Friday, December 19, 2008
HPP will be hibernating until the first week of 2009; a comment or two may be moderated in the meantime, if anyone bothers to check in.
Meanwhile, keep a log on the fire, a light on out front, and some biscuits in the pantry.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
posted by chicago pop
The restaurant begins with an enormous geographical advantage: it's not on 55th Street, and therefore runs no risk of guilt-by-association with any of the bottom-feeder operations between Lake Park and Hyde Park Boulevards.
But it's a bit off the beaten path for some; Third World Cafe across the street, a minor hub of caffeinated intellectual activity during waking hours, is usually by then dark and in hibernation.
A few blocks east is a bleak gas station and a vacant lot Christmas tree vendor who happened to have sold a tree to Obama that afternoon, according to HuffPo Chicago and a stylist at Japanese Spa Zen; and directly across from Sit Down is the stretch of unexplainable blackness that is Nichols Park's truly uninviting 53rd Street facade.
So if this place can pull people in on a Sunday night in mid-December, they may just be able to make the long haul. We'll be back to help them out.
The four of us were roundly satisfied with our meals, which sampled only the Japanese side of the eclectic menu. Not mind-blowing as at some of the higher-end spots on the North Side, but better than many run-of-the-mill sushi places on Clark Street in Lakeview. Overall, our experience of The Sit down was of decent and solid food, in a welcoming and pleasant decor that is still novel for most Hyde Park eateries.
Dining Partner #1 summed it up nicely: "They've got the block and tackle down." The service was friendly, competent, and attentive, the sushi chefs greeted us as soon as we walked in the door, and we were checked on twice by someone who must have been owner Salvatore Pappalito.
The sushi, according to Dining Parnter #2, a veteran of some time in Japan, was "fresh, tasty, well-prepared," and he recommends the seared Tuna Tataki.
Speaking on behalf of Dining Partner #4, myself, I began with a bowl of miso soup, one of the primary comfort foods of all humanity, and it hit the spot. I followed this with a few maki, specifically the wonderfully named Smoky Bear, and an ebi tempura roll. Both were quite savory, with the Smoky Bear coming as close as a roll can to fish candy. Depending on the restaurant, an extravagant roll like this can drown out sour or unfresh fish, with the cream cheese filling and sweet unagi sauce hiding any untoward fishiness.
But the yellow tail and mackerel sushi held their own beside the rolls, assuring us that there was no sushi sleight of hand going on behind the counter. A bowl of complimentary pickled octopus was a nice touch.
I admit that when I first learned that The Sit Down would be serving sushi together with pizza and hummus, I was a bit fearful that this might be a sort of culinary hedge-fund -- and we all know how those are doing these days. They tend to go under the banner of "American Restaurant," or "European Dining," serving everything from gyros and Persian kabobs to Italian pizza, spaghetti, and American steaks while being good at cooking none of them.
None of us strayed from the waters of Japan this time, but word of mouth so far supports Dining Parnter #3's claim that the Italian-style, thin crust pizza is "super thin and super delicious!"
We'll have more on that and the sandwiches in Part 2.
1312 E. 53rd Street Chicago
Steamed White Rice
Smoky Bear Roll
Ebi Tempura Roll
Spicy Crab Roll
Saturday, December 13, 2008
San Nicola in Carcere, Rome
I really admire old objects and art, but I'm not a zealous preservationist yet. For instance, one of my favorite buildings in Rome is San Nicola in Carcere, which was built in the 6th Century on the ruins of three ancient temples, using the columns of the temples for one of its walls. It also has a jutting medieval prison tower (back from its days as a jail), and a 19th Century facade stuck on the front. Until the recent tourism era, Italians thought nothing of tearing down and rebuilding to suit current tastes and egos, or heck, just building sopra (on top of). I'm not sure that's such a bad model.
For an average person like me, then, a building in Hyde Park can have historic significance because (a) experts agree it's important architecturally, or (b) something important happened there, or (c) both. With regard to (a) BWChicago argued that the theater is probably nicer than any new structure that will be built there, which time will tell. With regard to (b), there was that Joffrey Ballet and Second City information he provided.
I did some cyber research on Harper Theater, and this is what I could find about its significance:
1) It was built as a vaudeville theater in 1913. (Vaudeville is cool.)
2) In 1995 the City of Chicago finished a 12-year inventory of all structures built before 1940 (the Chicago Historic Resources Survey). Even my house was evaluated (it's "too altered for architectural or historical significance," humph). Harper Theater is one of 9,600 properties listed as "orange" in their ranking system, meaning "possesses potentially significant architectural or historical features."
3) Landmarks Illinois -- which is a private (not state-run) preservation organization -- listed the theater on its 2008-2009 watch-list of endangered properties, after the University's deal with a developer fell through.
4) Bruce Sagan (publisher of the Hyde Park Herald) and his wife, Judith, bought the theater in 1964 to host the annual "Harper Theater Dance Festival." In November of 1965, the Joffrey Ballet -- which a year before had been forced to disband (for contractual reasons) -- staged a one-week comeback at Harper Theater with new dancers and new choreography, putting the corps back on the national radar. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater also participated in the Festival at some point.
From the Newberry Library's Inventory of Judith and Bruce Sagan Papers, 1965-1986:
Founders of the Harper Theater Dance Festival, Bruce and Judith Sagan met while students at the University of Chicago. Bruce Sagan, a publisher of local newspapers, bought the Harper Theater business block in Hyde Park and in 1964 he and Judith renovated the theater in order to present a cross-section of top dance companies, some of them new to Chicago audiences. The festivals provided a full week of performance opportunities at a time when most touring companies were subjected to one-and two-night stands while on the road. Although including both ethnic and classic dance at the beginning, the festivals soon specialized as a showcase for the best contemporary and experimental dance companies in the country, such as Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais and Paul Taylor.
By the third season, Bruce Sagan gave up his active involvement in the dance festivals and Judith Sagan became sole producer. In 1971 the festival, now the Harper Dance Foundation, moved to downtown Chicago to the Civic Theater and then to the University of Chicago's Mandel Hall between 1971 and 1975. After 1975, the foundation became dormant, but was reactivated in 1979 to bring the Paul Taylor Dancers back to the Civic Theater.
