Sunday, August 10, 2008

Doctors Hospital Redevelopment Meeting, August 5, 2008

posted by Richard Gill

I'll begin by saying that I think the meeting overall was positive, with very strong support for a hotel on the Doctors Hospital site. Further, I believe the meeting removed any impression that there is broad sentiment in the neighborhood for saving the Doctors Hospital building or any part of it. The meeting was at times difficult, but people came out and spoke their minds, and the "Hyde Park Establishment" did not dominate the meeting.

I'm glad to say that those who spoke in favor of the hotel project (and did not object to the demolition of the old building) behaved themselves, and kept their remarks brief and to the point. The speech making, irrelevancies, non sequiturs, interruptions, and one major attempt at disruption, came from naysayers, die hard "preservationists", people who dislike the U of C, and people with political agendas. That noisy, time-consuming stuff clearly irritated Alderman Hairston, who ran the meeting, and she was able to cut it off most times.

Throughout the one-hour, forty minute meeting, Alderman Hairston did a good job of walking the tightrope between letting people vent and keeping the meeting on track. Several times, she made it clear that this is a private project, and most decisions are up to the developer (White Lodging).

It was standing-room-only by the time the meeting started at 6:15PM. About 200 people were seated in the Bret Harte Elementary School gym, and dozens more lined the walls or stood in the corridor outside the room. At least 20 people in red t-shirts reading UNITE HERE were in the room, occupying as many seats at the front of the room.

Alderman Hairston opened the meeting with a background statement, saying the meeting follows on earlier input from the community. She said that earlier input told her that the community does not want the Doctors Hospital building to remain dormant, nor does the community want it bulldozed. She said she wanted White Lodging to listen and take ideas back with them. She said a concern is to ensure fair labor practices. Finally, she said she wants the community to feel good about what happens with the site.

The first question that came to my mind was, when did "the community" determine it doesn't want the building taken down?

Scott Travis of White Lodging presented the company's plan for a 390-room hotel/15,000 sq. ft. function room with a $60-70 million investment. Then the mike was passed around for Q&A.

Yes, all the usual issues came up: parking, "congestion", design compatible with "the community," the U of C controls it all, let's make the building a nursing home, and let's have more "master planning" and more studies and more meetings, and how do we know that the construction work won't damage Vista Homes? That stuff pretty much didn't seem to fly with Hairston.

White Lodging was accused of having a poor record on fair labor practices; I heard nothing to substantiate that. The red shirts, who apparently have some labor affiliation did some "union" chanting. One of the red-shirted people demanded that Travis say yes or no, right then and there, to a union shop at the hotel, then they chanted "yes or no, yes or no." Hairston stopped them after a minute and told them this was not their meeting and that they were being disrespectful of everyone else, and, if nothing else, premature. She was applauded for this. They were quiet for the rest of the meeting.

Then, there was the "threat of alcohol being served on the premises" and how it would endanger children who would somehow get hold of the stuff, and one man stood up and said alcohol would surely be a threat, because there would be Bar Mitzvahs in the function room. The poor fellow tried to backtrack but just dug himself in deeper. Hairston, who appeared both amused and disgusted by this, said there weren't going to be people in the hotel plying elementary school children with "gin and juice."

Many people spoke of the need for amenities in the neighborhood, particularly this hotel. An MSI representative said they would probably book 300 rooms a year in the hotel. I think the meeting's strongest message to the Alderman was that the project is sorely needed and will be good for the neighborhood.

Rev. Leon Finney spoke, reminding everyone that the project will have to comply with the planning and lakefront protection ordinances, so all the fear mongering should stop. He said the hospital is a blight. He stopped some of the preservationists in their tracks when he noted that for most of its history the hospital had been Illinois Central Hospital and would not serve nor employ African-Americans. He asked why anyone would want to preserve a reminder of that. Finally, in response to all the ideas about doing something else with the property, he said, "If not a hotel, then what?" He said let's move forward and he applauded the alderman for calling the meeting.

Hairston said the next step would be for White Lodging to make a presentation in a few weeks, responding to concerns raised at the meeting, possibly around the end of September.

I don't know who said it, but I have in my meeting notes that someone accused White Lodging of "trying to pound their square peg into Hyde Park's round hole." I will stop here and let the reader ponder that assertion.


