Wednesday, July 11, 2007

42nd Ward Ald. Brendan Reilly Announces Opposition to Lake Shore Athletic Demolition

Crain's Chicago Business reported Tuesday afternoon that newly elected 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly has issued a press release opposing the demolition of the 1927 Lake Shore Athletic Club, for which Fifield Properties is seeking a demolition permit in order to replace the building with a new residential tower designed by architect Lucien Lagrange. Crain's reports Reilly has engineered a 60 day extension beyond the expiring 90 day permit delay mandated for buildings rated "Orange" (not an official landmark, but potentially significant) on the city's Historic Resources Survey.

Crain's quotes from Reilly's statement:
“Throughout this process, Northwestern and Fifield have argued there is absolutely no economically viable re-use option that could save the Lake Shore Athletic Club from demolition,” Reilly says in the statement. “Frankly, I am not persuaded by that argument. After meeting with many experienced architects, zoning attorneys, developers and urban planning consultants, I believe economically viable re-use options do, in fact, exist.”
Crain's story also quotes an email from Fifield President Rick Cavenaugh saying he will use the extra time to lobby harder for the club's demise. “Once the actual legal and construction-related issues are debated, we feel confident that the concept of re-use will prove to be the lowest-and-worst use for the property.”

Clearly Fifield sees Reilly's actions as a threat, not only to their Lake Shore Drive project, but to the long-standing status quo in which development interests have operated largely unchecked. Fifield VP Alan Schactman has been circling the city's real estate community's wagons with a letter urging his colleagues put the screws to Reilly to get the alderman to step out of their way.

Powerhouse developer David "Buzz" Ruttenberg, has a letter in the current Crain's in which he decries the possibility that office holders like Reilly may be straying off the reservation He lectures readers that the "responsibility of an elected official to lead and not merely follow the majority, or a vociferous minority." What he really means, of course, is that having an alderman controlled by a vociferous minority is supposed to be his job, or, more accurately, that of of a cadre of big money-developers who use clout and massive campaign contributions to keep aldermen in their back pockets. For Ruttenberg, if Reilly turns his back on the voters who put him in office because they were disgusted with his predecessor's coziness with developers, it would be a profile in courage. For pretty much everyone else, it would simply be a betrayal.

The smart money still has to be against Reilly and the club's survival. Too many powerful interests feel the need to stop what he's doing in the bud, before the contagion can spread.

If Reilly doesn't come up with alternative developers with the resources and commitment to preserve the current building, he can please the developers and still play the good guy - "Hey, I tried," he can say, as the wrecker's ball crashes. The stand he took today proves that he's brave. The next two months will determine if he's effective.


Yellow Dog Democrat said...

Lynn - you're a terrific and insightful writer, but I have to wonder what it's going to take before Chicago's passionate preservationist community stops doubting Reilly, either his sincerity or his abilities, and actually gets behind him to help change business as usual in Chicago.

Do you actually have to die at the hands of a wrecking ball to get respect?

I'd suggest a little more positive attitude, even if its guarded. "Hey, big victory for us, even if it is just the first round." Success breeds success, while defeatist talk is often self-fulfilling.

Lynn Becker said...

I'm certainly impressed by Brendan Reilly, who is my alderman, so far. But I'm also old enough to remember all the alderman who stood up for the right things but proved powerless to get them accomplished.

And I've already done the "Hey, big victory for us" thing. It was right after the Farwell Building won a surprise reprieve in the Landmarks Commission, quickly followed by crushing defeat after the clout machine quickly regrouped for a full frontal assault.

A sequel is exactly what the insiders are plotting for the Lakeshore Athletic Club, and rather than simply bask in this initial success, I think it's important to direct attention to the two-ton anvil that's still poised to drop on our heads.

But please do lift a glass for me, anyway. It's a great victory, even if, with the new 60 day deadline, there's really no time to bask.

Yellow Dog Democrat said...

If a full-frontal assault is what we can expect, then it's "Down your glasses and to arms, To Arms!!" I say.

I'll make a deal with Alan Schactman: I won't tear down your neighborhood if you won't tear down mine.

Anonymous said...

Poor Alan Schactman doesn't even know where the Lake Shore Club is.

In his recent appeal to real estate interests he says it's in the Gold Coast.

Wrong hood Al.

Anonymous said...

Developers never existed before the cocaine indulgent 1980's..

Why don't corporation go directly to respected architecture firms and embrace their expertise in design and preservation and cut out the cannibal developers. Developers are an unnecessary layer of FAT to the project and the economy.

Anonymous said...

It seems important to do some serious removal and housecleaning of current City of Chicago planning and development and city council members. If reasonable development, and concern for the future scape of this interesting city of commerce and tourism, is allowed to be hijacked by go-alongers with no intelligent thoughts of their own...then out they must all go...let's start that campaign asap