By Bob Uphues
It's been about a year since Sports Authority abandoned its large commercial space at 1800 Harlem Ave., and while no retailers have stepped up to fill the space, a long-term tenant is on the way in.
The Cook County Health and Hospital System plans to open a roughly 21,000-square-foot primary care health center inside the vacant commercial space sometime in late 2018. Dr. John Jay Shannon, the CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospital System, pitched the health center to the finance committee of the North Riverside Village Board in late August.
And on Sept. 4, village trustees voted 5 to 0 (Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos was absent) to waive a requirement in the zoning code that calls for any retail vacancies to be filled by another retail business.
"I would love to have retail, but I don't want a vacant property and this will be a great benefit to the people and the village," said North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr.
The Cook County Board is expected to greenlight the health center at its meeting on Sept. 13. According to information provided by Cook County, the lease is for 10 years. The health center will pay $26,706 per month in rent for the first five years of the lease and $28,050 a month for remainder of the lease.
In addition to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital and Provident Hospital in Chicago, the Cook County Health and Hospital System operates 16 local health centers in Chicago and suburban Cook County.
The new North Riverside location will replace a much smaller county health center on Cermak Road in Cicero. The health center is not an urgent care clinic; rather it will provide comprehensive medical care, including pediatrics, adult and family medicine, internal medicine, OB-GYN care and dental services.
In addition to 30 examination rooms, the health center will have six dental chairs and conference rooms for patient education, including lifestyle wellness and prevention and exercise classes for patients.
"Our services are led by our clinical staff," said Debra Carey, chief operating officer of ambulatory services for the Cook County Health and Hospital System. "They are targeted to patients coming to the center."
Carey said the health center will operate much like a traditional group practice and will be staffed by between 10 and 12 doctors. Once the health center is established, said Carey, it will have the capacity to handle about 35,000 visits per year.
The new health center will roughly triple the size of the present clinic in Cicero, which has just nine exam rooms. The North Riverside location also has more convenient parking and is accessible via public transportation.
"The footprint really works for us, with services on one level and connected together," Carey said.
The health center will serve all patients, regardless of income, said Carey, from those with private health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid to the uninsured. The health center will also employ counselors that can help patients find out what health benefits they may be eligible to receive.
It will take roughly a year for the health center to receive all necessary state approvals and complete the buildout. When completed, the health center will occupy about half of the old Sports Authority space.
The owner of the shopping center continues to market the other half of the space, Hermanek said.
At one time, said Hermanek, the village had an inquiry from Chuck E. Cheese's, the kid-focused family entertainment and restaurant chain, but those plans never materialized.
"We never got anything from them, but I can't think of anything better than a health facility," Hermanek said. "I think it's great for the village."