Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Visit to Morsbach's Downstate Medici Location

posted by chicago pop

A little while ago, we had the opportunity to visit Hans Morsbach's new Medici in downstate Normal, Illinois, home of Illinois State University. Readers may recall that we posted on this development last October. About a month ago, we decided to check it out in person.

The food was pretty good, as was the selection of locally brewed beer, served from the capacious bar that Morsbach can't have on 57th Street. But the most delicious thing of all was the irony that less than 100 yards from the new Normal Medici, co-owned by one of the most vocal opponents of a proposed Hyde Park Marriott Hotel, is ongoing construction on a 9 story, 229 room Marriott Hotel, with attached 43,000 square foot conference center and 500 spot parking deck.

Not in Mors-Bach Yard: Normal's Marriott and Convention Center

This complex is being built on land that was acquired through various means by the Town of Normal, and is intended to be an engine of commerce and activity in the city's older central area, literally right across the street from Morsbach's new Medici.

Normal's "Big Dig"

The new Medici, in addition to offering profitable alcoholic beverages, will most certainly also benefit from the new hotel and convention traffic across the street, all of which has been partially subsidized by the local municipality. Which, as we pointed out in our original post, includes the nice historical recreation of the storefront that originally stood at the site of the Normal Medici.

The good people of the Town of Normal are under no illusion as to what's going on. They are much less conflicted than Hyde Parkers about what they want. It is urban renewal. It involves the use of eminent domain. It has required the displacement of some long-established businesses, the willing relocation of others, and the inclusion of major corporate businesses into the plan. There's an office on the main street that oversees it all.

As we posted back in October 2007,

While this particular project [the Normal Medici] involved no use of eminent domain and condemnation, the Town of Normal agreed to subsidize the Morsbach-Steinman redevelopment project to the tune of "up to 30 percent or $350,000 of the annual interest costs on their first mortgage, provide a $100,000 grant for life/safety work and a $15,000 facade improvement grant." (Bloomington-Normal Pantagraph, September 7, 2005).
Now, none of this would be as interesting as it is if Morsbach hadn't been one of the most vocal opponents of the proposed Marriott Hotel as the site of the current Drs Hospital in Hyde Park, or someone who felt that the threat of redevelopment at Harper Court was an ominous sign of a "second coming" of Urban Renewal.

But let's step inside.

That's a tree from Morsbach's Wisconsin tree farm, inside the restaurant. It's a nice space, with lots of the unique hand-crafted wooden stuff, and there's a helluva lot more light and room than in the Hyde Park location. Plus, there's booze.

To close out, we'll leave you with this tasty little excerpt from the menu at the Normal Medici, which offers an interesting perspective on the restaurant's storied history:

If only the Medici-Hyde Park were as happy to be part of the "refurbishing of this district" -- the one on the South Side of Chicago.


Elizabeth Fama said...

I can't imagine the Normal, IL Marriott convention center won't have a restaurant, right? But clearly the people staying at the hotel will increase traffic at the Medici in Normal. It's fascinating that the dynamic in Hyde Park is perceived to be so different that a Marriott here would threaten -- at least in Mr. Morsbach's mind -- rather than enhance the business at the Medici on 57th.

Zig & Lou said...

Interesting that Hans took his many decades of profits out of Hyde Park and built his "dream Medici" in Normal Illnois. Hmmmm.

Richard Gill said...

Mr. Morsbach's move seems rather bi-polar: he has one foot planted in the likes of Hyde Park, and the other in a place called Normal.

I wish him well in his Normal venture, but it seems disingenuous to be on the cusp of development there, but to want to stifle it back home.

Is that tree a transplant from something that rolled down the Metra embankment into Mr. Morsbach's back yard?

EdJ said...

Having spent some time at meetings and conventions over the years, I can say that hotel restaurants lose their charm pretty quickly. I can see lots of people going to Medici in Normal.

Since the dream Medici is in Normal does that mean the non-dream Medici is in Ab-Normal.

Sorry. I had to get that one out of my system.

Though it does seem a fitting nickname for Hyde Park sometimes.

Zig & Lou said...

It cam me to me in a flash, and I will let Hans have these for free. "Hyde Park Medici...Less than the Best" or "Hyde Park Medici...A Dream Deferred" or "Hyde Park Medici...Join us in Normal" or "Hyde Park Medici...Learn to love the darkness and dated decor".

I will stop myself now.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Edj, that's my point exactly: the convention center will naturally provide more customers for the Dream Medici. The interesting question is why Mr. Morsbach doesn't think the same would happen in Hyde Park as a result of a Marriott on Stony Island. Is it because it's not across the street from his restaurant, so it's unlikely to steer people to 57th Street businesses? Is it because he thinks the guests at Doctors Marriott would be primarily visiting academics, looking for a place to eat that's more upscale, with a liquor license? I'm trying to figure out why he has such different feelings about a similar development in the two places.

chicago pop said...

My attempt at an answer to Beth's question above is this: it's pure, 100% NIMBY-ism. It's that in one location, Morsbach has a house and a car to park, and so thinks of his own particular interests first. In the other, he's a businessman with no local ties, and so thinks of his own self-interest first.


Perhaps I mean that in one case, he's a NIMBY homeowner worried about parking, congestion, etc., and then maybe more competition for his burger cave; in the other, he's just out there to do business and doesn't care about any of that stuff. Just the liquor license he can't get on 57th Street.

Peter Rossi said...

Chicago pop is right. He wants to live quietly in HP without fear of "congestion," take cash out of his rest, and get the big subsidies and money in Normal.

Next time you see him spouting NIMBYism at a public meeting, call him on it!

Zig & Lou said...

"Burger Cave"