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Mental health groups oppose cuts, privatization

Mental health activists concerned about potential service cuts and privatization will hold a town hall meeting Friday with Chicago Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair.

Mental health providers and consumers will join Choucair on a panel, Friday, August 5, 5:30 p.m., in the Joyce Auditorium of Mercy Hospital, 2525 S. Michigan, 2nd floor.

The groups are demanding to be included in a task force on city-county collaboration formed by Mayor Emanuel and County President Preckwinkle.

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War on Drugs: 40 years of failure?

Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle will speak at a rally Friday to “end the war on drugs” – while the White House steps up efforts to defend its drug policies in the face of growing criticism.

A broad coalition of civil rights, health, policy, faith, community and student groups will hold a Rally to End the War on Drugs on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn.   It’s the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Participants cite the racially discriminatory impact of the nation’s drug policies – they’ve been recently tagged “the new Jim Crow”– and the expense and inefficiency of addressing health disorders through the criminal justice system, while support for treatment lags.

Meanwhile the White House released a report showing that Cook County leads the nation in the proportion of individuals testing positive for drugs following their arrest.  Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Reese buildings threatened

Despite 24-hour security, two remaining buildings at the historic Michael Reese Hospital campus are being stripped by scavengers, who have taken all copper and aluminum and much of the iron, along with radiators and air ducts, according to the Hyde Park Herald (September 22).

Now, with a cleanup fund nearly exhausted, radioactive chemicals have been discovered on the site.

Reporting on a meeting with residents of the nearby Prairie Shores development on September 16, the Herald says Ald. Toni Preckwinkle “appeared receptive to neighbors’ calls to tear down the remaining buildings,” though she “declined to state explicitly that she was considering” demolition.

Last year Preckwinkle and the city agreed to preserve the Old Main Hospital Building, a prairie-school structure built in 1907, as preservationists fought demolition of over two dozen buildings designed by and with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Demolition proceeded, even as the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council endorsed the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the 1907 building, one Gropius building remains, the seven-story Singer Pavillion.  The rest of the site is completely bare, including lush landcapes created by world-renowned designers, now stripped away.

The city bought the campus last year for $86 million – with $32 million rebated to pay for cleanup – expecting to sell it to developers who would build an Olympic Village there (see last year’s Newstips report).  It now appears nothing is to be done with the 37-acre site.

Mayor Daley recently floated the idea of developing a biotechnology center there, but it has generated little enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.

Fine questioned the city’s commitment to preserving the remaining buildings and challenged the quality of security there.  “Taxpayers are paying for security and they’re not getting it,” he said.  “It reeks to high heaven.  They’re using this to justify their own cultural vandalism.”

What are the lessons of the Reese debacle?  “First, that haste makes waste,” Fine said.  “Second, that arrogant, unilateral urban planning serves no purpose.  Third, that the people who have been elected to watch out for the City of Chicago’s financial interests have failed miserably.”

Hospitals are a major focus for preservationists at the moment, Fine said.  They’re keeping an eye on plans to redevelop the old Cook County Hospital building as medical offices.  And they’re gearing up an effort to save the “old” Prentice Women’s Hospital, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s; Northwestern University wants to tear it down to make room for a new research center.

Metropolis Magazine has a report on Prentice.  Blair Kamin reports it will be included in an October 9 Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of Goldberg buildings called “Architecture in the Round.”

[Correction:  Northwestern University and Bertrand Goldberg were misidentified in an earlier version.]

Architectural Legacy Threatened

(Continued from Part 1: Parks)

There are parks, schools, and community institutions that could be impacted if the Olympic Village is built on the site of Michael Reese Hospital.

At 3113 S. Rhodes, Pershing East Elementary, a small Bauhaus-style gem, sits exactly where the Chicago 2016 bid book shows a “transport mall” the Village. Though the school does not appear in the bid book’s renderings, Chicago 2016 has reportedly said it will not be torn down. But questions from Newstips about whether it would be closed to accommodate construction were not answered.

On the same block, Lake Meadows Park will be paved for a parking lot, with subsequent restoration reportedly promised. A large wooded section of Burnham Park east of the village will be leveled to provide facilities for athletes, and the bid book shows a “security command and fire brigade” in the historic Olivet Baptist Church. A city spokesperson referred questions to Chicago 2016, which did not respond.

But the urgent concern of local preservationists is the imminent demolition of the hospital campus, much of it designed after World War II under the guidance of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, a seminal modernist architect. The campus includes the only buildings in Chicago designed by Gropius and is one of a small number of extensive Gropius projects in the world.

IIT architecture student Grahm Balkany was researching Gropius’s role when the city began moving to purchase the campus for an Olympic Village. So far he’s documented Gropius’s direct involvement in eight Reese buildings; he believes there are probably more. As the “guiding hand” to the hospital’s campus master plan, Gropius had a wide influence on its post-war expansion.

At the time Balkany went public with his preliminary findings, Chicago 2016 said no decisions had been made about what buildings to demolish. Since then, however, they’ve taken a hard line, citing an earlier agreement to preserve the original 1907 hospital building as if that precludes further consideration.

“We’re trying to show the world that we’re a world-class city, and the first thing we’re going to do is tear down a huge collection of buildings by arguably the greatest architect of the 20th century,” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago. “It’s kind of insane.”

