Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On the Pavement: The End of BYOB on 55th

posted by chicago pop

The timing couldn't be better: as the financial meltdown accelerates, Hyde Parkers may soon be able to to forget the plunging value of their 401(k)s by ordering a drink with their noodles at any of the restaurants on 55th Street between the Metra tracks and Cornell.

According to a notification sent to neighbors last week, MAC Properties is seeking a zoning change that would allow the restaurants on the 1601-1623 stretch of E. 55th to operate as "General Restaurants," thereby enabling them to obtain a city license to sell alcohol on their premises.

The idea, according to MAC representative Peter Cassel, is to make it possible for restaurants on this strip to sell higher-margin items, such as alcoholic beverages, in order to improve their income statements. Higher revenues would allow them to invest more in interior refurbishments and menu improvements.

The request for a zoning change was arrived at in discussion with the strip's businesses, who support the zoning change and the increased revenue it would allow: Morry's, Nile, Thai 55, Cafe Corea, and Kikuya.

The proposed change will be discussed at a community meeting at 6PM, Thursday, October 2, at 1621 E. 55th Street. Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston will be in attendance.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wicker Park's NIMBY Envy

posted by chicago pop

The other day a copy of the West Town Chicago Journal: News of Bucktown, Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village fell in my lap.

Imagine my surprise when I beheld the following elements:

Headline: "Hotel Opposed for Now"

Front Page Human Interest Story: Crystal Fencke, Contributing Reporter

Editorial: "Show Hotel Project Plans. Lack of Communication Shows Lack of Respect."

So when did the Herald go into syndication? It's got a hotel. It's got opposition to the hotel. It's got an editorial channelling Pat Dowell channelling Aretha Franklin ("Respect"). It's even got an article by Herald contributor Crystal Fencke.

Do you think the folks in Wicker Park could come up with their own neighborhood controversies?

You can check out the skinny here:

A developer planning to convert the Northwest Tower [pictured above] into a hotel has filed for a special permit needed to go forward with the project, leaving the area's alderman, the city's planning department and community organizations that typically vet such projects in the dark.

Thirty-second Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack said he likes the idea of establishing a hotel in the 77-foot tower at North and Milwaukee, but he does not have enough information to support the application for a special use permit that MCM, the building's owner, has requested from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Waguespack said his office did not know the ZBA would consider such a request from MCM until neighbors to the proposed project, who spotted signs announcing the permit application in the tower's windows, notified him. MCM did not present its plans to area community groups, he said.

"We said, until you come up with a development plan we're not going to move forward on it," Waugespack said. "You can't just throw up a hotel."

And this has got to be a move taken from the Hyde Park playbook:

Waguespack said he wants MCM to complete a traffic study for the site and a feasibility study that would demonstrate the need for a hotel in the area...[he] also wants to know who the potential operators of the hotel are.

All in all, this seems like a pale imitation of the Doctors Hospital controversy. It's just a clumsy developer, it's not the Borg Collective otherwise known as the University of Chicago. Alderman Waguespack likes the idea of a hotel, is setting out some guidelines in advance (even calling for a traffic study before the NIMBYs do!) and the Northwest Tower, unlike the old Doctors Hospital, is clearly a building worth preserving.

These folks actually seem to want development at this location, even if the current candidate seems to be a bit obtuse on the PR front.

Still, the facts are these: there is no permit, there is no hotel operator, there is just an intention.

The question here seems to be, unlike the Doctors Hospital case, what is the proper process? Do you go to community groups before you have a project lined up (operator, permit process underway), when nothing may really come of it, or do you go to them after you have at least gotten the process moving with some probability of being able to execute?

At this point, Wicker Park's hotel controversy seems to be much ado about nothing. If real plans are drawn up, with a permit to act on them, and the community groups are called in, then we'll see how it plays out, and whether it's worthy of comparison with our own Doctors Hospital.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Herald's Chicken: Herald Slams University, Coddles Obstructionists

posted by chicago pop

Herald Reporter Interviews Local Poobah

Inspired by the ongoing financial crisis, I've decided that the best way to deal with NIMBY support for the November "dry" referendum is to package it into a satirical derivative, a collateralized nonsense obligation, which is divided into separate tranches, each with a different insanity rating.

These dubious activist instruments come with high rates of self-interest, and yield significant obstruction. They may also cause long-term, systemic damage to a neighborhood, requiring frequent bailouts from the University of Chicago and Antheus Capital to keep non-insane people from moving away.

Tranche #1 of this week's featured toxic asset is the Herald's failed attempt at journalistic statesmanship. ("U. of C. Must Make Neighborhood Gesture", Wednesday, September 24, 2008)

This asset represents an attempt by our local paper to be evenhanded in assessing the Doctors Hospital controversy. Unfortunately, the Herald winds up giving yet another lap dance to the local poobahs.

