Sunday, October 4, 2009

Report from the Shoreland Meeting, September 30, 2009

posted by Richard Gill

The Shoreland Hotel, built 1926

About a hundred people attended a September 30 public meeting in the Crystal Ballroom of the old Shoreland Hotel, 5454 South Shore Drive, at which developer Antheus Capital presented its proposal to resurrect the empty structure as a luxury rental apartment building. The firm’s principal, Eli Ungar made the presentation and answered questions. Comments and questions from the floor comprised most of the one-hour forty-minute meeting. Overwhelmingly, the discussion dealt with worries about parking, voiced primarily by a relative handful of residents of 5490 South Shore Drive, located immediately south of the Shoreland. Neighbors’ worries about parking and traffic tend to dominate Hyde Park meetings about development proposals.

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston was in attendance, as her concurrence with the proposal is required before it can be brought to the City Council for approval. She said that she wanted to hear what people had to say, before she would say yea or nay.

Shoreland Hotel Driveway

When the historic hotel went into decline, the University of Chicago bought it for use as a student dormitory. The dorm was closed this year, with the opening of a new dorm on south campus. Knowing the Shoreland dormitory would be phased out, the University sold the building in 2004 to the Kenard development firm, which later sold it to developer Bob Horner. Both firms had plans for a condominium development. When those plans fell apart, Antheus acquired the property. Antheus will need to obtain City approval for a change in Planned Development (PD) No. 1062 that was approved for the prior condominium proposals.

Under Antheus’ plan, the 450,000 sq. ft. building would have 325 to 350 apartments (primarily one bedroom and two bedroom; with roughly 30 studios; and 30 three-bedrooms). The lobby area and function rooms would be retained, and a restaurant included. Antheus estimated that 450 to 500 people would reside in the building, compared with more than 700 students in the former dormitory.

Rockefeller Chapel and University of Chicago
as Seen From Roof of the Shoreland Hotel

Meeting attendees were generally favorable toward the building plan, which would include a lot of restoration work. That informal consensus left a vacuum of sorts for 5490’s complaints and worries about parking to take up most of the time and dominate the meeting. The people of 5490 said the development would worsen a tight parking situation in the area.

I state here that I like the proposed project and I believe that, at least in this neighborhood, anti-project parking arguments are mostly used in narrow self-interest, despite claims that they are for the general good.

The 5490 building, with about 20 units, has no on-site parking. The building does have a large area in back that could accommodate perhaps 20 cars. This was noted from the floor, and by Eli Ungar. In addition, Ungar repeated what he has said at every similar meeting – that a specific building project cannot solve the neighborhood’s “parking problem” and that adjacent property owners shouldn’t expect someone else’s project to solve their problems. Alderman Hairston has generally agreed with that position, adding that the parking issue should be addressed community wide, not project-by-project. That’s old news, and the tone of the audience seemed to be that they were weary of people trying to stop beneficial projects by using parking as a wedge.

Decorative Corbels on Shoreland Facade

In refutation of 5490’s prediction that parking gridlock would be caused by the Shoreland development, there were two general arguments: (1) by Antheus citing their recent experience, and (2) by people in the audience who essentially said this project is what the neighborhood needs, and parking is not the pivotal issue.

Antheus and its property management company MAC Properties have experience with rehabbed rental buildings in Hyde Park, such as Windermere House and Algonquin Apartments. They said that about one-third of renters use parking facilities on the properties, and that both properties have unused parking spaces in their lots. Ungar said they expect the Shoreland to follow this pattern. He also said that Antheus has more than 100 vacant parking spaces in its “portfolio.”

Ungar said it’s feasible to get 100 “legal” parking spaces into the building without encroaching upon the residential space. A “legal” parking place is one that meets the City code’s criteria for self-parking, in terms of square area, access and maneuvering room. The City figures a building’s “parking ratio” in terms of “legal” spaces. That in itself would meet anticipated demand for about one-third of the Shoreland apartments. However, a valet operation with staff-operated lifts and stackers would enable the garage to handle about 220 cars. In its PD application, Antheus is seeking a variance that will permit this arrangement, which will be important for accommodating function and restaurant parking, as well as residents’ needs. The condominium proposals had included parking on a one-to-one ratio (which 5490 liked), but it required a multi-story garage that would have consumed residential and public space. Antheus says the rental proposal is not economically viable if that residential space is taken up by parking.

Entrance Hall, Shoreland Hotel

Speakers from 5490 took the position that plentiful parking is necessary for property values and quality of life. Others took the opposite position, stating that walkability, density, ability to live without a car, are what make for a desirable neighborhood, and they said that many vibrant places thrive with an extremely tight parking environment, maybe because of it. Hyde Park’s good public transportation was noted. Strong statements were made about the benefits of this project (which has funding commitments despite the present economy). One speaker went so far as to say that if you see a neighborhood with plenty of parking for everyone, you wouldn’t want to live there. An owner of Open Produce on 55th Street said storefront businesses need foot traffic more than they need customer parking.

