The third community meeting to discuss the fate of the Michael Reese Hospital site was held last evening at West Point Missionary Baptist Church (3566 South Cottage Grove Avenue), with an overflow crowd of Bronzeville and South Loop residents offering support, criticism and in one case, a Roger Ebert-grade Big Thumbs Down.
Fourth Ward Alderman William D. Burns led off the meeting and introduced representatives from the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, architects from Skidmore Owings & Merrill and HR Advisors. Each provided recommendations for an anchor business or organization to serve as the catalyst for growth in the Reese development.
Three anchor recommendations were offered: a large (2,000-room) hotel adjacent to McCormick Place, the Barack Obama Presidential Library, and a casino-entertainment complex. Feedback from the audience suggested solid support for the first two options, with few local residents warming to the idea of a casino.
Feedback from Keith Williams was representative of the other attendees. Mr. Williams, property manager at Lake Meadows Apartments (500 East 33rd Street) said, “Whatever is built will directly impact the existing neighborhoods. That’s why we don’t like the casino, but we do like the presidential library.”
Michael L. Smith, president of Bridges LLC, said he favored the convention center hotel and the presidential library ideas. And believed the library should be collocated with a technology park, or a jazz museum.
“I also believe we should redesign and move the Metra stop to 29th Street, and possibly add an Amtrak station,” Smith said.
The meeting was arranged with about two dozen round tables, and each table was given a chance to discuss their thoughts. Then, they took turns sharing the feedback with Alderman Burns, the architects and the consultants. Some felt architecture firm SOM, known around the world for its landmark designs, only scratched the surface of what is possible and should offer a bolder design.
Paula Robinson, a Bronzeville resident, said “This site is considered ‘developer sirloin.’ It’s a showcase piece of property and we feel it could be as big and important as Millennium Park. We are expecting SOM to create a design that no other city has.”
The event organizers were quick to point out that the project is still only a work in progress and will go through many iterations before a final plan is mapped out. Coming up with a concrete plan to present to the city of Chicago is the next step, along with finding an anchor for the project. Another key step is finding the money for infrastructure development.
The 48-acre site was formerly the location of Michael Reese Hospital, which closed in 2008. In spite of objections from preservation groups it was bulldozed a year later. Right now, all that’s left is the former administration building.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted to use the space for the Olympic village for the 2016 Summer Games, a dream that died when the event was awarded to Rio de Janeiro instead of Chicago.
Later, Purdue University considered building a technology park on the land, but ended up picking a site in Indiana, instead.
Everyone at the meeting agreed that a successful development would have to create jobs, fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, enhance the quality of life in the area and take full advantage of the enviable natural resource on the east side of the property -— Lake Michigan frontage.