"Nobody benefits if the property at Doctors Hospital is rendered virtually unusable." "Nobody is winning in this war of disrespect." "Nobody wins on Garfield Boulevard if the university winds up in a quarrel."

A few sensible lines out of about 530 words, most of which are devoted to slamming the University the way you might blame everything on either the Palestinians or the Israelis, depending on which side you're on.

A more balanced equity requirement by our editorial originators would have called for at least 30% coverage of the more colorful neighbor objections, virtually all of which have been made with extremely high levels of rational leveraging. Some hardball questioning of Pat Dowell's rhetorical posturing to the isolationist elements of her 3rd Ward constituents would have been nice, too.

Which brings us to Tranche #2, the even riskier slice with still higher rates of self-interest: a letter from Hans Morsbach ("Vote Meant to Force Discussion on Hotel"), one column over from this week's Herald editorial.

Morsbach tells us why the scorched-earth policy of our tee totalling Fighting 39ers is exactly what the University deserves:

There have been vague statements by the alderman, the university and the developer but none suggested that reasonable neighborhood concerns will be taken seriously in the future.

Yet to date, in our search for reasonable objections, we have found only the following: 1) a fear of noisy bar mitzvahs; 2) the concern that a Marriott Hotel might "block air flow," if not divert the Jet Stream from North America and into the Atlantic Ocean; 3) that the Marriott was not designed by Helmut Jahn and should be; and 4) that loud hotel parties might make it difficult for people on Harper Avenue to enjoy the sound of passing freight trains in the evening.

As for street parking, here there's no argument to be found: it's a common good, we all pay for it, and you have no more right to it because it's in front of your house than I do. Same with congestion on Stony Island: it's a major arterial, it's meant for traffic, and right now it's empty most of the time.

Obstructed vistas from Vista Homes? Every building blocks someone else's view. They just got tired of complaining about it.

It's looking like this unstable package of "reasonable objections" is in need of a major write-down.

A stalemate usually involves two parties, the same way a bad loan usually involves a greedy bank and a dumb borrower. The Herald has a lot to say about the University, but isn't specific about its opponents.

If the Herald did more than bend over for the pleasure of the architects of this and previous Hyde Park debacles, it might actually help people think for themselves about development and neighborhood politics, instead of being told what to think as they flip to the coupon insert.

Herald Editorial Policy

Monday, September 22, 2008

Anatomy of A Blackmail

posted by Peter Rossi

Just when it looked like the community had the NIMBY war council on the ropes, they bounced back with the Doctor's Hospital petition drive. At their secret meetings, I'm sure they are grinning like Brian Urlacher after laying a blindside hit on a quarterback. The community be damned, we have interjected ourselves as decision makers.

This petition drive required months of work. In this post, I will describe what I have learned about this little spot of blackmail. Some of what I have learned comes from public records, some of it is simply inference, and some speculation.

Sometime last winter, I imagine one of our NIMBY Princes got the idea of voting the precinct dry. This would stop a hotel of any kind at the DH site. Not only that, but it will discourage developers not just in the 39th precinct but all over Hyde Park.

A search of the precinct maps on the City of Chicago web site showed that the 39th precinct is a tiny area consisting of Harper Ave, the west side of Stony Island Ave, and the east side of Blackstone Ave between 57 and 59th. This could be doable, thought our NIMBY field generals.

But there are a couple of obstacles to overcome: 1. They needed legal help to insure they produced the most credible blackmail threat (i.e., the measure makes it to the ballot), 2 They needed help obtaining signatures -- this includes both manpower and an entree to the voters of this precinct.

The problem with the first obstacle is that legal help can be expensive. Our friends would require the consulting services of a lawyer well-versed in election law. We now know that this group hired a very well-known election lawyer, Michael J. Kaspar. Mr. Kaspar is a partner at Hinshaw and Culbertson in the loop and well-known around that state. Mr. Kaspar was clearly involved at a very early stage as procedures for collecting signatures and filing were scrupulously adhered to. Mr. Kaspar might also have advised our local folks that it would be wise to collect signatures at the last moment so that opposition to the drive does not have a chance to get organized. Indeed, the signatures were collected between 7/29/08 and 8/6/08.

Stellar legal representation is very expensive. So where did our, not terribly well-heeled, friends get the kale? White Lodging has clearly been targeted for union organizing by Unite-HERE. WL is not a union shop and this really drives the shrinking union base crazy. Unite-HERE was formed by a merger of textile workers and hotel employees unions. Local 1, Unite-HERE, is very large and has a budget of over $3,000,000 per year. Each year, unions are required to file LM2 forms with the U. S. Department of Labor, detailing their disbursements. The rank and file dues from local 1 have funded almost $1,000,000 in legal expenditures in 2007. Unfortunately, the LM2 form for 2008 does not have to be filed until 2009, so I can't prove that Unite-HERE paid Mr. Kaspar's bills but it does seem very likely.

