OP-EDS

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January 15, 2008

Checking in with reality

One would think that a trade that is beneficial to both sides would get done without much hassle.

Unfortunately, reaching a meeting of minds between Hyde Park community members and University administration has never been that simple. In the latest example, Ward 5 Alderman Leslie Hairston has blocked the U of C’s proposal to build a much-needed hotel in the spot now occupied by the Doctors Hospital at East 58th Street and South Stony Island Avenue. Building a hotel in Hyde Park constitutes a change in zoning law, which requires Hairston’s approval.

The plan should be a no-brainer. The benefits to the University are self-evident: The facility would provide a convenient place for parents, visiting professors, and prospective students to stay. The rest of the community would profit from the new jobs created and the new restaurants and retail that are bound to follow. This, however, is not enough for some in the community, whose opposition is two-fold.

The Hyde Park Historical Society and other preservationists claim that the 93-year-old, long-vacant Doctors Hospital is worth saving because of its status as an architectural landmark. As of now, though, the building is a major eyesore, largely because it is no longer in use. The University should explore the option of revamping the current building to meet the needs of a hotel. More specifically, White Lodging—the company that would manage the hotel—and the University should seriously consider the counter-proposal recently put forward by the Historical Society and an architectural firm. As a last resort, the University should be prepared to provide financial incentives to White Lodging to secure the deal.

Some community members also take issue with White Lodging’s use of non-unionized labor. However, with no other firm apparently ready to take White Lodging’s place, what Hairston doesn’t seem to realize is that the choice isn’t between unionized and non-unionized jobs—it’s between jobs and no jobs. The alderman should drop the demand that the hotel company provide union jobs.

Alderman Hairston has vowed to follow community sentiment on this issue. What is the whole neighborhood’s sentiment on this issue? Certainly its loudest members have voiced opposition, but do they speak for everyone? In this case, the dedication of a few can serve to distort the will of many. A hotel would be a win-win for the community and the University. The sides must meet halfway to ensure the plans become a reality.