Acres of Controversy

Back in November I attended a community meeting to discuss and hear from planners about what should be done with the site of Michael Reese Hospital just south of McCormick Place. As expected, there was soap-boxing and preaching, but Superalderman Will Burns Stepped in to quiet the voices until the official Q&A started.

The site is visible from Lake Shore Drive and lies from 26th street on the north to 31st street on the south and is about two and a half blocks wide. My vision before attending the meeting was an entertainment area tourists and residents could both enjoy. I imaged two different types of hotels, an upscale hotel and a family friendly friendly one. Do not forget, this area is in walking distance of the 31st street beach and marina. I also envision a bowling alley, 2 restaurants and a Starbucks. Once McCormick place closes at night, there is no full service Starbucks for about eight blocks. An express Walgreens or CVS could help as well and would benefit the hundreds of residents in the area.  I want tourist/hotel element to stretch further south into Bronzeville, which has offerings of its own for visitors. I also see Bronzeville and another gateway to the rest of the south side.

At the meeting, planners used examples of large-scale redevelopments in Manhattan and Washington D.C to  familiarize us with the process and length of time these projects take. Ideas of the site becoming and educational or research campus were brought up, as well as a cultural and artistic center. The possibility of the area becoming the home of The Obama Presidential Library was brought up as well. Just about everyone, including myself were very supportive of it. Finally, the idea of a hotel/casino complex came up. No one was interested in that possibility, including myself, although I have no problem with a hotel being on the site. People at the meeting felt a casino would be detrimental to the neighborhood, increasing crime and poverty among those with little to begin with. I think my problem is that it is in a heavily residential area. I’m not worried that Tony Montana or Nino Brown are going to destroy the neighborhood.

A priest I sat next to was convinced the casino would be chosen though. Graphs of the economic and job-creating impacts of each project were shown, and the casino option would provide the most private investment and create the most jobs. I realized the priest had a point but I was still disappointed. Jobs are great, but the majority are service-industry jobs that aren’t going to allow anyone to really build any wealth for themselves. I know those with the will and desire can keep moving up, but an entry-level job won’t send anyone’s kids to college.

Another disappointment in the casino option is that it will not add to Bronzeville’s cultural identity, which many are trying to promote and sustain. People are not going to drive cross-country to visit a casino because no one has to anymore, they are everywhere. However, there is only one official Presidential Library per President and I can see that having a huge impact on tourism. We may not get a presidential museum but a cultural/artistic component should exist to further Bronzeville’s image. The land is large enough to accommodate several uses, so in the end perhaps the plan can make everyone  happy.