilized sites and be coordinated with the city’s efforts to find users for those sites. In addition, the team recommended the city create flexible zoning to promote mixed-use development that can adapt to market dynamics and potential large users.
The Chicago Heights Consulting Team:
Front row: Wendy Timm, CRE, Enhanced Value Strategies, St. Louis, Mo.; F. Thomas Ustler, CRE, Ustler Properties, Orlando, Fla.; team leader Dennis DeSantis, CRE, Colliers International, St. Louis, Mo.
Back row: Patrick Duke, CRE, CBRE Healthcare, Richmond, Va.; Richard Ward, CRE, Ward Development Counsel, St. Louis, Mo.; David Weisel, CRE, DW Real Estate Advisory Services, Potomac, Md.