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.