My overall take of the meeting is that most people want the Alderman to approve the proposal and move it forward. I believe she received that message. She would also like to hear individually from people.

Ungar closed by asking anybody with an alternate proposal for the Shoreland to come forward with it. Further, he said that he understands that the parking issue will continue to be prominent, and that Antheus would be pleased to commit financial support to city public parking projects in the neighborhood.

I hope very much that this project is approved in its present form. The alternative is probably a vast derelict building. Hyde Park is already saddled with two large vacant buildings—Doctors Hospital and St. Stephen’s Church. Narrowly focused opponents stopped redevelopment of these two sites. Both buildings are hulking corpses. Hyde Park cannot have another.


Greg said...

The Hyde Park Produce guy is absolutely right. If we want to generate vibrance in our local retail community, parking is the last thing we should be worrying about. We want to encourage folks who don't drive and prefer to walk, bike or take public transportation to move in because those are the folks who will do their shopping in our neighborhood shops. When other people, especially national retailers, see that Hyde Park has a vibrant local shopping base why will start investing in the neighborhood, meaning more and increasingly diverse stores, a better local economy and at that point, we can feasibly start looking at bringing back theaters, large entertainment venues, and other stuff to Hyde Park.

Jonathan E Cowperthwait said...

Tangential question from an ex-Hyde Parker:

When did the University stop using the building as a dorm, and when were your photographs taken?

I'd been under the impression the building was still University-occupied through the 2008–2009 school year, but your photos from "2009/01/26" seem to depict a place already boarded-up and abandoned.

Thanks for helping me figure this out -- and for continuing to fight for a neighborhood I miss and love.

Richard Gill said...

Jonathan -

I snapped the photos September 15, 2009, during a tour of the building. The date on the images is incorrect. I need to re-set the camera. Sorry for the confusion. I suppose lush green foliage wouldn't be expected in January photos of Chicago.

As to the "why," the U of C could furnish a more informed answer than I could, but they probably moved out of the Shoreland because of its distance from campus, the cost of maintaining the old building, and its value to private developers.

That reminds me, one speaker at the September 30 meeting noted that the building is exempt from property taxes under U of C ownership, but will contribute significantly to the city's tax base as a private development.

Jonathan E Cowperthwait said...

1: Oh right, snow.

2: I'm fairly plugged into the "why"; just needed to double-check the "when." UC's lease of the property extended through this year, with students occupying rooms through this past June, right?

Keep on keeping on....

george said...

The UC vacated the building the end of July. Antheus (or its subsidiary) took ownership on August 1, 2009. All the students moved out at the end of spring quarter, and the resident heads left in July. The new South dorm is now open, I understand.

Another way to look at the parking issue is that Antheus is ADDING 100+ spaces to the neighborhood. I'm sure many of the 700 students who lived there had cars, because when they're on break, parking is not a problem around the Point!

Plus there are likely to be fewer persons (300 to 350 units, I believe) living in the new building, so parking could actually improve (I'm optimistic today).

Richard Gill said...

Right, the 2008-2009 school year was the final year as a dormitory for the Shoreland.

Greg said...

It's really cool they let you up onto the roof. You can see the top of one of those vacant white elephants (St. Stephens) between Shoreland and the U.

Eli Ungar seems like the perfect person for this task of investing in and developing Hyde Park's rental structures. He's a smart guy and it sounds like he's pretty skilled at preventing community discussions from behing hijacked. What do we have to do to get him to buy Doctor's Hospital and St. Stephens (and do something, ANYTHING, with them)??

I keep saying it but MAC/Antheus is doing great work in this neighborhood. The new windows and repaired facades along 55th east of the tracks look very nice. They're smart people.

mchinand said...

George, makes a good point about Shoreland students with cars. Does the University or Antheus have any estimate on the number of students in Shoreland that had cars?

Patrick said...

I think the number of students with cars was smaller than you might imagine. I lived in the Shoreland for a number of years as a Resident Head and in my house, there were rarely more than 2 or 3 students with cars. Multiply by 10 houses and you have maybe 30 student cars tops. Resident heads and building staff probably added 20 more cars, though many of those were parked in the small lot behind the Shoreland or in the driveway.

I think many of the extra cars seen when school was in session might have been due to students in apartments or due to University affiliates parking at the terminus of the 171 route and riding to campus.

What is the parking situation like over there right now, with school in session, but the Shoreland closed?

Elizabeth Fama said...

I'm wondering if maybe there should be some 4-bedroom units in there, as there are at the Cloisters (58th and Dorchester)? It would encourage more families with two or three children to live there long-term. Otherwise, you'll have turnover as families grow, and a preponderance of young children vs. teens, etc. It would promote age diversity and longer tenancy to have some larger units, no?

Greg said...

Charlotte Des Jardins makes some outstanding points in the Herald this week.

chicago pop said...

Thanks for highlighting that, Greg. It may just earn Ms. des
Jardins a Hyde Park Hero entry. Although I think both Danielle and Peter Cassel would admit that the restoration of the Windermere and Algonquin properties was not solely their own accomplishment. But yes, she takes the right line on the Shoreland.