Friday, October 24, 2008

Calling the Dry Referendum What it Is

posted by Elizabeth Fama

November 6, 2012. Memorize that date, because if the 39th Precinct votes itself "dry" in 11 days, then four years from now is the soonest they'd be able to vote themselves "wet" again. Not only that, it would require putting a "wet" referendum on the 2012 ballot, which means hiring a lawyer like Michael Kasper to file the papers again (will Unite-HERE pay for that?), gathering close to 160 signatures on a petition by going door-to-door on Blackstone, Harper, Stony Island, 57th, and 59th Streets, and then campaigning in the neighborhood to encourage people to vote. Somehow I don't see the current crop of activists going through all that trouble to bring in a new developer. Do you?

That's the little secret that our Born Again Teetotalers, Greg Lane, Alma and Ray Kuby, Jack Spicer, Hans Morsbach, and Allan Rechtschaffen aren't telling you when they say this referendum is a reversible "negotiating tool." But I'm calling them on it. This action is so hard to reverse, and so discouraging to future developers, it's a blocking tool, pure and simple.

An article in today's Chicago Tribune ("Precinct may voting [sic] itself dry," 10/24/08) reports that the judge has dismissed the challenge six residents brought against the dry petition. The challenge was based on signature irregularities and signature-gathering mistakes. As it turns out, the petitioners (some of whom work for Unite-HERE) knocked on an awful lot of doors, and honest intent was the standard the judge used, so not enough signatures could be discarded to remove the referendum from the ballot.

In the Tribune article, precinct resident Ray Kuby says,
"...if you [the university] want to negotiate with us, we do have negotiating power....This is direct democracy. We don't have to go through placating our alderman or anything else. We will just vote ourselves."
He goes on to say that referendum was "not a way to block the project, but would simply put the decision to proceed into the hands of the residents most likely to be affected by the hotel's presence." We've heard that argument before in a few convoluted Hyde Park Herald letters to the editor.

Not blocking the project? Not opposed to all future development? I'm sorry, but that emperor is so naked.


Anonymous said...

I guess all we can hope is that enough 39thers vote "no". Otherwise, we can look forward to a vacant deathtrap of a building for many years to come.

Chuck from Chuck's Photo Spot sent you guys a photo of the inside of St. Stephens a while back. His site actually has photos of the inside of Dr's Hospital as well (can't recall if those were posted here as well).

The place is ransacked and has graffiti on many of the walls, so clearly people (including kids) are able to get in there and get into trouble. I wonder how long before some kids get hurt in there, or worse, meet up with unsavoury people.

chicago pop said...

Thank you Elizabeth for calling it like it is.

The issue of the FOUR YEAR DELAY in commercial development that would most likely result from a successful dry vote points to a further question:

How are we to weigh the relative costs of voting dry or wet?

The dry voters argue that they, as immediate neighbors, would suffer all sorts of costs mostly associated with lifestyle and largely intangible. They have documented none of it, but make the case that, as those most directly affected, they are justified in stopping the project.

The only way to really assess this is to ask, what is the cost to the entire neighborhood, 5th and 4th Wards, University, MSI, and other employers and institutions, local business and residents of delaying a hotel or similar project at least 4 years?

If a serious attempt were made to answer this question, then we could find our way out of the clouds of self-righteous rhetoric that cling to Vista Towers, and get a better sense of what is truly the greater good for Hyde Park.

We have numbers on guests that would be put up by MSI; we have numbers on guests that would be put up by certain University departments; we have figures for unemployment and poverty in Leslie Hairston's 5th Ward and we know the number of new jobs that a hotel would create; a traffic study has been done and we can probably get a rough estimate of how much money hotel patrons would spend on 57th Street and in the neighborhood.

chicago pop said...

Some of the photos Greg mentions were posted back in January on HPP.

Check them out:

"Inside Drs Hospital: See What You're Preserving!"

Richard Gill said...

The October 24 Chicago Maroon has a front page article headlined "Students hope to foster safer Hyde Park." The article focuses almost entirely on U of C students' fear of walking in Hyde Park at night. The principal cited culprit is Hyde Park's dark and empty streets. That is largely attributed in the article to the neighborhood's lack of venues and activities that would create nighttime foot traffic and the increased safety that would ensue.

This reinforces what has long been known - and discussed and discussed and discussed. There isn't even an all-night snack shop anywhere near campus.

Among its other obvious benefits, a hotel at the Doctors Hospital site, and the accompanying human presence, would go a long way in addressing this problem of empty streets. So, if the 39th Precinct's "dry" referendum passes and the site remains undeveloped, and the episode discourages other developers elsewhere in the neighborhood, and our streets remain empty and dangerous at night, don't forget to blame the referendum's perpetrators in the 39th precinct and the individuals and the union that abetted them.