That takes care of legal representation. No doubt, Mr. Kaspar informed our NIMBY hawks that the law requires signatures of at least 25 per cent of the registered voters in the precinct. Precinct voting records obtained from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners showed our friends that there were 600 odd voters in the 39th. Ok, now we need manpower.

Not to worry, local 1 Unite-HERE can help us on this as well. After all, there are plenty of union organizers on staff. Local 1, Unite-HERE has summer interns who are mostly students. The timing was perfect for this. Local 1 assigned staff member, Alexandra Canalos, and summer intern Francisco Herrera to the project. Ms. Canalos appears as a petition circulator on a number of the filed petition sheets. Mr. Herrera is a summer intern from a program at the Institute for "Interfaith Worker Justice" and appears on several forms.

It wouldn't do to have a large number of petitions circulated by outside labor organizers, so Ms. Canalos and Mr. Herrera enlisted the aid of various students. Omar Ramirez is a second year in the College. Alberto Roldan is a Northwestern U film major who didn't circulate any petitions but added his name to Mr. Ramirez's in a recent letter to the Herald. I haven't found any information about their other acquaintance, Luke Carmon who circulated petitions and added his name to the "labor oriented" Herald letter.

Petitions circulated by Canalos, Herrera, Ramirez and Carmon all used the same Notary Public, Marcia Nikoden. Ms. Nikodem lists an address very far from Hyde Park. All of the NIMBY circulators from Hyde Park used different notaries, most located in Hyde Park. So I think it is fair to conclude that the Canalos et al group worked together.

As we have pointed out in HPP, the idea of labor organizers working to deny jobs to hotel workers by plowing salt into the DH site is very strange. But, I am sure, our NIMBY strategists told them, "don't worry this is just a blackmail tactic. We will force WL to its knees." What the local NIMBYs didn't tell them is that once the petition is on the ballot, it is likely to pass. However, destruction of potential jobs is a subtle concept for labor union leaders who don't always represent their rank and file well.

College students can be a bit naive and they don't really have any long term affiliation with the neighborhood. "I had fun in the summer, beating up on evil White Lodging." It may not be clear to these folks that there really is no evidence that White Lodging has "questionable labor practices" and that their efforts could hurt future hotel workers.

But the bankroll of local 1 and the union manpower is not the whole story here. At least 100 regsitered voters in the 39th live in Vista Homes on Stony Island. To really be effective, our NIMBYs needed someone on the ground there. Allan Rechtschaffen was tailor-made for this purpose. A retired U of C prof, Mr. Rechtschaffen lives in Vista Homes and has some time on his hands. From his letter in the Herald, it seems clear to me that Mr. Rechtschaffen relishes his role as a thorn in the side of WL. He also seems to be genuinely peeved by what he feels is the lack of respect by WL and the reprsentatives of the U. However, he would have to admit that our NIMBYs hijacked the adgenda at meetings held in Vista Homes and at broader "community meetings." This made it very difficult to hold a dialogue.

In the end, this about upper middle class, mostly white, Hyde Parkers wanting to have more say in the Doctor's Hospital hotel development. It appears the local 1, Unite-HERE joins a long line of folks at the Unversity, local politicians, Chicago Park District employees, officers at the IHPA, and others who have gotten burned by our NIMBY handful.

Mural Progress

posted by Elizabeth Fama

At the end of July, an artist named Rahmaan "Statik" Barnes -- with several assisting artists -- painted the new mural under the 47th Street viaduct. The mural was sponsored by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Chicago Department of Transportation, and Metra, and produced by the Chicago Public Art Group. It replaces a controversial, slightly unfinished "street art" mural that had been whited out.

The new mural has images of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Gwendolyn Brooks, and a bunch of ordinary Hyde Park/Kenwood residents on bikes, at the beach, and on foot. It's a consistent, high-effort product, and for that I give it props. It's still not my favorite style of art, and like many murals in Chicago it has a sort of two-dimensional "collage" aesthetic -- that is, the activities are linear, like ancient Egyptian art, and unrelated to each other -- and problems with anatomy and perspective; but it's upbeat, bright, and colorful.

There's a section that seems to pay homage to my least-favorite mural ("Under City Stone" on 55th Street), but unlike Caryl Yasko's depressing, dated work, the subjects of this 47th Street mural are reasonably happy, the worker appreciates his job, and there's a positive view of public transportation.