Elizabeth Fama said...

Thanks for going to the meeting, Richard. You bring up an interesting point regarding the disconnect between what Alderman Hairston thinks "the community" wants, and the variety of true opinions in Hyde Park. We don't bring it up often enough on this blog, but Hairston hasn't figured out an effective way of taking the temperature of her constituents. In the past she relied solely on these "community meetings" for input, and on the opinions of a few people who demanded her attention, or who claimed to represent the community. E-mails to her go unanswered in my experience, and it's hard to tell if she's tabulating them.

I don't know what the real answer is (expert phone surveys? Vision meetings?) but if her only strategy is community meetings, she might only hear the squeaky (and often uninformed) wheels.

Zig and Lou said...

If the MSI would book 300 room nights, I can say that we would book at least 14 room nights a year. Sign us up. New England in-laws.

Peter Rossi said...

beth is right.
the community meeting concept is ridiculous.

I think leslie found out how ridiculous it is last week.

What people don' think about is - why should Scott Travis sit there and take it. Why not develop a more promising place for a hotel.

the preservationists lied multiple times. The head of Landmarks Illinois lied and told the meeting that his proposal for "reuse" was submitted one year ago to White Lodging. That can't be true as the first meeting on this was held approximately one year ago. Why do these people feel it is necessary to lie to get their way?

Leslie seriously mis-estimates the extent of support for this hotel. These folks don't go to the goofy meetings.

rdb said...

I think Alderman Hairston's primary interest, at least in recent matters, is to appear "independent" from the U of C and willing to "stand up" to the U. My guess is that the U and White made a mistake in not going to the Alderman sooner, or first. If this could have been Leslie's victory from the beginning, we would all be enjoying drinks at the hotel bar together now. Instead, the U played right into the hands of the Hyde Park luddites, and now Leslie feels she has to "stand up" to the U, even if that means looking like a preservationist. Contrast this fiasco with the Solstice development and you can see what I mean.

bornatreese said...

That's why its great that so many people who were supportive of progress attended this meeting. I was delighted by the woman who started out by saying that she'd lived in Hyde Park 40 years ("oh, here we go.." I thought)---but then she came out and said how terrible it is that people who visit here have no place to stay. I missed hearing a 300 figure for the Museum, but that seems a little low.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Peter, didn't you say that the MSI rep at the meeting also offered to let the hotel use their parking lot at night for spillover for large events (weddings, conferences, etc.)?

chicago pop said...

I just have a few questions pertaining to the status of the project. What was the decision vis-a-vis the preservationist proposal? Did White accept some or none of the preservationist recommendations? Did White Lodging have a design that was modified in any way from their original proposal? Are there dates for construction to begin?

Richard Gill said...

White Lodging did not present any new designs or concepts at the August 5 meeting. I believe they are expected to present a revised plan at the next meeting, possibly in late September. Their position was basically that, based on their own detailed analysis, none of the hospital building lends itself to incorporation into a new hotel.

Given the apparent sentiment at the meeting that the old building has nothing to offer (and actually has some negative historical baggage), I don't think they'll have to propose any adaptive reuse, or whatever it's called. White did agree to talk to Jack Spicer one more time. Maybe he wants them to round-off that square peg.

A construction schedule wasn't proposed. Who knows how many more meetings there will be, or how long the zoning and permitting will take, and whether the economy will slow the project down (or how many advance bookings there will be for Bar Mitzvah receptions) ? As rdb says, construction will be later than if the University had put forth the initial efforts in the correct order.

Others who were there: how did you read the meeting?

I hope that, with Hyde Park's unhappy status as a Hotel Desert, the project will be deemed viable despite the state of the economy.

Froggy said...

What about fixing up the hotels that already exist in Hyde Park? Ramada Inn anyone?

Dave said...