Stephen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
edj said...

On another issue, the sculpture at 5th and Lake Park is coming down. No reports of protesters.

Peter Rossi said...

excellent post.

I only hope people read this and tell their neighbors to vote NO.

Anonymous said...

Orisha Wall is gone as of tonight. Look for the 2-page obituary in this week's Herald.

bornatreese said...

I'm not in that precinct. I have been trying to talk to people about voting the referendum down. I talk about all the longterm reasons. But how do I answer this argument: Hyde Park already has the Ramada. What makes you think a new hotel would be any different?

Elizabeth Fama said...

The new hotel would have the built-in customers of the University, the Museum of Science and Industry, and of course friends and family of neighborhood residents. Every year there are thousands of parents of college (and graduate) students who visit, family members of patients at the hospitals, and an uncountable number of speakers, guests, and visitors from various academic departments. The GSB alone puts up an astounding number of downtown hotels. They by-pass the Ramada because once you're in a car -- and the Ramada is not walking distance in dress shoes -- you may as well be somewhere swank.

We could also use the new restaurant and cafe at our end of the neighborhood.

I have no idea who stays at the Ramada. I've lived here for 40 years and I don't personally know a single person who has stayed there (or if they have, they haven't told me). I've hosted many people at the Quadrangle Club, however, and I'd do the same for a Stony Island hotel.

chicago pop said...

But how do I answer this argument: Hyde Park already has the Ramada. What makes you think a new hotel would be any different?

I'm not sure I get the analogy. Hyde Park already has the Ramada ... meaning that it doesn't need another hotel because the market's not there? That seems like an easy argument to turn back.

So maybe the question is, how do we know that a new hotel on Stony wouldn't be like the rundown one of 49th?

1) This would not be the case primarily because Hyde Park would no longer have a monopoly situation with one national hospitality chain as the only choice.

2) The Marriott would have reasons of its own to keep its ship in shape, but their presence might also have the effect of forcing improvements at the Ramada or whatever succeeds it, which would be an added bonus for the neighborhood.

Other reasons: the Marriott would have a steady stream of instutitional (as opposed to tourism oriented) patrons of the sort that would probably shift over to Loop hotels very quickly if service or quality or appearance dipped before a certain level.

It will therefore be in the interest of the Marriott operators to keep up a certain degree of appearances to appeal to the institutional clients they are trying to capture. I would imagine that many of these patrons will have their rooms paid by their employers for the most part, employers who have reasons to value proximity and facilities that the Ramada doesn't have, and could easily switch their accounts to big Loop hotels if Marriott failed to maintain a certain level of quality.

I don't think the Ramada is facing those kinds of pressures. A new hotel on the other side of the neighborhood might actually result in a better hotel on 49th and Cornell, whether it's the current Ramada or whatever may succeed it.

edj said...

My wife works at the U of C Hospital. She said that it is embarrassing to send people to stay at the Ramada when they have a family member sick at the hospital. The place is really run down and not really conducive to trying to feel better at a time whn you may have a very sick child or other loved one at the hospital.

As Pop notes, the Ramada does not have any incentive to upgrade. They have a captive set of clients and residents nearby who don't mind taking actions that make life a little more miserable for people stayting at the hotel. Just like they don't want to help create jobs for people nearby who may need jobs. They talk a good game about gojob creation, but when it comes time to actually create jobs, they are all talk.

As Pop has also pointed out, the union is hurting themselves because they could more easily unionize the workers with the soon to be enacted check card system.

The sign at the main entrance to Hyde Park at 57th Street says "DO NOT ENTER", and the the pro dry group means it.

chicago pop said...

Edj: interesting about the hospital hesitating to send patient families to the Ramada. I can totally understand why.

A Marriott would face tougher competition from peer hotels in the Loop: that's probably the best nutshell answer to bornatreese's question.

Re: the "do not enter" Hyde Park mentality, yes, I was thinking that the rubble from Orisha Wall could be used to help wall off the 39th Precinct. Or at least Vista Homes?

Stephen said...

Someone informed me I was called out on HPU for being mean spirited. After reviewing my earlier post, I'd have to agree. Thanks to HPU for a good counterpoint (whether I inevitably agree with the positions there or not).

Elizabeth Fama said...

I half expect Jesse Jackson, Jr. to duck in here now and make us all hug each other.

chicago pop said...

Sounds like someone threatened to kick Horton out of Whoville.

David Farley said...

chicago pop said...
Sounds like someone threatened to kick Horton out of Whoville.

Do not hop on C. Pop.