While rumors continue to circulate that developers are considering moving the planned construction of a hotel in Hyde Park from the Hyde Park Doctors Hospital to a site south of the Midway, White Lodging, the construction company, has yet to announce its plans.
“At this point, the University is waiting to hear from White Lodging services,” said Susan Campbell, the associate vice president for community affairs, who would not confirm reports that the company was investigating other sites. “There has been some activity in the back of the building installing additional security sensors and lighting to keep the site more secure. But the final decision is up to White Lodging.”
White Lodging’s original development plan called for demolishing the 93-year-old building at 5800 South Stony Island Avenue and building a new complex to house a Marriott Hotel and Fairfield Inn and Suites. Alderman Leslie Hairston rejected the plan, and in November, Hairston, University officials, and representatives from the Hyde Park Historical Society met with White Lodging to discuss the proposed construction. Members of the historical society, working with Landmark Illinois, an architectural preservation organization, presented an alternate design that would maintain White Lodging’s plan for 380 rooms while keeping the existing structure intact.
“The plan was quite good, although White Lodging was kind of huffy about it,” said Jack Spicer, chairman of the Hyde Park Historical Society’s preservation committee. “Finally, the alderman intervened and said she was very upset because she felt as though the University and White Lodging were not listening to her concerns for some time. She said the community was quite fond of the old building and didn’t want it torn down. It’s a residential street, and so she wanted most of the action from the hotel to be discreet and take place internally. She liked the reuse plan because it kept most of the action inside the hotel.
“She also said it was important to her and the community that the labor situation be taken seriously,” he said.
According to Spicer, “the understanding was that White Lodging would review the plan and get back to the preservation organizations who had paid for this plan, as soon as possible, by the middle of January.”
The preservation organizations are now encouraging Hairston and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to designate the hospital a historic building, Spicer said. The alderman must recommend a building to the commission to initiate the landmarking process, which can take more than a year.
“It’s a fairly serious, very methodical process,” Spicer said. “We have an understanding that the commission would be receptive. But they won’t act without the alderman unless it is a real emergency.”
Carol Parks, a spokesperson for Hairston, said the alderman expressed concerns about landmark designation because “there are a lot of strings attached to it.”
“Once you have landmark status, it affects what people can do with the building,” Parks said. “There’s a potential that the building could go unused and sit there vacant for even longer than if the alderman works to maintain the building without making it a historic landmark.”
The alderman is not ruling out the possibility, but did have reservations about the process, Parks said.
In April, Hairston met with Bruce White, the CEO of White Lodgings and a U of C alumnus, to reiterate the concerns of the community.
According to Parks, Hairston said she considered it a “very good discussion.”
“I can’t say whether there will be development in the near future, but as long as there is open dialogue, we are better off than we were a couple of months ago,” Hairston said.