The question of whether painted murals are the right medium for underpasses remains, however. There are dripping stains above the image of the Metra train that are only going to get worse over time. That's not a problem if you perceive mural art to be transient, as it should be, but the Chicago Public Art Group (like many Hyde Parkers) seems to think every piece of public art is historic and worthy of preservation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hans Morsbach: "I Am [Still] An Old Fart"

posted by chicago pop

About a year ago, Hans Morsbach gave an interview with the Chicago Maroon in which he described himself as an "old fart." ("Uncommon Interview: Hans Morsbach", October 23, 2007. )

For some strange reason the Maroon link no longer exists, but our original riff is here.

Since then, nothing has changed. Morsbach's is one of about 150-170 valid signatures on a petition to introduce the option for an alcohol ban in the 5th Ward's 39th Precinct on the November 4 ballot.

Although he complains about not being able to sell liquor on Hyde Park's 57th Street, and takes full advantage of the opportunity to sell liquor at a location in downstate Illinois, Morsbach doesn't want anyone to sell liquor in the 39th Precinct of the 5th Ward, site of Doctors Hospital.

That is to say, in his own backyard.

If you've followed HPP for any length of time, you'll know that Morsbach recently opened up a restaurant location in downstate Normal, Illinois, where he is raking in liquor revenue from a full-service beer hall near the campus of Illinois State University -- which he laments not being able to do in Hyde Park.

Here's how he described the merits of his new, downstate Medici in the above-cited Maroon article:

It's all about economics. We can have liquor, and it is in a good location close to Illinois State University.

If only students of the University of Chicago were so lucky!

But it gets even better. At pretty much the same time that Morsbach gave everyone a lecture about how the redevelopment of Harper Court would be like a sinful "Second Coming of Urban Renewal," he was taking advantage of a publicly subsidized, municipal land-clearance program in downtown Normal Illinois, setting up shop with his liquor license across the street from -- a Marriott Hotel!

Marriott Hotel Across the Street From Morsbach's Downstate Beer Hall

As with Marriott Hotels, so with booze: both are OK if they are in someone else's neighborhood and are served to someone else's kids.

Here's what his downstate menu has to say about it:

I'd Serve Booze in Hyde Park, But They Won't Let Me!

Humble Hyde Parkers may be forgiven if they, too, dream of something "more spectacular."

Alas, aspiring restauranteurs won't be able to "serve you a glass of wine to enjoy your meal" in the 39th Precinct because Hans Morsbach won't let them.

So Morsbach will be happy to serve you booze, you'll just have to drive 120 miles to get it. He'll take a stand against Urban Renewal in Hyde Park, and the University of Chicago, but not against Urban Renewal in Normal, or Illinois State University.

Residents of the Fighting 39th, you should be proud: those are some principles we can believe in.

Site of the "Second Coming"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What the Tribune's Zoning Series Missed

posted by chicago pop

Short answer: Half the story.

Longer answer: The Chicago Tribune's zoning series missed the half of the story that corresponds to the half of the city known as the South Side.

To understand how this is so, all you have to do is to compare two photographs from different sections of the same newspaper, the Chicago Tribune.

The first photo, below, is taken from the last in a 5-piece investigation by the Tribune into zoning, development, and corruption, "Neighborhoods for Sale", which ran from January to August of 2008.


Berny Stone: If You Don't Like My Plan The Guy to My Right Will Sit on You
(Source: Chicago Tribune. Photo by Alex Garcia)

Here we see Alderman Bernard Stone (50th) defending the proposed development of a retirement home in his community at a testy meeting with constituents who, according to interviews given to the Trib, largely oppose the plan. Why? Because an old-folks home, full of people in wheelchairs who don't drive to work, will supposedly cause traffic congestion.

Compare this snapshot of an alderman at work in the illustration below, from an article that ran in the Tribune's business section last week (September 12, 2008).


Pat Dowell's Buffalo Park: There's Just More Room on the Sidewalks Down Here
(Source: Chicago Tribune. Photo by Terrence Antonio James)

Here we see a handsome photo of 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell posing before a vacant commercial building. If you didn't already know the story, you could be forgiven for thinking that maybe this person hopes to be the next Jerry Kleiner, that the article is from the Food section, and that the dump behind her is on its way to becoming the next Red Light.

Not so. Dowell has no plans other than glamor photo shoots for the fire hazard behind her. Someone else does, however, and this makes her mad. She wants to protect her ward's inventory of empty buildings from people who might tear them down and build something that would attract tenants, customers, and tax revenue.

These pictures represent two different realities. Neither of them alone does justice to the equally insane but distinctly different dynamics of neighborhood development in Chicago. This diversity is clear to readers who leaf through the various sections of the Tribune , but it's a point that is lost in the tight muckraking focus of the "Neighborhoods for Sale" series.