5) BWChicago also stresses the fact that Second City played at Harper Theater, but the only reference I could find was relatively insignificant, in an obituary about Byrne Pivens:
In fact, the two true ancestor groups of Second City -- Playwrights Theater Club and subsequently The Compass Players -- played in bars on 55th Street (University Tap and Compass Tavern) that both fell to urban renewal. The Bee Hive, a highly influential jazz club, was also razed (among other music venues).
Married in 1954, the Pivens left Chicago in 1955 to work and study in New York, but they returned here in 1967 to appear in the short-lived Second City Repertory Company at the old Harper Theater in Hyde Park.
So while we debate the significance of Hyde Park Movie Theater, I say that we also dig up the foundations of those bars and clubs on 55th, and -- like Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome -- we build new taverns and a nightlife right on top of them. What better way to honor the past?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
posted by chicago pop
If anyone wonders why the same names keep popping up again and again on this blog, there's a simple reason: the same few names keep out-gassing in the Herald like crabby spouses, or mucking around elsewhere leaving monkey wrenches conspicuously dangling about.
It's sort of like Blagojevich: we didn't ask for his behavior, but he just keeps doing crazy stuff and getting media attention for it.
So, to come back to our long-time HPP favorite, the Janus-faced Hans Morsbach, defender of the neighborhood and of high principles.
If ever there has been reason to quote Shakespeare on the blog, it is with reference to his latest letter on the Doctors Hospital vote -- in which he defends -- one more time -- his position. Note to Hans: me thinks thou dost protest too much.
Yes, it's been over a month, and Hans is still apologizing for the dumb decision he encouraged his neighbors to take and that most of the rest of the neighborhood is ticked off about. If it really had been the right thing to do, I don't think we would have had this blizzard of propaganda in the aftermath.
Taking the best interests of the neighborhood to heart, Morsbach issues this rejoinder to White Lodging's Bruce White:
I did not know of the extent of your philanthropic intentions and how they affect me. Do you
suggest that knowing that the University Medical Center receives a large donation will make a bigger impact on my life than looking every day at an ugly building, or give you license to tear down a landmark? ... Do you think that when your employees park on Harper Avenue that I think that is the cost of progress?
[Emphasis on personal pronouns added by the editor.]
So Hans is clearly not concerned about himself, and this comes through, as it also came through the referendum.
To satisfy the literary critics among us, I'll point out that it's unclear what "ugly building" Morsbach is referring to, as the Doctors Hospital is certainly no beauty, something which Morsbach himself confessed in an earlier letter in the summer of 2007. ("I have never paid much attention to the architectural merit of the hospital..." Herald LTE, July 18, 2007).
And of course, Doctors Hospital does not have landmark status, as Morsbach claims. But when you're out-gassing to the Herald, little details like that tend to escape out the blowhole.
On the note of factual inaccuracy, especially with regard to claims of things not falling apart and it just generally being OK that entropy and the second law of thermodynamics have become the governing principles of Hyde Park development, Mr. Jack Spicer makes the claim in today's Herald that the troubled Herald Building on 53rd and Harper is "a very solid building and in very good condition." ("HPHS seeks landmark status for 53rd and Harper," Kate Hawley, Herald, Wednesday December 10, 2008).
Now, the Herald Building that fronts 53rd has been vacant since spring of 2008, but even before that we have it from a variety of sources that it was falling apart.
For example, we learn from the October 11, 2006 Herald, that the company once interested in renovating the Harper Theater ran up against the problem of the building's advanced deterioration and the costs that fixing it would have entailed.
The building and its interior also need extensive repair and renovation," [the Herald told us, going on to quote the local art house theater chain Classic Cinemas (owner of the Tivoli in Downers Grove)], "Typically when you have an existing shell, a rough number [for renovation] is about $1 million per screen." ... In 2002, renovation cost estimates for the 1,200-seat theater building and its attachments were approximately $10 million.
Repairing the Harper Theater, in 2002, would have cost about 10x more than usual for a theater of its vintage. That seems like a decent index of the structure's dilapidation.
The article continues with a quote from Irene Sherr: "The theater now has deteriorated even further. They [Classic Cinemas] felt it was in terrible shape then and basically you had to rebuild the theater behind keeping the facade."
These statements from 2006 seem to corroborate the University's appraisal in this week's Herald, that "the building is in rough shape -- so bad it may not last another winter. In recent weeks, it has been surrounded with scaffolding, a measure to protect pedestrians from falling debris."
Makes sense. So what is Spicer's position on the scaffolding protecting pedestrians?
From the Herald, again: "He ... said the university doesn't have a permit for the sidewalk scaffolding."
Apart from this curious aversion to public safety measures, that's the second time Spicer is wrong, in one article. Kate Hawley actually checks this fact (bravo!), and tells us that a "valid permit is on file through February 15."
Perhaps the Hyde Park Historical Society, instead of scoffing at scaffolding, should ask its members to take time off work in order to hand out hard hats to all passers by?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
At HPP, we have tried to do a little reporting on the fate of our community treasure. Our own Elizabeth Fama called up Mr. Foxall who will be in charge of the Third Party Review, if it ever gets funded and off the ground. Her conversation reveals a disturbing naivete of Mr. Foxall about the history and use of the Point, engineering design constraints, and funding. But there is one thing that Mr. Foxall is very clear about: the Third Party Review is in limbo.
How can any real progress be made on the Point? Let's review the facts. The shoreline revetment program is funded by a combination of Federal (via Army Corps), State, City (department of environment), and CPD funds. In the late 90s, the Feds appropriated approximately $250 million for the entire shoreline project. At the time, this was supposed to fund about 65 per cent of the costs. The balance was to contributed mostly by the City and CPD. The project has proceeded in sections. As each section is completed, funds are drawn down from the Federal appropriation and matched with local support. It should be emphasized that there is no "line" in the Federal budget that supports this project. The Federal portion has be allocated by the Army Corps on an on-going basis.
A check with Rob Rejman, who is the project manager at the CPD, confirms that the shoreline project is nearing completion. Only the Point and Morgan Shoals (between 47-53rd) portions have no completed designs. All other sections have been completed or in the construction/bidding phase.
