Friday, October 17, 2008

Calling Our Alderman

posted by Peter Rossi

5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston is in a very tight spot on the Doctor's Hospital hotel proposal. Some of this is her own doing and some of this is the result of some cynical political maneuvering on the part of local NIMBYs.

Let's review the record. Elected in 1999, the alderman is in her third term. Throughout most of this tenure, development has been booming in Chicago. Countless condos have risen all over, including marginal neighborhoods such as the far south loop. Hundreds of restaurants and boutiques were not far behind.

In the 5th ward, however, development has been at a standstill (unless you get excited about a Starbucks opening on Stony Island). There has been only one project that has even gotten as far as the drawing board - Solstice on the Park (a 26 story midrise at 56th and Cornell). However, the recent economic downturn casts a real shadow on this project. I hope it will fly in the face of the collapse of our financial markets, but there is every reason to worry.

Alderman Hairston has nothing to show for the last nine years. One would think that the hotel project would be manna from heaven -- jobs for her constituents, a much needed hotel for the neighborhood, and real evidence of major development progress, some $90,000,000 worth.

Instead, the Alderman has followed an erratic course. When it was announced that the U and White Lodging proposed a hotel for the site, she scheduled a series of "community meetings" without thinking through the possible objections. Special interest groups, including a hotel union and power hungry NIMBYs, crowded in. Clouds of noise and unverified assertions were produced but little progress.

Instead of seeking answers to the legitimate concerns and cutting short the objections without merit, the Alderman proclaimed "It would be best if White Lodging went away" and "the concerns of the community for preservation must be addressed."

The Alderman's rejection of the original project put the whole process on hold for almost a full year. At the August 5th meeting, some progress was made. It became clear that preservation was not possible and that there were many who thought these ugly old hospital buildings should be torn down. Even the union was taken to task for interfering in local politics. Things began to look up for the project.

Unfortunately, since this meeting there have been 3 new challenges:

1. the dry referendum which would kill any hotel proposal
2. local 1, Unite-HERE visited the alderman to apply political pressure
3. the mortgage and credit markets collapsed.

We can hardly expect the alderman to fix the credit crisis. However, we can expect a firm stance in favor of development. She is on record as calling the dry referendum a "dirty trick." She knows that this will cast a pall on development in her ward. She knows that the people behind the referendum are simply against all new development and do not represent her constituents. However, she has not come out publicly and urged 39th precinct residents to vote against the referendum.

We know that representatives of local 1, Unite-HERE went to the alderman's office. I can only speculate on what happened there, but I'm sure it involved threats to mobilize union manpower in support of the alderman's future election opponents. This is scary for someone without an organization and few funds, but it's time for the alderman to think about doing the right thing for the community.

We are at a turning point for the 5th ward, the only possible development in the foreseeable future is the hotel at Doctor's Hospital. This means that the alderman will be held responsible if she doesn't pull this off. It is well within her political abilities to do so. She needs to calm the residents of Vista Homes and move forward aggressively against those who oppose change and pose a threat to her legitimacy as an elected representative.

She should worry less about a few union stiffs working for some mope who runs against her next time. She should worry a lot more about Hyde Parkers and South Shore residents asking, "what have you done for us over the last 10 years?" and "why did you shoo away jobs?"

If you agree, please email or call the alderman and urge her to come out publicly against the dry referendum. Her coordinates are:

• Ward Phone: 773-324-5555

• E-Mail:


Richard Gill said...

It's urgent to tell the Alderman that this hotel project is important for the neighborhood. Let her know that those who oppose the hotel do NOT speak for the community, even though they may speak loudly. Months ago, I wrote Alderman Hairston, urging her to support the project. I'm going to do so again, now.

msArc said...

October 28, 2008

71st Street Resurgence Needed -
Considering A New Commercial Center for Hyde Park

As a four-year resident of the South Shore community, I am appalled at the appearance and the lack of commercial development on 71st Street, east of Jeffrey Blvd.

The businesses along 71st Street play to teens and young adults, foods, beauty supplies, nail shops, low-cost teen clothing, cheap shoes, and an over-priced grocery store. Often, one must wade through young people loitering in front of the fried chicken store and other fast food establishments. Walking along the street, one encounters several trash-filled vacant lots which, if developed, could house a small library or a computer learning center that could help build competance and progress for these same youth and other residents as well. These are development and funding opportunities which have been neglected and squandered by local foundations and faith-based help groups.

The muck and trash littering the sidewalk is a perpetual eyesore which devalues the businesses along this street and repels development of respectable new businesses. Yet we have two politicians whose offices front 71st Street. I guess they don’t see how unappealing are these sad circumstances – or, maybe they simply don’t care about their neighborhood.

What we are forced to live with is an abundance of merchants who cater to a ghetto mentality and who have dominated the south side main streets of Chicago over many years. Sales of low- cost merchandise, the “dollar-store” mentality, single-can sales of beer and pint-liquor – all of these encourge a certain kind of consumer with lowest expectations and they spew their left-over food and packages all over the street. Why are we paying taxes to support this blight?

There must be forces that profit from sustaining this horizontal ghetto. It appears there is a decided effort to keep South Shore a substantard community. The question is why? And who?

It is time to wake up and get involved, people. Our property values have remained depressed with this systemic neglect and willingness on the part of our elected officials to allow this situation to remain and let this beautiful neighborhood be overrun by consistant violence, derelect properties, and substandard commercial development. The increasing population of displaced CHA former residents has made this area one of the highest crime locations on the south side of Chicago.

This is an opportunity for Hyde Park to promote a burgeoning commercial district that makes us equal to the Lincoln Park / Clybourn retail areas which the North Side of Chicago has come to expect. Don’t you think its about time?

Step up Hyde Park and South Shore residents. We are not giving our community to the underclass. A recent study published in 2008 (using figures since year 2000) shows that tens of millions of dollars in retail sales potential are leaking outside of the Hyde Park/ South Shore neighbohood as our residents are forced to seek goods and services elswhere in Chicago. It’s time for South Shore once again to attract a more prosperous economic class that will expect and demand great retail development – stores that are comparable in retail quality and ethnic and racial diversity to those anywhere in the City of Chicago. We must demand that our elected officials lead the way toward this goal.

South Shore Neighbors