The argument of "Neighborhoods for Sale" is not surprising. It's such a familiar story, in fact, that I feel like it could have been written before any of the research was done. Chicago aldermen, the argument goes, are in the pockets of real estate developers, who run rampant over the city's meaningless zoning code and run circles around the ineffectual wonks in its Department of Planning. In no other American city do planning and development work like this.

The results, which we are all familiar with, are the conspicuously over-sized, architecturally out-of-context, and often poorly constructed residential monstrosities that have come to symbolize the go-go years of the 1990s on the city's North Side. Plus fat-cat developers and corrupt aldermen.

All very well.

But if you think this series will help you understand how things work on the Near South Side, you're wrong. Or maybe it will, if you turn it upside down and hold it in a mirror. Community groups in the Near South Side shoo away developers, and aldermen run scared of community groups that have spent 40 years perfecting the techniques of obstruction. When they're not posing proudly in front of empty buildings.

Take the situation in Hyde Park, Barack Obama's home, and my neighborhood.

Community groups -- the kind that the "Neighborhoods For Sale" authors argue are typically kept out of ward-level decision-making -- killed a painfully negotiated compromise plan for Federally-funded renovation of the shoreline around Promontory Point in 2005. They spooked Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) into blocking demolition of an empty hospital to make way for a Marriott in 2007, and are prepared to vote the precinct dry to block it again in 2008.

A handful of neighbors scared a developer away from replacing a derelict church that has been empty and falling apart since at least 1999; and yet another small group of people leaned into Alderman Toni Preckwinkle when she made it known that she favored a mixed-use residential project on a stretch of 53rd Street, presently home to a vacant lot and a car wash.

And Alderman Pat Dowell is offended that a private party, the University of Chicago, wants to horn in on her hoard of vacant lots and empty buildings.

Dowell's 3rd Ward: Forever Open, Clear, and Free

The "Neighborhoods for Sale" series performed a useful service in detailing the abuses to which the current development process is prone in the city of Chicago. It did not issue an authoritative diagnosis of the problem. That would have required looking at those large portions of the city where the issue is not too much development, but too little, and where community input is less the solution, and more of the problem.

[This post also appears at Huffington Post Chicago]

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Doctor's Hospital Petition: Hypocrites or Blackmailers?

posted by Peter Rossi

On November 4th, residents of the 39th precinct will vote on a referendum to make their precinct dry. Opponents of a hotel at the Doctor's Hospital site gathered the 150 signatures required from the 600 odd registered voters in this tiny precinct. A simple majority of those who vote on the referendum is needed to prevail. That means that only a handful of voters will determine the future of commercial development in HP.

An interesting soup of local "preservation" activists, labor organizers, university employees, and students canvassed for signatures.

Several of the petition circulators are local "preservationists" who are on public record as favoring a "re-use" of the existing Doctor's Hospital buildings. I reproduce two petition forms that were circulated by these "preservationists" below.

So much for "we want good development not this development" and "I'm in favor of a hotel; I just want preservation" and "I'm pro-development." Exploiting an absurd 1934 Illinois law, these folks have turned tail on their preservation roots. Voting this precinct dry will make any mixed used development infeasible, including re-use of the existing buildings. In all probability, the passage of this referendum would condemn the Doctor's Hospital Buildings to remain vacant indefinitely.

Would any developer come to Hyde Park after the cross has been burned on the lawn of Doctor's Hospital? Not likely, "those people are crazy; they would hurt themselves to avoid a restaurant or hotel in their neighborhood." So this petition has the potential to do great harm to Hyde Park and surrounding communities.

This looks pretty bad for the track record of some of the same folks who opposed development at McMobil, on Cornell, at St. Stephens, oppose fixing the Point, and want to gum up the works at Harper Court. They are more like undertakers than preservationists.

The sponsors of the petition have now signaled that this was all about a spot of blackmail. Vista Homes resident and winner of the petition sweepstakes, Mr. Rechtschaffen, let the cat of the bag in a letter in the Herald. Well, we want you (the developer and the U) to play ball; we aren't necessarily that interested voting the precinct dry. The head of the HP-KCC Preservation committee approached University officials and intimated that he didn't think the petition "had to go through," wink, wink.

Ah, the Prince would be proud of his HP proteges. They don't give a damn about preservation, they just want to hold feet to the fire. To what end, though? Mr. Rechschaffen is concerned about parking and noise. It's not clear he has any solution other than no hotel. He dances around the idea of a smaller hotel but this doesn't really help with his noise problem.

Mr. Lane of Harper Ave is even more obvious, "this has always been about the community process not the hotel." Translation: we want say in this project. We don't really care about the outcome; we just want power. Our other NIMBY friend is shy, or should I say sly, and doesn't say.