The funds for the Point must then be appropriated at some future date and depend critically on the continued availability of the Federal and local contributions. The Compromise Plan we have supported (and currently the only viable plan) would cost about $24 million. The CPD has also promised to restore the Caldwell landscaping at a cost of 1.5 million. No one knows the fate of this promise and the funding for landscaping. In the meantime, the revetment crumbles into the lake and a few ragged scrubs and trees cling to a barren landscape.
In order for some real progress to be made on the Point revetment, the following events must occur:
- Funds for the Third Party Review must be appropriated. The legislation authorizing the review does not specify an amount nor compel the Army Corps to allocate these funds.
- The review process must start and reach a design that meets engineering and aesthetic standards (min 6 months). It is entirely possible that the Third Party Review may fail to reach a design that is acceptable to all involved.
- If step 2) results in a design acceptable to all parties, the design must be approved by the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency (2- 6 months). This is required by the so-called Memorandum of Agreement (see E. Fama's post for details).
- The design must be completed to what is known as the 80 per cent point. The Third Party Review will not produce a design but only some guidelines. Completion of the actual design must be done by architects and engineers here in Chicago (6-12 mos).
- At the 80 per cent completion point, the design could be let for bids (6 mos).
- It has been estimated that construction would take a minimum of 2.5 years.
What disturbs me the most is not the prospect of more than 10 years of unnecessary delays, but, rather, the very real possibility that nothing will get done.
Mr. Foxall is already on record as stating that he would like to use materials similar (in color and texture) to what is already there. He doesn't like the color of concrete. It is not clear what he thinks of tinted concrete, but he should be aware that no one has yet figured out how to make a structure that would meet Army Corps standards for a 50+ year life with limestone structural elements. Anyone who has studied this project in detail knows that you need a concrete core and steel pilings. You can't apply limestone veneer, either. Some pipe dreams will be conjured up at his soiree but should get a big laugh from the engineers at the Army Corps.
If Mr. Foxall's group does succeed where all others have failed, there is the little problem of cost. Unless his design costs <= $24 million, it can't be built. We are now in the most severe recession since the early 1980s and, perhaps, since the 1930s. There is the very real possibility that the CPD and City contributions for the Point will not be available when the dust clears.
In any event, it seems likely that the restoration of the Caldwell landscaping will be a casualty of the long and unnecessary delays. This would be the ultimate irony as the Caldwell landscaping is the one truly historic aspect of the Point that could be restored. Funds for this must come from the CPD alone and are not strictly part of the shoreline project. The so-called community task force has done their level best to alienate Park District officials and the landscaping plan was an act of good faith by the CPD that has not been reciprocated.
Finally, there is nothing about the Foxall process that can insure that the needs of the users of the Point be heard. I fear that water access will be lost in the hub bub.
The most likely outcome is more of the same: eight more years of nothing.
Monday, December 1, 2008
It's frustrating that the only news we hear about Promontory Point is from the Hyde Park Herald, because the articles are often replete with inaccuracies, and the information in them is doled out to reporters almost exclusively by the "Save the Point" group.
So I sent an e-mail to Horace H. Foxall, Jr. -- the Seattle Army Corps architect who will be in charge of former-Senator Obama's "third-party review" -- to see what the real status of the Point is. I was surprised and delighted that he took the time to phone me on November 17 for a long conversation. From that talk, I can indeed confirm Don Lamb's impression (Herald, June 25, 2008) that Mr. Foxall seems to be a "super, super guy" -- a super guy with a worthy resume who is, for the moment, not as informed as I'd hoped about this project, its history, and what the Army Corps and community have already endured to create the perfectly satisfactory Compromise Plan. I'm sure Mr. Foxall will tool up, but in the meantime we'll waste gobs of time, gobs of money, and we'll risk the safety of anyone who spends time on the revetment -- all before one piece of heavy machinery is delivered to the site.
"Nothing much is happening on the third-party review."
Mr. Foxall said there is no authorization for him to proceed. He was asked by Obama's office to write up a "Scope of Project," describing how his team will come up with a design alternative, which he did. Obama's staff sent this through the proper government channels, where it's stalled, waiting for money. Here's the holdup: "continuing resolutions" have passed in D.C., but not the real budget. This means that only projects that were already funded and in place under the last budget receive money. Once the new budget is passed, Mr. Foxall guesses that the money for his third-party review will be appropriated in the Civil Works Budget, under the Rivers and Harbors Act.
"Figure out the players and get together in one room."
We've heard from the "Save the Point" group that Mr. Foxall plans to have an unusually inclusive charette (a collaborative design session), and he confirmed this. He intends to "invite all the players to roll up their sleeves, and ask each other what we're trying to achieve." He wants to divide the area into smaller square-foot sections and ask at each location, "What activities would we like to see there?" When I asked him to clarify whether he meant recreational activities or construction activities he said, "Both." Among the players he mentioned: the City, the Illinois Historic Agency, local historic agencies, preservationists, and community members." I said, "Can someone from our blog come?" and he said, "Everyone who has a stake in this can come."
"The Army Corps proposed an engineering design, not a cultural or historical one."
Mr. Foxall said he had walked the area of the Point and had taken pictures. He summed up the history of the Point's shoreline controversy this way: "The Army Corps proposed an engineering design without taking the space into account, the uses of the area, and the history. It was an engineering answer, not a cultural or historical one." He said the plan proposed by the Army Corps had "neglected Burnham's original intent." I thought he must have been mistakenly referring to the oldest design proposal of 2000 (i.e. the section built between 51st Street and 54th Street) because the Compromise Plan does take the existing recreation, scale, and materials into account, and it was approved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. He seemed unfamiliar with the term "Compromise Plan," but said he had seen a plan from the City "as of two years ago." He went on to argue that his photos -- especially of the new construction along the 57th Street Beach (see image above), which, he said, "demonstrates the idea of concrete decorated with limestone"-- proved to him that Burnham's vision had been neglected. It seemed that he was allowing himself to be influenced by the two new sections north and south of the Point...neither of which was built with community input, and neither of which resembles the Compromise Plan.
"I'd like to make it a wonderful place to be."
Mr. Foxall's goal is to think of what activities the Point could have, and implement them in the design. For instance, he said that the beautiful views of downtown were inaccessible to handicapped people under the current design. I wanted to point out, but didn't, that the Compromise Plan does allow wheelchairs on the entire promenade level (although it's true that the entry ramp is on the south side). What I did say is that swimming access at the Point was not built into the 1930s revetment, and that by agreeing we want to arrange for all recreational uses and include handicapped access, we're already conceding that we have to give up some of Burnham's original design.
