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At Michael Reese Meeting, Public Tries To Get Specific While City, Planners Stay Vague

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The Michael Reese Hospital campus, sketched out by legendary Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius, is a historical fact and nothing more. And there's no Olympics to rescue the barren site. Will the city's chosen replacement for these 48 acres in Douglas be an iconic cultural and economic presence for the South Side or a scramble of mismatched parts? The local community seems to feel the choices are that stark.

The development anchor that the city and its study team ultimately court to the site can be a draw for the city and region as well as a lure for global investment (Obama Library, technology campus) or a short term solution with the potential to further erode and divide Douglas and Bronzeville (casino, McCormick Place-oriented hotel/entertainment development). All but the tech park are considered front runners for the Reese site, although, in Thursday's public meeting, officials stressed any and all ideas are on the table. Accordingly, following a cursory overview of concept planning and guidelines, the presenters ceded the floor to working groups of public attendees for the submission of alternate anchor ideas and critiques of the overall plan.

Whenever Douglas Voigt, director of urban design and planning for Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), and others mentioned a casino there was patient silence. And whenever an audience member rose to assail the casino idea there was hearty applause. This despite SOM's careful segregation of casino entertainment uses and residences (a casino would occupy the north half of the site with 29th Street as a buffer). Reaction to the convention hotel anchor was mixed, with some fond of the energy and commerce some 2,000 rooms might bring and others unsure of the sustainability of such a development and whether it would integrate much at all with the surrounding community. Support for a presidential library was near unanimous even though the city's job creation projection puts it a few thousand behind a casino (4,000 vs. 7,000 new jobs). The city and developers can lobby for the library, but at the end of the day the Feds call the shots.

One man in attendance voiced a desire for more athletic field space for nearby schools to utilize, and others asked why there couldn't be more than one anchor in the interest of long-term viability and engagement with the site. Regardless of anchor, the city wants some residential component. The nature of the anchor and the market climate over the next decade or more will determine how much gets built and what the income and condo/apt mix will look like. If built today, the city believes development potential would not be maximized and nor would return on investment.

The crowd and the planners were united on a few big items: there should be maximum connectivity to the lake (finding ways to negotiate the truck and rail yards); mixed uses should be applied to the redevelopment; and major transit and infrastructure improvements — including restoring the street grid, building "complete streets", and adding CTA and/or Metra service — should precede any significant construction starts.

Finally, some participants spoke out against what they felt was inaction on prior design input. Last night's get together was the third of its kind stretched over several months, each with a loose charrette component, and there didn't seem to be a lot of new material to chew on. And a couple individuals stuck it to SOM for not aiming big in their master planning. Among the city's motivating factors for the redevelopment: a looming first payment on the $91M site purchase.
·Michael Reese Coverage [Curbed Chicago]
·Residents Fear City Plans For Casino on South Lakefront [DNAinfo]