In just a week or so of perusing Hyde Park Progress, I'm already struck by how baselessly dismissive the bloggers are of viewpoints they disagree with. I'll be the first to say that I think that the preservationist wingnuts have it all wrong on the point (and on the Doctors Hospital, for that matter), but the notion that complaints about unfair labor practices aimed at White Lodging (the developer for the project) are unsubstantiated is downright perplexing. As a matter of public record, White Lodging has been accused by its housekeeping staff in its hotels at Midway Airport of preventing them from taking their state-protected work breaks. In Kentucky, White Lodging was recently sued, by the EEOC, no less, over claims of religious discrimination for refusing the let female Muslim employees wear hijab while working. Muslim community groups raised these concerns publicly a little over a year ago when White Lodging was named the developer for a convention center project in Indianapolis, IN. While Ms. Fama may have heard nothing at the Hyde Park meeting to substantiate criticisms of White Lodging's labor practices, even a perfunctory search on the internet would have turned up sufficient "substantiation" to warrant something more than her breezy dismissal of the concern. While the tactics of the pro-union attendees of the community meeting (interrupting, chanting, etc.) are perhaps a bit premature (one of the few things Hairston gets right, I think) and even irritating, the stance of the developer towards labor and unions is a valid question that should be further investigated, rather than dismissed out of hand as "unsubstantiated". Progress is a complicated and multifaceted notion, in Hyde Park, as it is anywhere. Having lived here for almost 30 years, I agree wholeheartedly that the preservationist interest in the Doctor's Hospital building should be trumped by the community's need for hotel accomodations. The notion that we should be satisfied with the University's no-bid process for selecting White Lodging, and Ms. Fama's casual disinterest in the labor practices of the developer, however, seems broadly irresponsible to me. As eager as I am to improve Hyde Park, I do not think it's fair to call any development "progress" when we demonstrate a willingness to throw principled stances against unfair labor practices and religious discrimination under the bus to do so. Those Hyde Parkers who would truly claim an allegiance to Milton Friedman and the free market (many of whom I suspect run under the banner of this blog) would do well to consider more carefully the benefits of a truly open market (read: bidding process) that might have allowed the community the opportunity to consider whom it wanted developing its dormant real estate and why.

chicago pop said...

As a matter of public record, Ms. Fama did not write this post.

Elizabeth Fama said...

I guess we need a bigger font for our by-lines (they always appear at the top of each post). But I'm surprised Dave didn't also notice that I was the first to comment on Richard's post.

EdJ said...

Thanks to Dave for his post. It is good that you brought forward the listing of the practices that white lodging is accused of. You saved me a lot of searching o the internet.

with regard to the use of the term "unsubstantiated", let me say that what often happens at these community meetings and the "reporting" in the Herald is that someone makes a blanket statement that assumes everyone knows and agrees that "White Lodging pracices unfair labor practices" without giving any other information. They expect people to respond by immediately nodding their heads, pumping their fists in the air, and hooting like they were in the audience for a Jay Leno monologue.

I don't have a lot of time to do a lot of research on the internet about White Lodging and I don't have a lot of time to go to community meetings because I have kids and a wife and other responsibilities.

If UNITE wants the hotel to be a union shop, make the case why by providing evidence and try to persuade people in Hyde Park to support the position. We are reasonable people here. After all, we are not communists.

I'm not totally persuaded by a few reports. I don't see a wholesale pattern of abuse that makes me want to oppose White Lodging. If you want to post a few links so we can read more about it, I'd be happy to learn more, but we need more information that a few statements. Is this a pattern or a few isolated incidents because of a bad manager? How were te complaints resolved?

With regard to putting out an RFP for a hotel from the university, I guess I don't really see the point. With the reaction that developers get in Hyde Park from NIMBYs, we have to take what we can get. Even in the best of economic times, proposals seem to chased off by opposition from the chanters. And the only thing that makes me more skeptcal than chanting after blanket statements is the hooting during a Jay Leno monologue.

Richard Gill said...

I'm the one who wrote the post on the August 5 meeting. You're darn right that I said I heard nothing at the meeting to substantiate the labor charges. That's because I didn't hear any substantiation.

What I did hear was a lot of stuff (the labor business, preservation, traffic, etc) couched as "issues" that were poorly veiled attempts to stop the hotel project. All the noise is just a way to try to shut down other voices and intimidate other opinions (and to try to get a headline).

Further, and I said this at the meeting, there are legally-protected government processes for bringing and resolving labor complaints. Big employers, such as White Lodging and any number of others, get employee complaints that go through review and mediation, arbitration or other processes. There is always going to be somebody who is unhappy with somebody else. I don't think a community meeting is the place to get involved in those distractions.