"Like putting Cadillac parts on a Ford."
He said the concrete was the wrong color for the shoreline. "Nothing is gray on the shore, it's all natural browns. The concrete will turn black." He wants the colors of the materials used to match what's already at the Point, and to match "the building [the field house] that's there."
"Two or three alternative designs."
His process, after the money comes through, will be:
(1) arrange the charette
- look into options for materials
- look at uses for the space, keeping the historic and cultural qualities in place
(2) send the resulting list of desired design features to the Buffalo District Army Corps, where engineers will design "two or three alternative plans that also take into account the science -- the hydraulics, the wave action, the weather, etc."(3) price the alternatives and choose one.
"A multi-disciplined team."
His team will include:
(1) him (he is an architect by training, with a strong historic preservation background)
(2) a landscape architect -- "to preserve the viewshed"
(3) an architectural historian
(4) a hydraulic engineer.
"45 to 60 days, depending on how fast the Buffalo team is."
I made him guess at a timetable from the moment the money comes through:
(1) one week for the charette and design list
(2) 30-45 days for Buffalo to come up with two or three "60-65%" design alternatives
(3) 2-3 days of meetings to choose between them
Total: 45-60 days.
I came away from the conversation with this overall impression: Mr. Foxall is a bright guy who is proud of his experience working with communities (e.g. New Orleans after Katrina), and self-assured about his role in this project. He sees his job as starting from scratch; that is, to push aside all previous plans and start over completely: to look at what recreational activities and viewsheds the space can offer, and design something "culturally and historically appropriate."
I also came away with this prediction: Mr. Foxall will create his wish list for the Point. The Buffalo engineers, constrained by a (possibly dwindling) shoreline budget and by structural considerations, won't be able to do any better than the Compromise Plan -- a concrete-and-steel base with limestone blocks as revetment steps and decoration. Nonetheless, the "Save the Point" group will heroically accept Mr. Foxall's plan as a "preservation" plan. It will get built, but a decade will have passed since the Compromise Plan was presented, and millions of dollars will have been poured down the usual Hyde Park Obstructionist Hole.
Let's just hope that no one is seriously hurt at the Point between now and then. If that happens, the cost of this heroic obstructionism by the "Save the Point" group will be immeasurable.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
The Dry Petition vote is a remarkable event. Only 20 Hyde Parkers turned away the only real chance for development in Hyde Park for sometime to come. While most Hyde Parkers shake their heads with a mixture of disbelief and anger, some are popping the champagne corks.
Who would celebrate such a dark hour?
Not the preservationists. The most likely outcome now is that the abandoned DH buildings will be torn down. The buildings will certainly not be "reused" as some preservationists insist.
Not the Alderman. Her record on development in the 5th ward is now a big fat zero and she showed little leadership in this affair.
Not the University. They have a $10 million albatross and a real problem -- a beautiful campus and vibrant institution stuck in a backwater.
Perhaps, there was some warm beer drunk at local 1, Unite-HERE headquarters. Then some bright spark must have pointed out that this was a charity project by White Lodging and it doesn't really help in the fight to unionize this hotel developer. Unite-HERE big shots have probably figured out that they were the victims of a con scheme.
The champagne was flowing at the house of Jack Spicer in 30th Precinct. Mr. Spicer saw the DH ruckus as way of advancing his own influence on community developments. Before his defenders get upset that I am exposing their hero, I do have evidence that Mr. Spicer misrepresented his motives in the DH affair.
At the community meeting on August 4th, Scott Travis of White Lodging agreed to meet with the preservation interests. A meeting took place several weeks later. Present at the meeting were Mr. Spicer and Scott Travis, of course, but also representatives from Landmarks Illinois (a private group that claims to advance preservation), representatives from the City of Chicago's Department of Planning and Development, and representatives and consultants employed by University of Chicago.
Most of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of re-use or preservation of the existing buildings.
Mr. Spicer stood up toward the end of the meeting and dropped his own bombshell. Preservation of the DH buildings is not really necessary, he noted, what is necessary is that three of my demands are met.
Speaking directly to Scott Travis, Mr. Spicer pronounced "I can help you turn this around" if you:
- "address" the union issue
- insure the hotel is of high quality
- assure me that I will have input and veto power over the design
This exchange reveals Mr. Spicer's true motivation. What this is all about is that Mr. Spicer thinks he should be in charge of designing the hotel. He can add this property to his other "design" credits -- the crumbling and abandoned Point revetment, vandalized St. Stephens, and the vacant lots on 53rd Street.
I hate to break up Mr. Spicer's party, but this Dry Petition dirty trick will not be forgotten. When people ask, why is there no development in Hyde Park, smack in the middle of what is now the first city in the US? Fingers will point at the radioactive Mr. Spicer who has done his part to keep White Lodging from spending $90 million in Hyde Park.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Like a lot of other things that Hyde Park needs, the new post office took nearly forever to materialize. It took more than a full year for the post office to move out of a cramped basement into its new storefront quarters. But unlike the typical Hyde Park eternal delay, this one didn’t involve willful obstruction by community “activists”. In this case, there was no endless dispute involving anti-development forces in the neighborhood.
Several days ago, however, it had fleetingly crossed my mind that Jack Spicer might be trying to stop the post office relocation¬—perhaps to “preserve” it in its dungeon as “an irreplaceable artifact” of the now-defunct Hyde Park Co-op; or that Hans Morsbach might claim that the relocated facility would “burden our infrastructure.” Morsbach, after all, worked hard to stop another project—a hotel that the community really, really needs. He and some others (bankrolled and abetted by a big labor union named UNITE HERE) barely managed to squeeze through a precinct-level vote to render their home precinct dry. That precinct—the same precinct in which the hotel would have been built—covers about four square blocks. That stopped the hotel. This neighborhood-wide debacle was pulled off by just a few people with willful tunnel vision. So much for their professed concern for the community at large.
This tragic neighborhood loss was significant enough to attract the attention of the Chicago Tribune. In a November 19, 2008 editorial “A loss for Hyde Park,” the Tribune said, “This is a shame. The neighborhood does not benefit from this vote. Chicago does not benefit.”
