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Demolition Begins At Old Children's Memorial Hospital

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Big changes are coming to Lincoln Park as crews begin tearing down the old Children's Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, the first step in a massive redevelopment project.

Demolition of the 6-acre site at Lincoln and Fullerton was began around 8 a.m., as a backhoe began to make quick work of the old emergency room and surgery center.

The hospital, which has been empty for four years, will be methodically taken down over the next six months. That way, much of the reusable material can be saved and repurposed.

Early next year, crews will begin building two 19-story apartment buildings in its place. The first tenants are expected to move into the 540-unit complex in early 2018.

When completed, the development will include 160,000 square feet of retail and commercial space, and 60,000-square-feet of open green space, featuring a central plaza and a children's play area. The project also will include an affordable housing component.

Some local activists were excited to see the work begin, despite a one-month delay.

"It's been a long time coming," said Lincoln Central Association president Kenneth Dotson. "I'm hoping to see the neighborhood revitalized; people rally around. You know, since the two hospitals closed, a lot of businesses have closed, and so we need something to revitalize Lincoln Avenue, and this should be the catalyst for that."

The second hospital Dotson mentioned was Lincoln Park Hospital, which was located a few blocks away at Lincoln and Webster, and closed in 2008.

Many Lincoln Park residents opposed the high-rise apartments that will replace Children's Memorial, saying the towers are not a good fit for the neighborhood, and the project would make traffic congestion worse. However, a lawsuit seeking to block the project was unsuccessful.

"People say to me that it's too much density; and I say if that means more people walking on the sidewalk, more customers for the businesses, then I think it's a good thing," Lincoln Park resident Allan Mellis said.

As for rats, a construction source said the rodents long ago left the vacant building in search of food elsewhere.

The old Children's Memorial was mothballed in 2012 when the hospital moved to Streeterville, and was renamed Lurie Children's Hospital.

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