This was all accomplished by some pretty cynical political maneuvering. Our NIMBY handful went to some of their close neighbors at Vista Homes and Harper Ave and said "I know you are nervous about change, don't trust the wicked developer and arrogant U; let's slow this whole thing down." Well, they haven't "slowed it" down. In this kind of high stakes game, there is only go or no go. If the petition passes, this dooms the site and probably our neighborhood to no commercial development for some time.

The doomsday machine has been turned on. Does anyone seriously think that Mr. Rechtschaffen, Mr. Lane or the man behind the curtain are going to turn it off? Are they going to go door to door to tell their neighbors -- "Just kidding on that petition, the developer licked our boots clean, please vote NO?"

In the end, reasonable people will prevail and this measure will be defeated. Folks in the 39th will think it through and point the gun away from their foot.

The real question is will our students of Machiavelli be held accountable for this irresponsible act?

Next week: Anatomy of A Blackmail. A look at how this was set in the motion with the aid of local 1, Unite-HERE.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Antheus Capital Takes on the Shoreland

posted by Peter Rossi

Last week, Antheus Capital purchased the former Shoreland Hotel for $16,000,000. Antheus Capital owns an number of rental properties in the Hyde Park area and has two other major projects in various stages of production (Solstice in the Park (a 26 story condo at 56th and Cornell) and Village Center (a makeover of the Village Shopping Center at Hyde Park and Lake Park Blvds)).

At the current time, Antheus Capital is said to be studying the possibilities at the Shoreland. One nifty idea would be to make one wing of the massive former hotel just that -- a boutique hotel and leave the other to condos. In any event, this will be sure to draw NIMBY fire (aren't those condo owners noisy!). It may also add fuel to the "big is bad" argument (did you hear that Antheus Capital is partnering with Walmart?).

I'm delighted to see some positive movement. The Shoreland has a great location and is a grand old dame. One request please: Eli, can you please restore the portion of the cornice that was "repaired" by our dirt poor U? You know, the section in the middle with the sheet-metal covering that looks like it belongs in Naperville. But, I'm not going to threaten to vote you dry to get this. I put my trust in the profit motive - who wants to buy a condo or rent a hotel room in a building with a prominent missing tooth?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

NIMBY's Corner: Rabid NIMBY Infects Bat on South Harper Avenue

posted by chicago pop

Bat Infected with Harper Avenue NIMBYism

Apparently, there's a bat problem on South Harper Avenue. According to this week's Herald headline, at least. But I think the Herald got it backwards, and is giving the bats down there a bad name. If anything is rabid, it's not the bats.

We've already covered our good neighbors' sensible fear of bar mitzvahs, and a general phobia of life being enjoyed by other people, as eloquently demonstrated by NIMBY's Corner repeat guest Allan Rechtschaffen: "There is concern about late-night noise from groups of alcohol-fueled merrymakers leaving hotel functions." (Hyde Park Herald LTE, September 10, 2008)

Now, we admit that parts of Harper Avenue, especially those closer to Vista Homes, are about as near to a graveyard as you can get, and aside from the seismic rumble of 2AM freight trains, are known as a place where local bats can slumber in peace while the Social Security checks fall like snow.

But let's not be ninnies: cities make a little noise, and if you can't deal, you should move to Wisconsin. In fact, I recommend that Alderman Hairston establish a TIF set-aside to purchase Wisconsin land for Hyde Parkers displaced by late-night bands of drunken historians.

Seriously, a few blocks south people worry about stray bullets. You're worried about drunken gastroenterologists?

But getting back to the "merry-makers": it should be noted, for the record, that when the tradition of Liberal Hyde Park activism settles upon a fear of public urination as its greatest principle, things have really bottomed out.

How is the Big 10 Frat Boy these folks are so scared of going to find his way all the way down Stony Island, then around and back up Harper Avenue, before deciding to urinate on the lawn of some multicolored Victorian home? Maybe the bar mitzvah revelers will lead him there?

Late-Night Merry-Maker Off to Harper Avenue

But there are still more serious questions, Mr. Rechtschaffen insists, and he already has the answers for them, and wonders why White Lodging hasn't done the studies to confirm what he already knows. "Parking will be a disaster" we're told. So forget the parking study. "All available street parking will be taken before drivers pay for hotel parking or use distal sites." You still want that study?

"Do we need such a large hotel?" the reader is asked. This expresses the concern that Mariott can't possibly be planning to make money by renting the rooms in its 17 stories. This would involve the "profit motive," and that doesn't function in Hyde Park outside the walls of the GSB.

With 2 million annual visitors to the MSI, thousands of professors, students, and staff associated with the University visiting every year, and no major hotels south of Roosevelt Road to service the south side of America's third largest city, there is no possible economic rationale for a 17 story hotel on Stony Island and 58th Street. Bats, look out!