Hans Morsbach owns the Medici restaurant on 57th Street. So he knows about the value of businesses and amenities to this neighborhood. But he chose to work to defeat the hotel proposal. If he can thumb his nose like that at the community, then as far as I’m concerned, the community need not patronize his business establishment. Until recently, I was a fairly frequent customer at Medici. Not anymore. I have already steered a group away from the place, and I expect to do it again. Morsbach used the vote to stop something that would have greatly benefitted Hyde Park. Potential customers of Medici can also vote. With their feet.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Construction of Marriott Convention Center in Normal, Illinois.
The Medici Restaurant is visible below the beam.
What does it take for Hyde Park restauranteur Hans Morsbach to fulfill his aspirations?
As they put it on the Normal Medici website:
The Medici on 57th is located in a dry district, and the possibility of having a delicious drink in an amazing atmosphere, where his passion for woodworking and people could meet and join forces was a pinacle [sic] achievement for Hans. The Medici in Normal fulfills his aspirations.
Being able to serve booze, above all, which Morsbach has always regretted he can't do on 57th Street. But also the legal power of eminent domain working in your favor, and the good graces of Marriott International, Inc, which will disgorge hundreds of parched conference-goers directly into your saloon as of 2009 or so.
Alcohol, Marriott, and urban renewal: all things Morsbach has objected to in his own Hyde Park back yard.
It should be clear that Morsbach doesn't have any issues with Marriott, wet bars, or forced land clearance at his second, downstate restaurant location, even though he is outspoken in his efforts to block the construction of a new Marriott Hotel in Hyde Park, and actively supported a local liquor ban as the best way to accomplish this goal.
The $64,000,000 Marriott convention center in Normal, Illinois, is directly across from Morsbach's new restaurant, will have 229 rooms, a 23,000 square foot conference center, a 500 space parking deck, and is being built on land assembled through the use of eminent domain, to the benefit of area businesses, including the Normal Medici.
Red Wines By the Bottle
|White Wines By the Bottle |
|Sparkling Wines By the Bottle |
|White Wines By the Glass |
|Red Wines By the Glass |
|Medici Cocktails |
|Downstairs Drafts |
|Upstairs Drafts |
|Bottled Beer |
posted by chicago pop
Released November 18 from the University of Chicago:
The University of Chicago and the city's Department of Planning and Development presented today before the Community Development Commission to initiate a process to redevelop a 3-acre site at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.
The University of Chicago and the City of Chicago formally requested issuance of a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a single site that combines two parcels: the University-owned Harper Court property at 52nd and Harper and the city-owned parking lot at 52nd and Lake Park.
For the last several months, the University has collaborated with Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and the city's Department of Planning and Development to spur development of a high-quality, mixed use project that becomes a cohesive, active neighborhood core.
"We are excited by this opportunity. The University is committed to a more vibrant community and more choices in retail, housing, and entertainment," said Susan Campbell, Associate Vice President for Civic Engagement. "The collaboration between the University and the city provides a unified property with significant scale, a project that can transform the neighborhood and foster additional new development on 53rd Street and in the surrounding community.
The goals of the project include creating a vibrant neighborhood core, combining a high-quality mix of commercial uses, new housing options, increased daytime and nighttime population, and high-quality urban design and architecture. "We have been gratified by the interest that this project has generated, especially from top-tier developers from across the nation," Campbell said. "And we are pleased to see that the community involvement – including ongoing working groups, surveys, and visioning exercises – have informed the goal-setting process. We are thankful for the leadership of Alderman Preckwinkle in this process and for the devotion of countless community members who have participated in the workshops that helped inform the vision for this project."
Harper Court opened in 1965 with the mission of providing space to arts-oriented businesses. One building in the complex, 5201 S. Harper has undergone recent renovations and is home to The Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52 Restaurant.
In recent years, mixed-use projects near university campuses and transit stations have been successful throughout the United States. These projects have attracted residents and retail and significant new investment. Examples include the neighborhoods surrounding DePaul and Northwestern, locally and the University of Pennsylvania nationally.
The redevelopment of Harper Court is seen as an opportunity to create a commercial district to serve the community and to serve as a destination that communicates the distinctive qualities of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. As part of the 53rd Street TIF project, the redevelopment seeks to revitalize valuable urban land and accommodate the needs of the community.
The University and the city's Department of Planning and Development requested from the Community Development Commission a two-part RFP (Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal) to qualify and select developers interested in the project's proximity to the University, Hyde Park community, and to the existing METRA transit station.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Or, When The World Comes to Hyde Park
( ... and Then Goes Downtown For Dinner)*
1) a conversation with two Jehovah's Witnesses, within sight of Fort Obama, but canvassing for a higher power, who wanted to know what I thought of the Hudson homicide case. This was followed shortly thereafter by --
2) an interview with Fuji-TV, in which my dog and I were taped by a very attractive Japanese reporter while being asked what it felt like to be "at the center of the world"; which was then followed by --
3) a Belgian photographer for the French daily Le Monde, who asked if he could photograph my son as he burrowed into a pile of leaves, and then shocked me by saying nice things about America with a French accent; and, most recently --
4) being ambushed by a CLTV news crew one evening at Valois while enjoying the last chicken pot pies of the day.
"What do you think Obama will do for Hyde Park?" came the question from the man beside the unblinking fish-eye.
The question stumped me. Since then, to the southern-California-style soundtrack of helicopters overhead, I've had a chance to think about it, and here's my best guess:
Which is not to say I don't expect great things from Obama as President. It's just that I'm not buying the breathless local media dish that Hyde Park ( and maybe all of Chicago ) is about to get a designer drug in the form of a counter cyclical and recession-proofing happy pill that will inoculate it from the macro- and micro-economic challenges of being an inner city neighborhood.
A sampling of booster-ish sentiment from Chicago Magazine (October 2008):
Meanwhile, the Hyde Park-Kenwood area, Obama's mixed neighborhood on the South Side, would almost certainly see more action and attention ...An article in Crains hitches these boosterish expectations to a particularly virulent local phobia: the fear of commercial development. Obama, according to some of the folks interviewed, is going to set off the economic explosion that will inevitably turn his adopted neighborhood into Lincoln Park-South.