Let's keep our eyes on the ball, or we'll be tied up in so much peripheral stuff that nothing will get done. And that's what the screamers want to get done: nothing.

Zig and Lou said...

Maybe I am simple. How is no jobs better than many decently paying non-union jobs? And why is it anyone's business other than a property owner who they choose to hire to build on private property? As long as they use the proper channels, build to code and to zoning criteria, and complete the work in a legal manner why would there be any debate? This statement is interesting, "...allowed the community the opportunity to consider whom it wanted developing..." To invoke a wise man, "This isn't Russia. Is this Russia? This isn't Russia. "

Richard Gill said...

Oh, Zig and Lou -

Doncha know, in Hyde Park everything is everybody's business. This is the land of the Busybodies and the Buttinskis, here inside the communal moat.

On the other hand, I, too, don't know how no jobs is better than good jobs. Obviously, we must be missing out on something. Maybe it will come to us if we sit around for a week or so, chanting "yes or no, yes or no."

chicago pop said...

That last line caught my attention, too: "...allowed the community the opportunity to consider whom it wanted developing..." especially since this was argued as the desirable outcome of "free market" open-bidding process that Milton Friedman would have approved --- one that would lead straight to ... more community meetings, in which non-market actors get to decide who invests in the neighborhood.

Not quite sure I follow that, but anytime "Milton Friedman" or the term "community" are introduced as if we already know what they are, you know you're in for some confusion.

As far as throwing principles under the bus, if that's the complaint then it should be directed to Hairston's constituents in the 5th Ward, who asked her to vote down the Big Box ordinance that established a minimum wage for all the big discount retailers over a certain size.

So it's not just HPP bloggers who are throwing someone's principles under the bus. It seems to be the people who already have jobs who want to prevent those who don't from getting them in the first place.

Stephen said...

zig and lou, you left off an important part of Dave's quote: "...whom it wanted developing ITS dormant real estate..." (emphasis added) I'm pretty sure the IT is the community. But, this isn't the community's land. zig and lou post is spot on, and I almost stood up to voice this during the meeting (but after a certain impassioned dialog (come on, no one is going to comment on that!) I was too frustrated). The point I wanted to raise was this is private property, and what people seem to suggest is Ms. Hairston should block approval based on unsubstantiated charges of inexperience, discrimination, etc. I think community members have a higher burden of proof when asking the government to intervene on the use of private land, whether it is in someone's back yard or front door (not sure the difference). I'm all for public meetings, and many of the issues raised were valid issues, but when the purpose is pure obstruction, it is not enough.

Richard Gill is right, there was no substantiation of the claims made during the meeting. The problem is not that such issues are raised, but the statements were made as if they were well established facts worthy in and of themselves of stopping the project. Those who want to block the project because of parking, traffic, labor, and other issues (including the implosion of Vista Homes) should have the burden of coming forward with some proof of negative impact on the community. The city already requires White Lodging to jump through many hoops, and they seem willing to jump through more for those opposing the project. When will those opposing stand up with facts worthy of discussion (to the preservation group's credit, they do, at least, put some money behind their agenda).

Finally, the meeting was overall encouraging to me. But, I think White Lodging could benefit from telling the community more about how it will make the hotel succeed. I agreed the posture they were coming in as a payback for good medical care was not a smart approach. If they are going to build it, what kind of marketing are they planning to make sure the hotel is full? I think those kinds of questions are good questions to ask, and may actually result in them thinking about it.

chicago pop said...

That presumption that the land in question "belongs" to the "community" who can then decide what to do with it reminds me of a famous comment left during the Co-Op meltdown -- that the Co-Op "was absolutely good enough for everybody's needs."

EdJ said...

I did a google search on "White Lodging" and "unfair labor practices" and the only matches I got were blogs in the U of C area restating what is said in the public meetings. I did find that UNITE usually likes to charge unfair labor practices against hotels when they are trying to organize workers.

chicago pop said...