I say scratch the hotel. What we need there is an executive, 24-hour helicopter pad.

Park it Next to Vista Homes, Please.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Coming Hyde Park Bar Mitzvah Ban

posted by chicago pop

A bar mitzvah ban? For what reason should you want to ban bar mitzvahs?

Ask the guy who showed up at the August 5th community meeting on the planned redevelopment of Hyde Park's Doctors Hospital. Among the many quixotic neighborhood objections to the construction of a Marriott hotel on the site at Stony Island and 58th Street, this one is at the top of the list.

To quote one of Hyde Park Progress' finest field reporters, who heard it all go down:

[T]here was the "threat of alcohol being served on the premises" and [that] it would endanger children who would somehow get hold of the stuff ... [O]ne man stood up and said alcohol would surely be a threat, because there would be Bar Mitzvahs in the function room.

Yes, you read that right. If voters of the 39th Precinct of Hyde Park's 5th Ward (Leslie Hairston) decide to exercise their "local option" to ban the sale of alcohol on November 4, they will effectively be banning the celebration of bar mitzvahs in their corner of the neighborhood.

Along with fun in general, together with the present and future possibility of a hotel with restaurants that serve alcohol, all of which are badly needed in our neighborhood. Through no animus to the Jewish religion, of course; it just seems that, in the eloquent words of this concerned citizen, whose foolishness we will keep shrouded in anonymity, bar mitzvahs are barn-burning, house-thumping bacchanals, where minors get a free pass to get drunk and loudly run around.

Which of course is true, as I plan my son's to be. But residents of the 39th Precinct don't want that. In a way it makes sense. It will be just one more thing that we will have to go and do on the north side, the only place where you can get rooms big enough to host fundraisers for Alderman Hairston, or bar mitzvah's for her constituents' children.


The bar mitzvah issue hasn't been the only bizarre concern to arise from the profoundly sagacious bosom of the 39th Precinct.

Over the last year or so, a collection of Major and Minor Activists have advanced worries that the proposed Marriott building would "alter the air flow"; the same Major Activist and Very Minor Meteorologist who made that claim also argues that the hotel would cause an ailment previously unknown to science, called "urban claustrophobia"; and of course there is the complaint that the high-rise hotel would block views from the nearby Vista Homes, views over which no one has any legal or proprietary right.

Among the Minor Concerns heard are threats to the safety of children, obstruction of birds, threats to the safety of children, interference with the magnetic field of the Earth, more threats to the safety of children, and the overall destruction of the quality of life of happy homesteaders who like to park their cars for free on adjacent Harper Avenue, where life is quiet and there are no bar mitzvahs.

The interesting thing about how our devious local NIMBYs are using this legal maneuver is that, in most cases where Chicago precincts have been voted dry, it is to get rid of some liquor retail establishment that locals find offensive. In this case, to the contrary, it is to block any development from happening at all.

Typically, the targeted establishments are bars and liquor stores. Further typically, these establishments are thought to be vectors of crime and disorder, especially in poorer, ethnic neighborhoods. This is one reason Daley has been such an enthusiastic supporter of the local option city-wide.

The nearby 8th Ward, for example, has four local option referenda on the November ballot, as do precincts in the 13th and 19th Wards, both on the South Side. It is interesting to note that, while sensitive urban pioneers fret about liquor in gentrifying City neighborhoods, Chicago-area suburbs have trended away from prohibition, in pursuit of restaurants and the sales tax revenues they bring. The suburbs are more interested in pursuing the mechanics of urbanity than some neighborhoods within the city itself.

Alas, in Chicago, at least on the South Side, folks aren't terribly interested in these connections, or in making them happen. In the Big Sky Country of vacant lots and empty buildings, South Side community leaders have perfected the art, not of making things happen, but of taking things away: elevated spurs, liquor stores, public housing, and, with this referendum in the 39th Precinct of the 5th Ward, the very possibility of new development in the future.

All we need is buffalo to fill the empty space, and we've got ecotourism.

Let's drink to that!

[This post also appears on Huffington Post Chicago]

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Herald Tribute in Words and Song

posted by Richard Gill

Does the Hyde Park Herald really want to destroy Hyde Park? One might think so, with the way the Herald has a record of shrieking in support for moribund, counterproductive institutions, as it did for the old Co-op.

More to the point, at present, is the Herald's pitiful and ill-spirited attempt to spread paranoia and to demonize the University of Chicago. I am talking about the Herald's treatment of the University's recent land purchases west of Washington Park.

Apparently unwilling to write balanced news on the subject, the Herald has resorted to publishing a biased, one-sided article, complete with screaming front-page headline, but calling it an "editorial." In this "editorial," the Herald does not directly state its position; the paper just writes the article in a one-sided manner. That way, the Herald can take sides in its news coverage, while hiding behind the false label of the editorial.