... What's more, quick-buck artists would likely move in, starting stores that hawk T-shirts, mugs, and other presidential novelty items...
[Bob Mason, ED of the Southeast Chicago Commission] anticipates that the influx of the tourism trade, coupled with the everyday demands of a presidential entourage and the media, will boost business for existing restaurants and shops.
Hyde Park will gain cachet as a place to live, but at the cost, some Hyde Parkers fear, of becoming a version of Lincoln Park, with more Starbucks, Gaps and residential teardowns.
"The Obama Water Park? No! People haven't thought enough about (commercialization), and maybe they should," says Ruth Knack, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society.
There will be no water park, of course, and Ms. Knack may be heartened to learn that Starbuck's has laid-off 1,000 workers and closed 600 U.S. stores in the last fiscal year. In fact, the Baskin-Robbins where Michelle and Barack Obama first kissed is now among the collection of empty storefronts along 53rd Street, Hyde Park's "Main Street."
The reality is that Barack Obama is not John D. Rockefeller, he's a man with a day-job and not a philanthropist. The benefits of his Presidency to Hyde Park are likely to be indirect and long-term, much more so than the direct benefits of, say, something like the (sotto voce!) Milton Friedman Institute for Research into Economics, with its hosts of visiting scholars and staff who will all spend money in the neighborhood.
In contrast, I have yet to see the Secret Service guys at Salonica's on 57th, and the lovely Miss Fuji-TV probably didn't stop at Thai 55 on her way out of town.
The fact is that the problems of inner city neighborhoods like Hyde Park and surrounding areas -- decades of disinvestment, lack of adequate retail amenities or commercial services, depopulation, struggling schools, a persistent level of crime, and racial segregation -- are so great that the per diem spending of Barack Obama's entourage is unlikely to affect them. And if they do, that effect may only be transient.
The tourism industry, for example, brought $2.6 million to Crawford, Texas, at its height in 2004.
Compare to that the amount of retail spending (including groceries) that leaves an area of the South Side that includes Hyde Park-Kenwood, Oakland, Bronzeville, Washington Park, and adjacent areas, to the tune of some $450 million, according to a 2004 market study cited in the Chicago Tribune.
So while that $2.6 million would certainly help the quick-buck artists, and the landlords they rent from, and the local restaurants their customers dine in, it's a long way from meeting the suppressed demand for basic needs on the South Side of Chicago.
And, as the press has recently observed, tourism revenue can wax and wane together with the fortunes of a president. The Times writes:
Of the seven gift shops [in Crawford, Texas] that sold "Western White House" mugs, T-shirts, fridge magnets, and golf balls, three have gone bust, only two still open regularly, and one has a sale on ...
"When it all started all of these [stores] were empty," Marilyn Judy, a teacher ... said. "Now they're returning to where they were."
Let's hope a better fate is in store for the Baskin Robbins of the Obama's early romance. And for 53rd Street. But it will take a lot more than the impulse spending of a presidential entourage to provide the housing, transit, jobs, and retail amenities that are needed in the President's own back yard.
*Photo used with permission of photographer, MPW
[This post also appears at Huffington Post Chicago]
posted by chicago pop
(pics by Eric Allix Rogers)
You may remember we put up a note on how the workshop would help you "Learn to Love Density." Sounds like it worked.
reallyboring's take is interesting:
The purpose of the exercises was ... to gauge the community response to the fact that any new developments in the neighborhood, in order to be financially possible, would necessarily be fairly dense. The attendees, by and large, seemed quite happy with this, although there is an apparent generational divide, with older residents less in favor.Don't we know all about that particular "generational divide"! Glad to hear that, in spite of this, there was an overall positive reception of the linkage between density and feasibility.
Check out the blog for more pics of the blocks they played with -- and other cool snaps, like the one below.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
posted by chicago pop
It is characteristic of Hyde Park that the campaigning around Doctors Hospital continues to take place after the vote itself has been decided.
Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston's letter to the Herald urging 39th Precinct residents to vote "no" appeared the day after the election. A week later, a letter from precinct resident Hans Morsbach appeared, making the case for why you should have voted "yes" 8 days before, or should have morally supported those who were able to do so.
The reason for this exercise in chronological acrobatics, however, is fairly obvious: an issue of major import to two wards, two neighborhoods, and an entire section of Chicago was left to the judgment of some 600 people, of which 254 actually decided the matter, voting by a margin of 20 to ban the sale of liquor at the Doctors Hospital site.
Hans Morsbach, therefore, needs to convince the rest of Hyde Park that this was the right thing to do. The odds, however, are pretty good that if put to a vote by anything other than the 39th Precinct of the 5th Ward, the dry referendum would have failed by a large majority.
One again, a vocal and well-organized minority have taken control.
But taking control was the easy part. Convincing everyone outside the 39th Precinct that they were right to do so might be a little bit harder.
Let's have a closer look at Hans Morsbach's apologia pro vita sua of Wednesday, November 12, 2008.
Morsbach: "The opponents of the referendum suggested that we are unreasonable neighbors standing in the way of a much-needed development, and putting a higher value on our own conveniences than on neighborhood interests."
Morsbach: "A hotel largely designed as an overflow for downtown facilities would not serve Hyde Park well."
Comment: From the beginning of this controversy Morsbach, as well as Allan Rechtschaffen, have assured us all that they were deeply studied in the market dynamics of the hospitality business on the South Side of Chicago and could therefore make recommendations as to the proper scale of any hotel on Stony Island.
The problem is, they've offered no evidence to back up their statements as to the proper scale of a profitable hotel, or what the market in this area could support.
As only the latest example, Morsbach claims without any evidence that Marriott intended this hotel to serve an "overflow" purpose. Yet even if this was indeed the intent, why would this "not serve Hyde Park well"? The presumption is that the economy of Hyde Park ought to be limited to a one square mile area, and that this isolated condition is economically desirable. We've been arguing against this idea from day one.
Morsbach: "A study has shown that there is no reason that the existing limestone-and-brick structure cannot be used."
Comment: Has anyone besides a few activists actually seen this study? Can they tell us how much the design of the preservationist alternative diverges from the parameters presented by White Lodging, and what features of the original Marriott would have been compromised (in terms of size, facilities, construction or operations costs)? Such a weighty pronouncement calls for some public facts, not just Hans Morsbach's say-so.