The only info I can track down on White Lodging's labor history is, as was mentioned above, one suit filed by the EEOC in summer 2006, EEOC v White Lodging, Civil Action No. 3:06CV-353-S the outcome of which is unknown and which is not mentioned in the EEOC's online annual reports, which run through 2006. Apparently, the case is still pending in US District Court in Kentucky.

There are other accusations floating around the web, of White Lodging "actively attempting to prevent its housekeeping staff at its Midway hotels from taking their state mandated breaks", though again, it is not clear whether these have been taken to court and the claims proven or disproven.

Last summer White Lodging was granted approval, and $66 million in public subsidies, for the construction of a 1,000 room convention center in Indianapolis.

It was confronted with the same accusations of religious discrimination in that case. Local Muslim activists obtained written promise from the City of Indianapolis that Muslim employees would not be discriminated against, and requested to meet with White Lodging to discuss sensitivity training.

Details like this should be brought up by the aldermen, but I don't think that these issues (a pending case and an accusation) by themselves warrant blocking a project of such great benefit.

Famac said...

There was a similar charges levied against the Co-Op, if I remember correctly.

They were accused of not allowing employees their 15 minutes of work.

Thinkish thinker said...

This is a little of topic but, I just wanted to say that I love your blog, well the community's blog, and was partly inspired from it to create Http://, which is a news portal for the hyde park community, which connects the HP herald, and hopefully, Hyde Park Progress. Please email me at, so we can make a time to meet, or connect

Keep up the wonderful work!
Andrei Z

Peter Rossi said...

Dave seems to have sealed the argument that there are not substantiated claims of unfair labor practices at White lodging. All we have is rumors. He asserts these rumors as facts.

If White Lodging truly has a "spotty" labor record, let those who want to claim this PRODUCE this record.

Every employer has complaints lodged against it (no pun intended).

Are we going to stop White Lodging because someone thinks that some employees once complained about not having breaks even though there is no evidence to support this?

What this is really about is that WL is not a union shop. Those labor organizers in the red shirts want to organize WL. Does this have anything to do with whether or not a hotel is a good idea?

Whatever his professed support for the hotel, Dave is really acting to undermine any progress by attempts to distract people with what amounts to rumors.

just the facts, please.

ps. just where on Harper Ave does Dave live? Just kidding, there are a few people on Harper Avenue who would fail the NIMBY litmus test.
pps. why does Dave think he should have any say over how the owner of private property bids out a hotel? Is he a trustee of the U?

Peter Rossi said...

To Stephen-

He echoes a few similar comments made at the meeting. The jist of the comments (I hope I have this right) is -- White Lodging please tell us more why you think you can make a go of it with your hotel?

This is a very strange argument. Isn't Whie Lodging going to invest about $70,000,000 to build the hotels? Aren't they in the business to make a profit on on-going hotel operations. This is not condos in Miami Beach.

Is there some reason that people believe that White Lodging doesn't know the hotel business? Why should they have to say anything more than -- well, we are wiling to make a $70mm bet and we are pretty good at betting on hotels as we have done this many times and we make money running our hotels?

There is a hint of pessimism here. Nothing work in Hyde Park.

EdJ said...

I think that getting good medical care at the U of C was not the reason they are trying to build the hotel, but more the issue that prompted White Lodging to look into Hyde Park as a possible site for a hotel. They probably looked around and saw that there is a decent market and competitors that they can go up against fairly easily. If a hotel like the Ramada can make it, these two better hotels can make it. I think it even has the potential to do well on meetings. Downtown hotels can be expensive and here we have a location that is convenient to transportation and in a nice area. I can think of a couple of meetings a year for my work that I ould try to schedule at these two hotels.

As Peter said, the developers are adults and know their business. They're not in this to lose money.

But then, given our experience with the Co-op, is it a surprise that NIMBYs only appreciate and support businesses that try to lose money?

Stephen said...

Well, as for myself, I do believe they know what they are doing. My point was it was not the smartest approach to take stating WL was coming in sort of to pay back a favor. Of course, the man never said they wouldn't make money (I think that goes without saying); what he did say was they could make MORE money somewhere else. Maybe that's true, but what a NIMBY hears is this guy thinks he's doing HP a favor, and we don't want your favors. It allows them to make up more arguments (like the curious fresh air argument) along the lines of WL is going to fail and leave a vacant hotel (with the assumption that a vacant hospital is much nicer). If we are going to have these kinds of talks with the community, WL would have been better off talking about how they are going to make this succeed.

