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Shuttered Diplomat Hotel to get $13.1M Upgrade as Housing for Mentally Ill

By Jackie Kostek | October 23, 2012 1:47pm
 The Diplomat Hotel has been boarded up and vacant since March 2009, when it was shut down due to numerous health and safetly violations.
The Diplomat Hotel has been boarded up and vacant since March 2009, when it was shut down due to numerous health and safetly violations.
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DNAinfo/ Jackie Kostek

LAKEVIEW— The vacant Diplomat Hotel, an eyesore to many Lakeview residents, will soon be transformed into a state-of-the-art affordable housing complex for people with mental illness and at risk of homelessness.

In a deal approved by city council, the city-owned property was sold to BT-Diplomat LLC, reflecting a public-private partnership between privately owned Brinshore Development LLC and the nonprofit social service agency Thresholds. Once the building is operational, Thresholds will provide comprehensive on-site mental health services to residents.

The 85-year-old Diplomat Hotel was shuttered in 2009 for numerous building and fire code violations. It was acquired by the city in 2010.

The $13.1 million rehabilitation plan calls for 51 modern studio apartments, community spaces, a fitness room, ground-floor retail space, and a rooftop garden which will help stock a flower shop on the ground floor, Urban Meadows.

Jay Forman, vice president of strategic development for Thresholds, said there was an enormous need for quality affordable housing for people with mental illness, and the selection process for the new Diplomat residents would be “fairly elaborate.”

“People won’t get into the Diplomat without screening,” said Forman, adding that would be a major difference between the renovated Diplomat, and the former single-occupancy transient hotel that took in people off the street. “We are a rehabilitation agency.”

Forman said applicants would be screened for a history of substance abuse and or a felony record, and people who were “actively recovering” would be considered for residency.

Since the city first requested redevelopment proposals last year, local residents have conversed on the online forum Everyblock about the future of the Diplomat. Many have voiced concerns over safety, property values and people with mental illness.

Lakeview resident Nora Handler, who has siblings with mental illness, said she thought people had misconceptions about it.

“The stigma of mental illness is a horrible thing,” Handler said. “Most people with mental illness who get services and have caseworkers end up becoming contributing members of society and are an asset to the neighborhood.”

Emily Moen, director of public relations for Thresholds, said the agency has made visits to local neighborhood associations to educate the community members about the project and the services residents will receive.

“Thresholds has a number of other buildings in the city, so I think we’re well-positioned to meet the needs of neighbors,” said Moen.

The timeline for the project has not been released.