Until recently, the controversy surrounding the old Doctors Hospital at East 58th Street and South Stony Island Avenue was relatively straightforward. The University wants to replace the boarded-up building with a much-needed hotel; this proposal, however, faced stiff opposition from preservationists, who argue the Hospital is worth keeping for its architectural value, and pro-union forces, who oppose White Lodging, the developer that would build the hotel, and its non-union policy.
The University and its developer considered but ultimately rejected these arguments. But now that the anti-hotel forces have lost fair and square, opponents of the project have decided to adopt dishonest tactics. In August, anti-hotel activists circulated a petition to put a referendum on the November ballot that would effectively block the hotel’s construction by banning the sale of alcohol in the 39th precinct.
To make the case for the referendum, opponents of the hotel—in this case, a union that objects to White Lodging—put together a highly misleading mailer that compares an elegant, restored hotel on Michigan Avenue to a grungy Marriott situated next to an equally grungy used car dealership in who-knows-where. The implication is that we can have the glamorous, historical hotel Hyde Park deserves if we simply vote “yes” on the referendum to cut off alcohol sales.
In actuality, if the referendum passes on election day, not only will there be no Marriott, but there will be no hotel—and no substantive commercial development—in the 39th precinct for the foreseeable future, no matter what the mailings promise.
Sadly, the inherently deceitful nature of the petition and the stifling consequences of an alcohol ban threaten to overshadow the substantive debate over the pros and cons of redeveloping the Doctors Hospital site. The primary anti-hotel arguments have been previously dispatched in this space, but they’re worth rehashing. The first allegation is that the Doctors Hospital ought to be preserved because of its historical and architectural significance. While an ideal world might accommodate the preservation of the Hospital’s fundamental architecture, the actual implementation of such a plan proved unfeasible both architecturally and financially.
The second argument rests on the fact that White Lodging’s workforce is non-unionized. But if this argument wins the day, then there will be no jobs, unionized or otherwise: White Lodging is the only developer who has shown the willingness to take a risk on Hyde Park. The collateral damage—on other potential commercial developments in the neighborhood and on the Hyde Park businesses that would not benefit from guests’ patronage—is also significant.
Efforts to block the hotel should be based on the merits of the argument, not a dishonest campaign in favor of a disingenuous referendum. If the referendum does make it onto the ballot in November, Hyde Parkers should vote “no” to support a hotel that would bring jobs, business, and travelers to the community.
The Maroon Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional Editorial Board member.