Also, many of the questions asked of WL were questions WL couldn't and shouldn't have to answer. WL is not responsible for reviving/bolstering business on 57th street, and HP in general. And UofC is not responsible for creating master plans for large blocks of real estate they don't own. Some people seem to think any developer in HP has to have an answer to all the problems in HP. In fact, their biggest problem in HP are the obstructionists in HP. I'm all for the guy at the meeting who begged Ms. Hairston to end the community meeting circuses and move forward.

edj said...

I agree with Stephen about the developer making it seem like they are doing a favor. I think that most sane people would recognize that WL is using that as a way to point out that if they wanted to, they could just take their memories of the wonderful health care at the university and invest elsewhere. I also think that a lot of potential developers see the possibility of making more money if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics. They want to get in early before land values rise.

chicago pop said...

I also think that a lot of potential developers see the possibility of making more money if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics.

The question is, will they be welcome in Pat Dowell's 3rd Ward? Check out her letter to the editor in this week's Herald.

The University want to buy property in her impoverished ward.

She's pissed they didn't tell her.

So she digs up the usual humble pie that the University's been forced to eat for 50 years because once, they thought about buying land in Woodlawn, even though they never did.

And this is supposed to have something to do with too few blacks attending the U of C.

The best thing that could happen to the 3rd Ward is if the University helped build a transit oriented development at Garfield and the Green Line.

Woodlawn told the U to go toss, and they even tore down their Green Line; look where they are now.

Time to stop kvetching about the University, Dowell, and show us some results.

There will be more on this topic.

David Farley said...

If i read the map right in the HP Herald, one of those plots of land is where the old A&P sits. That's been sitting vacant and slowly falling apart for at least 18 years (as long as I've been here). But it's the crime of the century that the University bought it.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to mention Dowell's letter but was waiting to see if someone else would bring it up first.

I absolutely cannot fathom why everyone freaks out and screams bloody murder every time the U buys some land. Who cares of the University develops some parcels of land by Garfield and King? Is someone really that upset that their vacant, weedy parking lots and empty stores will be developed into something worthwhile?

I've lived here for 6 years and have never understood this weird obstructionism to any kind of change, not to mention the megalomania of the aldermen down here. I used to think Tillman was bad. I understand wanting to be in the loop on business deals in your ward, but at what point does it turn into a desire to micromanage? Does Leslie Hairston flip out when someone in her ward sells their house to someone else? Of course not.

So the U buys some land. Whoever owned that land before was probably glad to be rid of it. This is capitalism. Private land deals. They didn't sneak anything and they're not planning on using it as a toxic waste dump. So what's the big deal?

And UofC is not responsible for creating master plans for large blocks of real estate they don't own. Some people seem to think any developer in HP has to have an answer to all the problems in HP.

The NIMBYs regularly contradict themselves on this. First, they want the University to create a large-scale neighborhood master plan around the new Marriott hotel, but when the U buys some land in the 3rd ward, they're accused of making grandiose plans at the expense of others.

They really can't win.

chicago pop said...

Your last point is awesome -- that is quite a contradiction.

edj said...

If I remember correctly, wasn't Dowell accused of being too close to the university when she ran for alderman? Could this just be the beginning of an elabrate kabuki play where she shows her independence from the university before we ultimately get some sort of agreement?

edj said...

We've seen Greg's point played out before with the Co-op. Supporters attacked the university because theey thought it did not support the Co-op, but they wanted the university to continue to subsidize it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Pat Dowell was criticized for that. Maybe you're right and it's just a put-on so people won't make her the goat for the University's development plans.

Hyde Park would probably benefit from a George Bailey experience: What if the U of C had never existed? (Or what if it had picked up and moved many years ago like they wanted to?) I think if a lot of people saw the alternative, they'd shut up real quick.

Peter Rossi said...

White Lodging is doing us a favor. I don't see anyone else is line to do this. I believe that owner is a GSB alum. I can also believe that HP is not at the very top of the list of underdeveloped hotel locations.

Sure, they are going to make some money. Why shouldn't they?