Morsbach: A hotel would "burden our infrastructure."
Comment: This is classic NIMBY-suburbanite whooey. How would the White Lodging Marriott burden what infrastructure?
Sewer mains? Power grids? Road surfaces? Cellular towers? The CTA? Metra station facilities? The traffic lights on Stony Island? They don't tell us, and it's not clear they have any idea.
City infrastructure in most places is underutilized, especially inner city infrastructure, and has been for generations. An entire school of thought has developed around this idea at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. A city like Chicago was built to deal with lots of people.
By arguing that major urban areas can't handle intensive use, Morsbach is rehearsing 70s-era anti-urban romanticism, one that runs counter to well-documented arguments that dense urban areas are in fact the most energy-efficient types of settlement pattern and should therefore be encouraged as a strategy of slowing climate change.
Cities are designed for more burden to infrastructure per unit area than any other type of settlement. There are fewer people living in the 5th ward now than there were 50 years ago,which means that there is less of a burden, if any, on existing infrastructure.
Morsbach: "There should be a place for visitors and students to park their cars without a lot of hassle. Providing adequate parking is imperative."
Comment: Parking is indeed something that needs to be planned carefully. But Hans hasn't always used such high-minded rhetoric; previously he has made it clear that he wants to be able to park his car in front of his house: "I like to park my car near my house on Harper." (Hyde Park Herald reported on August 1, 2007.)
Morsbach, like most of Hyde Park's old guard, is unreflexively automobile-oriented and density-phobic, without realizing that the latter is a partial cure for the former: as we have conveyed on this blog numerous times, urban density in fact diminishes car use. Beyond that, he gives no evidence for his inference that "parking" (in a private lot? a city lot? on the street? in a garage? in front of his house?) would become more difficult on Stony Island or anywhere else.
In fact, Rechtschaffen, who criticized White Lodging for not providing a parking study (which they did, though the University chose not to release it to the public), clearly had already made up his mind that parking and congestion would be "a disaster" without having viewed any analysis of the issue. (Hyde Park Herald, LTE, September 10, 2008)
In a recent article on Hyde Park in Crain's, it was mentioned that Morsbach has been in business in the neighborhood since 1962.
Back before 1962, Hyde Park was a fairly happening place, and strangely enough, it had a lot of hotels. Then things changed, it became not-so-happening, lost its old hotels, and in the aftermath of Urban Renewal and the attempt to make the inner city into a suburb, an entire generation of residents got used to it that way.
Unfortunately, what they got used to was an historical aberration.
Now that things are beginning to revert to the mean, they're fighting the norm with everything they've got. It may keep them busy in the short run, but in the long run, they're going against the tide.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Mayor Richard M. Daley today cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Marriott Diplomat Hotel and Resort complex at 58th & Stony Island, in Chicago's trendy Hyde Park neighborhood. The 15-story hotel is the centerpiece of a new US State Department conference and trade negotiation facility that will bring high-ranking officials to Chicago from all parts of the globe.
Also officiating at the opening was State Department Third Deputy Secretary for Economic Affairs Jim Oberweis, a Republican recruited by the Obama administration as part of its across-the-aisle outreach program. Oberweis has unsuccessfully run for Congress 37 times in his west suburban district.
Oberweis said, "This marvelous new facility will definitely make Hyde Park the premier visitor destination in all of Chicagoland."
"Not only does Hyde Park have excellent ground transportation, which is a 'must' for a major hotel, but the helipad on the south end of the hotel roof will enable guests to arrive at and depart from the hotel by air at any time of day or night," Oberweis said.
The Marriott hotel has 380 standard rooms, 32 luxury suites, three restaurants, a wine bar, a sports bar, two taverns, and a micro-brewery. In 2008, the immediate area was voted dry, in a hotly contested election. In February 2009, the land was deeded to the Federal Corrections Department. Federalizing the property voided the 'dry' designation of the site. Corrections wanted to construct a two-story prison to house 250 inmates in a pioneering work-release program in Hyde Park. Neighbors immediately complained that the prisoners would use up all the best parking spaces, would create massive congestion issues, and that the chain-link fence would alter local air currents.
Community activist Lainne Stopit-Gregge told reporters, "We're not against prisons at this site. We're just against this prison. Maybe they should build it across the Midway or at Harper Court."
Stopit-Gregge's sentiments were echoed by Zack "Prez" Szpisczer, who said, "We welcome prisoners of all stripes. But these prisoners just aren't a good fit for Hyde Park."
Then, in a remark not intended to be overheard, Szpisczer elbowed Stopit-Gregge in the ribs and snickered, "Get it, huh? Stripes. Prisoners."
A local resident, who asked to remain anonymous discussing sensitive issues, said Szpisczer's nickname comes from his penchant for preserving everything. "He [Szpisczer] is not 'the prez' of anything," the neighbor said.
Responding to neighbors' objections, the Feds offered the hotel as an alternative. The neighbors' persistent worries about parking were addressed by inclusion of a 500-space, six-story free parking garage behind the hotel and above the Metra tracks.
Leading the campaign for community acceptance of the hotel was Morsch Hanselbach, owner of the MuddyCheee restaurant on 57th Street. In the new hotel, Hanselbach also owns the MuddyCheee II restaurant, the sports bar and the micro-brewery.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Or, Exploring Transportation Options in Hyde Park
One of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate (or recently graduated) perspective.
While it now occurred a long time ago (February-March 2008), the controversy over 4 private parking spots being weighed against a key bus stop got me thinking: perhaps we should look over the transportation issue that undergraduates face. The first time I visited the University was also the first time that I knew transportation was going to be an issue.
Having trouble navigating through a narrow pass into the neighborhood that could be defended by 300 Spartans (thanks for vocalizing the frustration with the 57th and Stony "Do Not Enter", Elizabeth), the impossible task of finding parking, the late nights waiting for the 55 at the Garfield Red Line station, the impossible task of finding not only the commercial zones to furnish my dorm room and, later, apartment ... for all these reasons my parents won't visit me anymore. It's mainly because of transportation (and, alas, the choice of ... hotels ).
