Monday, December 21, 2009

"Stimulate" the Promontory Point Repair!

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

Point Decay as of October, 2009.

I was at a dinner party last weekend with a woman who just happened to be a former Director of Lakefront Operations at the Chicago Park District (she's now the director of a non-profit). Naturally we got to talking about Promontory Point, and she expressed without solicitation the same opinion I've had about the Point for years: Hyde Parkers have bickered and stalled and obstructed so long that the funding has disappeared, and one of these fine days Mayor Daley will shut it down and build whatever the heck he wants there, for our own safety.

Mayor Daley finds Hyde Parkers a nuisance at worst, and may in fact find us amusing. After Meigs got carved up with big, bulldozed X's on my birthday in 2003, it dawned on me that the very same strategy would work at the Point: ignore our silly local controversy until 1. someone is injured or killed at the Point, or 2. enough erosion has occurred to declare it a hazard to people (shhh, that's already happened) and a flood risk to Lake Shore Drive (less of a worry but more important to the Army Corps of Engineers). And after Daley barricades it, it's not likely that the Army Corps will build the Compromise Plan, with its two deep-water swimming access sites, and re-use of the existing limestone. That's an expensive plan that we were darned lucky to be granted (and to help design) the first time, during an economic boom, and my dinner companion said the lakefront funds are gone now.

So I whined to her, "But our hands are tied! We're being forced to wait for 'Senator' Obama's 3rd-party review process." And then she said something absolutely brilliant, that had not occurred to me because I secretly disapprove of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. She said, "Someone should go after stimulus dollars to build the Compromise Plan. It's shovel-ready, isn't it?"

And yes, if we're lucky, it may well be. I believe the engineering plan was one of those "35%-complete" plans (or whatever percentage indicates it can be signed-off for construction).

But how could we achieve this? Who could do it? Alderman Hairston? Could she simply say to now-President Obama, "Screw the 3rd-party process that never got off the ground, I'm approving the Compromise Plan"? Could she persuade Daley to aggressively solicit ARRA funds for the Compromise Plan, with her blessing?

It would be a bold move. Too bold for her, I fear.

No, the outcome that seems more and more certain, given the level of decay at the Point, the non-existence of the 3rd-party review, and the lack of decisiveness of our alderman, is that we'll have no say in what gets built there.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What You Told Us About MAC (Nothing)

posted by chicago pop

Don't take it personally.

I'm just sayin'. We asked you to give us something to chew on about MAC, and you gave us nothing.

Sure, we're all busy, and actually getting to the facts, instead of rants on Yelp!, is kind of a chore. It's even a pain to write this post, kind of. But if something is really wrong out there, there's usually a way to find out, and the labor usually pays off with some nice juicy information that you can bring into the light of day that will generally addle all sorts of complacent people. We've been doing it for a few years now.

But when it came to our contest to see who could demonstrate that MAC was really worthy of the world-class grad-student world-weariness endogenous to the neighborhood, well, we got the null set. Rents are high? Show us comparables for units in other buildings and other neighborhoods. MAC is a slumlord? Show us code violations from city inspectors and compare them to K&G's record. Horrible service from MAC leading to loss of market share? Show us percentages of lease renewals.

The truth, as they say, is out there. And we're happy to hear about it.

There are a few stories on Yelp! about cockroaches, mouse droppings, and stained carpet, but MAC owns a lot of buildings, which adds up to a lot of apartments, which means that if these complaints were doctoral theses and were making their cases on the basis of statistically negligible samplings, I'm afraid they'd all fail their defense. MAC has over 3,000 apartments in over 70 buildings. To make up for this statistical negligibility, our contest manager, Elizabeth Fama, went out of her way to find people who were really, really pissed off at MAC. She looked hard and found a "No, I don't want to be a fan of Mac Property Management," group on Facebook with 4 members.

That was in early November 2009. As of 5PM today, it has 15.