Take a look at what the Herald did on September 3, 2008. No editorial page was published in the regular edition. That was odd, I thought; the Hyde Park Herald, with no sophomoric opinion page? Then I looked at the Herald Extra, which like the Herald is published weekly on the same dates. Usually, the Extra is a throwaway ad paper. But not on September 3. On the front page is a green banner proclaiming "Herald Editorial." Below that, in three-quarter-inch-high headline type is "U. of C. ad campaign denies secrecy." That's a news headline, not an editorial headline. The article is written totally from the perspective of 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, who purports to dislike the University's purchase of property in the ward "without her knowledge" and "not respecting her authority." (Last I heard, property purchases don't require an alderman's prior knowledge or permission, but that's another topic).

There's no above-board Herald opinion in this September 3 piece; it's all Dowell's opinions and actions: Dowell released, Dowell's charge, Dowell's concern, Dowell expressed anger, Dowell said. If the Herald has a policy position on this issue, they haven't shown the courage to say what it is. It's a lot easier to simply spread fear and loathing.

Why didn't the Herald publish this sorry piece on the front page of the main paper? Maybe that would've been just too far off the sleaze chart. No, better to put it in a supplement like the Extra. Nobody cares about journalistic standards there.....uh right, Herald?

Herald, your September 3 so-called "editorial" was cowardly and sneaky. Herald, old buddy, you've been caught. Busted. You're not even good at yellow journalism.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Blogs You Should Read and Things You Should Eat

Very Sexy Italian Espresso Machine That May Soon Be Living at
Zalesky Und Horvath Market Cafe

posted by chicago pop

Now that the break in geological time known as Labor Day has passed, and the boat pond in Harold Washington Park has managed to be full of water for half the summer, though not full of boats, I'd like to direct your attention to some of the following developments in the greater Hyde Park/Southside, both in and out of the blogosphere:

Woodlawn Wonder, the dynamic and quite entertaining voice of I Hate my Developer, describes being too close for comfort to the insane spate of gunshots in mid-August, some of which were directed at CTA buses on Stony Island and 65th Street, down the street from her ranch and the future south campus U of C dormitories.

I am appropriately horrified, even from the distance of 47th Street. And the tragic gunfire continues.

Looks like you can have firearms and mayhem even without a decrepit elevated spur along 63rd Street.

You might also read her narration of our first face-to-face meeting, in which we observed her handling table service for at least two successive tables of families with kids, all with impeccable aplomb. From our conversation that evening, it sounds like things are looking up for Woodlawn Wonder. You can cheer for her when you check out her blog.

Meanwhile, another little shop appears poised to enter the local retail landscape: Open Produce, at 1635 E. 55th Street, tells me that they're in the last stages of their build-out, and hope to win their last duel with City inspectors in the next few weeks, which you can read about on their blog.

They have some remodeling pics on the blog, which like the shots J/Tati put up of his shop when his ceiling collapsed earlier this year, remind us how crappy a lot of the lead-paint death-trap retail space in Hyde Park really is. (We note that Tati's old basement shop at 55th and Cornell is still vacant. Low rent with free lead poisoning, anyone?)

Back on topic, here's what the Open Produce folks say about themselves:

Open Produce ... will provide as many fruits and vegetables (conventional, organic, local, really local) and dry goods as we can fit in our storefront. In addition to providing good food at good prices, we also want to push the envelope in terms of transparency and accountability to the community -- all of our bank statements, wholesale prices, contractor payments, employee wages, etc. will be made available for everyone to scrutinize.

"Social entrepreneurialism" it's called, and it looks like the next generation of Hyde Park innovation with some interesting bells and whistles. We'll see if it marks an improvement over what came before when it comes to the bottom line: quality goods, quality service, and reliable operation. Our fingers are crossed.

Meanwhile, of course, our favorite "Zig and Lou" has been blogging about the long-awaited arrival of the Zaleski & Horvath Market Cafe at 1126 E. 47th Street, undoubtedly named after the well-known Polish-Hungarian retail merchants who bring their business acumen, and taste in finer imported foods, here from the Old Country.

Can't wait to meet them and tell dirty jokes in Yiddish.

Read about blogger Z&L's meetings with "cheese reps," the joys of having ComEd inspectors come over, the punctuality of City inspectors, and the super hot technology that is going to make Z&H the hippest Polish-Hungarian outpost in the neighborhood. There's more to learn here about opening a small business in Chicago than I've found anywhere else.

You know we've been cheering for this one for a long time. With Z&H and Open Produce hopefully here this fall, we could be eating very well indeed. Stay tuned.

Companion to the Other Very Sexy Italian Espresso Machine Above