First, an overview of the options:
2) Private Car
6) I-Go or Zip Car
While walking and biking are the most ideal, we all agree that Hyde Park is lacking in commercial density (where would you bike or walk to?) and warmth in the winter months (you're joking if you think biking downtown during a blustery winter's day is an option) that makes it that viable an option.
Also, let's quickly dissect #2. Ideally, one wouldn't need a car in the city, and realistically speaking, undergrads don't have cars. Parking anywhere - downtown or Hyde Park - is frustratingly unfun or prohibitively expensive (to put it in mildest terms). If anything, the simple fact that undergrads don't have cars is a real problem, and I don't mean a personal one at that.
I'm speaking of the Co-Op. Many Hyde Park residents did exactly what one would expect when the only local option is terrible: vote with your feet.
But because there wasn't a decent alternative within walking distance, it was vote with your wheels, which is fine for everyone who has a car (a bit of a hassle, but we've already determined it was a better option than the Co-Op), but an impossible action for us carless students. One reason the Co-Op was probably able to stay longer than it should was its relative monopoly on non-produce groceries for all the students living in the student ghetto.
Another option then should be CTA. It offers a wide range, it's a bit slow and it is cheap. But you aren't going to be buying perishables or bulky items when you're taking public transit...it's just a silly idea. It's also really the only option for late-night sojourns, given its hours of operation and breadth of service.
Metra, CTA's better run cousin, is a faster option that is comparable in cost, but what it makes up for in speed, it lacks in frequency of runs and the (predictably) linear nature of its lines. Granted, weekend passes are probably the best buy out there ($5 for a free pass on Saturday and Sunday).
These can be shored up by Cabs, but even sharing costs, it's an expensive proposition. While of course there will never be a replacement for a wide variety of transportation options servicing the neighborhood (or for commercial development so more amenities are more available), I must say that the two great options I've found - getting far more appealing as gas prices go up and fewer want to own and operate SUVs - are Car Sharing programs and motorscooters.
My own experience with Zip Car was amazing. Blocking out 1 hour of car time cost a surprisingly small amount and my girlfriend and I were able to pick up a used piece of furniture and drop it off at her place with plenty of time to spare. For those in love with hybrids or luxury cars, one might be in luck and even score a Prius (which I've seen around) or a BMW (which one of my friends was lucky enough to borrow along the east-coast recently). At a relatively great and affordable rate, all you have to do now is find a buyer for that SUV you no longer want or need.
For smaller trips, I've fallen in love with my motorscooter. I'd be the first to admit that I'm verging on a full-blown crush on Europe, but damned if they don't have city living down to an art. You could easily fit 6 motor scooters into a parking space for a single car, gas mileage is amazing (around 90 mpg). For small trips to the grocery store, or picking up a few small things that would fit in seat-storage and a backpack, it is ideal during the 9 months of the year that it is not winter.
At only $2,000 purchase price from Craigslist, I honestly doubt that I could have made a better purchase for city living mobility.
The best part of both is the ever present parking issue. Recently, street cleaning occured on 4 consecutive weekdays (with each sign signaling which streets would be cleaned delightfully put up the day *after* I had already moved the car I was babysitting for a friend while she was out of town). Receiving kindly calls from a neighbor or two telling me I was about to get ticketed, I had to hop in still wearing pajamas and frantically search for a parking space, which during the day...Surprise! There are none.
Mind you, this is the middle of the summer, when all of the privileged young folk with mal-informed notions of car ownership in the city have a vehicle to park. More people carless = More parking for people to come into Hyde Park = Outsiders to catalyze economic development? A distinct possibility (if more pipe-dream than anything).
Granted neither car sharing or motorscooters are an option for actually going into the city to do something, which still leaves us with cabs, Metra and CTA (and the necessity of developing Hyde Park). But for anything else, let it be known that there *are* options, and more and more people are taking them. There are quite a few shared cars on campus and more and more frequently, I see motorscooters taking up their tiny amount of curb space.
[Jason Finke's previous posts on HPP: Where Fun Comes to Die; and Hooked on Hookahs]
Sunday, November 9, 2008
posted by chicago pop
The third in a series of workshops dealing with development dynamics on Hyde Park's 53rd Street retail district will take place this coming Saturday, November 15 (see flier below).
Hyde Park alum and Metropolitan Planning Council VP for External Relations Peter Skosey helps to explain what the whole things is about, based on a similar workshop done in the Lawndale neighborhood.
Check it out in this video:
Like the previous two 53rd Street workshops, this one will be based on a series of exercises meant to visualize and make tangible the abstract and ominous-sounding notion of "density." Using a method developed in Minneapolis called the Corridor Housing Initiative, the idea is to help people "connect community visions with market realities" through a series of exercises that demonstrate the variety of forms that density can take, and the market constraints that face developers in urban projects.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
A few readers have informed us that, Wait! There IS a new hotel in Hyde Park. It's just not an enormous national franchise like the Marriott. With rates ranging from $150 to $305/night, the Beadle Residences is a boutiquey hotel at 5140 S. Kenwood that was salvaged (so our reader tells us) from a failed conversion of what used to be a block of Section 8 housing.
Here's their blurb on the neighborhood:
Hyde Park is a culturally rich, vibrant and diverse urban community located just seven miles from downtown Chicago. This unusual city neighborhood, with its winding, tree-lined streets and world class vintage architecture, is only a mile square yet retains a special importance for its eccentricities as much as its vision.
I'd watched this building go into rehab over the last few years, and wondered how this kind of architecture could be rescued. As it is presented on the website, they've done a nice job on the inside. Maybe there's hope for Skokie and Des Plaines, which are full of this stuff.
Olympic Video Contest
A contest is now underway for the best video promoting Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. The deadline is in late November (sorry for the late notice all you videographers!), but should you get your act together nonetheless, this is what I am told awaits you:
The Grand Prize Winner will receive a trip for two to Vancouver for a behind the scenes tour of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games and have their video featured on NBC 5 News Today. Second place will win $5,000 worth of video production equipment of their choice.
We'll also be choosing one random lucky voter to win a trip for six to the United States Olympic Committee's (USOC) headquarters in Colorado Springs to see the USOC's world-class training facilities, watch Olympians and Olympic hopefuls train and participate in a U.S. Olympic sport experience.
Check out the "Why Chicago" Video Contest Website, and maybe put another little piece of Hyde Park on YouTube.