She also found a a "MAC Property Management is a Huge Disappointment" group. They currently have 17 members, and determined one month after MAC acquired its building portfolio from the notorious K&G that, well, MAC was a huge disappointment. The group seems to have lost steam sometime in the early fall of 2007.

Similar story with most of the complaints on Yelp!

What we see there, though it's only 9 or 1o reviews, does suggest a pattern. MAC had a rough time getting started. If you read the Yelp! comments, a good number of them are concerned with renters who received erroneous eviction notices and had to deal with poor communications. MAC was, at this early stage, a little trigger happy with the payment non-compliance thing, so much so that they mistakenly sent eviction notices to paying tenants with good payment records. This is certainly enough to anger anyone, and seems to have been a real problem. But again, the complaints cluster in the early months of MAC's transition. You can read about a few of the various botch-ups yourself here, together with more recent cockroach-type horror stories.

But does it add up to anything we can make a case on?

Not really.

I'll admit that I've seen a number of freshly rehabbed MAC apartments -- generally those targeting young working professionals, not students -- and they were nice. But no one had been living in them for 3 years. So we'll see going forward how the upkeep goes. And there's a possibility that the student rental market is not MAC's primary concern, which may make it a second priority to leasing out the higher-revenue properties. But MAC's business model differs from that of K&G: it's not in their interest to extract rent from buildings that they are happy to let decay.

So we'll see. As of now, with the info we've got, HPP stands by the conclusion it has reached in reviewing MAC (and Antheus') investment activities: MAC Property Management is good for Hyde Park.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thoughts for the Season

posted by Richard Gill

Last Wednesday, I rode an early morning Amtrak train to Mendota, Illinois, to work with some friends on a magazine that they publish. Mendota, about 85 miles west of Chicago, is a small farm community. Sprouting seasonally from the ground are seas of corn and soybeans. Sprouting year round from the ground is a sea of wind-power generators.

I planned to return on an afternoon train called the Southwest Chief that comes from Los Angeles. As it turned out, the Chief was running six hours late because it was delayed by a freight train derailment Monday night in California. Ok, I figured, I'll hang around, we'll go out to dinner in Mendota, and I'll get on the train when it gets here. No, said my friends, we will drive you to Chicago, we'll all go out to dinner and then we'll drop you off at home. Thanks for the offer, said I, but why would you drive a 170 mile round trip just to have dinner? They said I'd understand if I had to eat out in Mendota. Based on my experience, they had a point. The fare there is dull.

My friends mentioned that it's nearly impossible to get lamb to eat where they live, so I suggested we go to one of my favorites, Cedars of Lebanon at 53rd & Woodlawn. Did I suggest right, or what? My friends thought the babaganooj, pita and olive oil was manna from heaven, and they raved about the lamb dishes they ordered.

During dinner they mentioned that the produce sold around Mendota is not very good, nor is there much variety, and in general, grocery shopping there leaves much to be desired. I wanted to take them to Hyde Park Produce, but it was already closed, so we headed for Treasure Island. They took full advantage of the store's offerings and bought enough to load up the car. As for me, I had not previously been in TI at 9PM and was pleased to see it was rather bustling at that hour.

So, based on this brief tale, here are a couple of thoughts. First, although Hyde Park has a long way to go in the area of commercial development, we really do have some pretty good eats, and (post Co-op) some pretty good food marts. Count your urban blessings, Hyde Park.

Second, flexibility seems like a good idea when booking a ticket for the final 85 miles of a train's run if the train first has to cover 2000 miles. The train ultimately was seven hours late into Chicago. (Amtrak did refund my return $8.50 fare).

PS: Re urban variety, a really nice French Market opened last Thursday at Clinton & Washington Streets, at street level under the Metra station. There is a global variety of cheese, bread, pastry, meat, fish, produce, prepared food, you name it, plus an area with tables and chairs. The target market is residents of West Loop condos and apartments, as well as commuters. And with trains rumbling overhead, what ambiance! Gare Metra.