NEWS

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July 18, 2007

Hyde Park Herald & community: Killing Hyde Park one day at a time

This upsets me to no end. Last year the University bought a vacant building called the Doctor's Hospital. The building is nice looking (an old picture is to the right, just imagine that with all boarded up windows), but not amazing, particularly because it has had boarded up windows for as long as I can remember.The University was originally going to turn the building into a hotel, but after finding out that that really wasn't possible--it is, after all, an early 20th century hospital--it decided the best course of action would be to tear it down and build a new hotel there.Now, I don't need to go into why this would be great for the U of C, students, Hyde Park, etc., because that should be obvious. I mean, what is bad about bringing in tons of jobs to service a hotel? Particularly when it is replacing an empty building. What is bad about bringing a convention center and all the money that comes with that to Hyde Park? What is bad about making Hyde Park accessible to people who want to visit it?Before I go off on this though, I want to point out what I said earlier this year in a Maroon column:

The other bogeyman in the lives of many Hyde Park residents (the first being capitalism) is the U of C. Now, I know that the U of C has had a controversial role in the history of Hyde Park, but that doesn’t mean everything it does is cause for concern. In fact, while I’ve been here, I’ve seen the University all but trip over itself trying to address the often inane concerns of Hyde Park residents.Just look at the University’s handling of the Meridian Theater. A couple of years ago it bought the depressingly vacant building. But instead of being happy (or even indifferent) that something was being done with an eyesore, Hyde Park residents lit into the University with demands to maintain the building’s facade regardless of their plans and to try to find a proprietor to run a movie theater out of the building again, as if there wasn’t a reason the prior owners closed up shop. The University then tried to sell the idea to 37 businesses and even offered to subsidize the venture, to no avail.The whole process was an absurd waste of time. Instead of giving the University a list of non-negotiable demands every time it buys a piece of unused property, residents would be smart to try to support the University’s goals by commercially developing Hyde Park, instead of thwarting them. I mean, the University is essentially a Daddy Warbucks that has shown it is willing to lose money in order to improve the offerings of Hyde Park. How can that be a bad thing?But more to the point: If Hyde Park residents don’t want to run the neighborhood’s commercial future into the ground, there needs to be change. First, it’s time to get rid of the ridiculous barriers to entry that have allowed the Co-op to maintain its monopoly and require potential businesses to jump through every possible hoop imaginable before they can open. (Why do you think it took so long for Istria to open?) Second, residents need to become more accepting of for-profit businesses and chains, even if that means compromising the founding goals of Harper Court or seeing the composition of certain areas of shops change.If you were to combine these changes with a more unified approach by the University and Hyde Park residents, the neighborhood could actually have a bright future ahead. It’s too bad all of this is likely to fall on deaf ears.
Well, turns out history is repeating itself.Lo and behold, Hyde Parkers somehow have found away to make this seem to the end of the world. Now before I go off on this, Hyde Parkers do have some justifiable concerns (here is a summary of whats gone down from some pro-Hyde Park/pro-community organization). It makes sense to be concerned about the impact this would have on parking (the plan calls for an underground parking lot which would probably mitigate all serious concern) and the impact the building could have on the residential flavor of the area.But then there are just some absolutely absurd complaints.The best and most counterproductive is from this Hyde Park Herald editorial in which the Herald helpfully points out to us all that the U of C has screwed up because it decided it wanted to sell the land it bought to a hotel company. Obviously it should have held public meetings in which the sorts of wackos that show up to public meetings decided what to do with the space.It then goes on to almost threaten the U of C for ignoring it in the past, over some stupid park. Ugh.But it gets even better. Hyde Parkers aren't happy that the hotel might bring in un-unionized labor. Alright, so let me get this straight, the University is proposing to build something that would bring in hundreds of jobs, some well paying (managers, etc.), and the response from the community is: how many of those will be unionized?On top of that, Hyde Parkers are apparently concerned that this hotel might be the first in a number of changes to the neighborhood that would cater to visitors:
There are alarms that, especially with the Olympics likely coming, there will be a wave of such commercial-type development, generally serving visitors, in many parts of the neighborhood.
I don't even know if this deserves a response, but since when it is a bad thing to make a community open to visitors. I must have missed the memo that pointed out how keeping Chicagoans and others outside to Hyde Park was going to help our sad state of affairs. But, in keeping with that line of thought, perhaps we should cut off CTA and Metra access to Hyde Park because that only makes it easier for the "visitors" to come.The last, inane concern of "the community" is that the Doctor's Hospital is such a nice building and it is so pretty that it would be a crime to tear it down:
The...building (1916, Richard Schmidt) is of high architectural quality and is rated "orange" in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. Schmidt is an important figure in both the development of the "Chicago School" of architecture and of the "Prairie School." His use of reinforced concrete (Montgomery Ward Warehouse) and simplified ornamentation (the Madlener House) are emblematic of...blah, blah, blah [Blah, blah, blah added]
First, note my earlier point that the building, while not ugly, is no Fallingwater. Second, the building looks like crap because it is vacant and all boarded up. Maybe everyone who wants to save the building is remembering what it looked like in the 1930s when it was a thriving hospital, but it is just depressing now. And if the University isn't able to do something with it, like tear it down, then it is going to remain an empty, boarded up building. Now tell me, which threatens the architectural vitality of Hyde Park more?Of course, the proposed hotel isn't going to win any architectural awards, but it doesn't look too shabby either, check it out.All in all, this is exactly the sort of thing I've been complaining about for a long time. Hyde Parkers seem more concerned with keeping businesses out, keepings vacant stores vacant, and preaching a dated and failed form of socialism then achieving any sort of progress that this community needs.Maybe the next time Hyde Parkers demand the U of C meet with the community over every decision it makes they should take a second to think: Would I take my inane mutterings seriously? Because I honestly don't think anyone should.