Many of the most significant buildings are “perfectly adaptable,” he argues. Balkany points out that the Olympic Village will require a laundry, a clinic, and a main dining hall, all of which exist or could be served by Gropius buildings, which include large and small structures.

Instead, Chicago 2016 is planning 21 identical 12-story buildings — reminiscent to some of Robert Taylor Homes, except they’re placed on huge parking pedestals, like the new developments plaguing the Near North Side.

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Harper Court rebate?

Could the University of Chicago get a few million dollars back on the $6.5 million purchase price for Harper Court

The Harper Court Arts Council, which is selling the nonprofit shopping center to the University, has said it will disburse its assets to local cultural charities, and earlier listed the University’s multimillion dollar drive to build a new performing arts center as a possible recipient.

A spokesperson at the Attorney General’s office thought that might be legal.

The bigger question, though, is whether the resulting redevelopment will be worse than the University’s first development disaster, the urban renewal program of the 1960s (see Jane Jacob’s “Death and Life of Great American Cities” for details; Arnold Hirsch explores the racial motivations in “The Making of the Second Ghetto”).

The track record of the dominant parties is not promising.

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HP Co-op Vote Underway

Bolstered by the possibility of a new financing package, supporters of the Hyde Park Co-op have launched a new website,, just days before ballots in a membership vote on the future of the financially-beleagured organization are due.

All along, Co-op supporters have been playing catch-up to a well-orchestrated campaign by the University of Chicago to shut down the organization, including what Co-op supporters call bluffs and threats by the university.

Ballots on the future of the 75-year-old cooperative society have been mailed to 19,000 members and must be received by December 12.

 “The university set it up to make it almost impossible to organize against them,” said Jay Mulberry, a retired principal who is the Co-op’s webmaster and creator of

“There’s no time,” said Amelia Tucker, president of the Chicago Joint Board of RWDSU, which represents Co-op employees.  “I think they planned it that way.”

Tucker has sought union financing to keep the Co-op afloat, “but two weeks is not enough time — especially when you are talking about $2 million.”

Everyone seemed surprised by the amount of support for saving the cooperative grocery at a town hall meeting November 18 (see our previous post).  Mulberry said he went to the meeting prepared to support the university’s offer of a $4 million “debt workout” plan, which would forgive rent owed by the Co-op for its 55th Street store (located in a shopping center owned by the university), pay off other debtors and bring in a new store.

He was won over by presentations by two Co-op board members for an alternative plan to seek financing to keep the organization going — ideally through Chapter 11 debtor-in-posession financing that would enable it to shed a longterm lease for a shuttered store at on 47th Street. (This is dubbed Proposal B on the membership ballot; the University’s, backed by board president James Poueymirou and a majority of board members, is Proposal A.)  Judging by the audience response, hundreds of others were also won over to the alternative plan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Co-op: Funeral or Resurrection?

“I thought I was coming to a funeral, but this may turn out to be a resurrection,” said Leon Despres at the Hyde Park Cooperative Society’s town hall meeting yesterday.

The dominant theme was surprise, shock even, that the cooperative grocery’s shutdown is not a fait accompli, as Co-op board president James Poueymirou had suggested in press accounts preceding the meeting.

The most sustained applause was for a proposal by two board members (board secretary James Withrow’s remarks are posted here) to reorganize through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy that would allow the Co-op to shed a 25-year lease for a shuttered store on 47th Street in exchange for a lump-sum payment.

Creditors would be paid in full, including the University of Chicago, the store’s landlord, which is owed $1.2 million in back rent.

The plan depends on a $2 million financing package now being considered by the National Cooperative Bank. The University would have to be paid immediately or it could move to evict the store.

Freed from the financial drain of paying rent for the shuttered 47th Street store — the major factor in the organization’s financial crisis — the Co-op could pay off the refinancing with income from 55th Street, which generates about $1 million in annual profits.

Poueymirou described the proposal of the University Chicago to forgive rent owed and provide funds to pay off Coop creditors, in return for gaining control of the store’s lease, but didn’t actually admit that he is supporting it.

The Co-op would cease to exist, he said.

In response to a question, he said the University had pledged $4 million to buy out the Co-op’s lease. No University representative attended the meeting.

The University has promised a new grocery store would open at the site within two weeks of the Co-op’s closing, but has refused to say what store.

Amelia Tucker of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, representing 170 grocery workers, said the union would take action to oppose replacing the Co-op with a nonunion store, as is expected.

At an employees’ meeting Saturday, Co-op workers reportedly discussed picketing a new store.

Co-op members would lose the value of the membership stock they own in the shutdown plan. Many members have hundreds of dollars of stock, Withrow said. Scores of people held up their hands when he asked how many in the audience had over $100 worth of stock.

There were comments from Co-op detractors, but there was also extensive praise for new general manager Bruce Brandfon, who described a nascent turnaround in the store’s operations, including price reductions on thousands of items.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle spoke in support of the University plan.

But many members speaking at the meeting or encountered on its sidelines seemed to think that a shutdown is always an option — why not give the alternative a try first?

Co-op members will vote by mail over the next three weeks in an advisory referendum on the two proposals.

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