SOUTH LOOP — The massive redevelopment of the South Loop that would bring in the new DePaul Athletic Arena and a $400 million hotel would also include a new park and a plan to move the historic Harriet Rees House, community leaders said Monday night.
The South Loop makeover is poised to attract traffic and tourists headed for McCormick Place — along with new businesses and residents — issues that have led to opposition from the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance and other community groups.
The meeting at Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago, 1936 S. Michigan Ave. drew about 200 residents, several of whom voiced their concerns during a question-and-answer session at the end of the evening.
But Tina Feldstein, president of the alliance, said a new master plan for the project includes some big "wins" for the community, including the new park, the 55-story hotel, a 12-story data center, the introduction of nightlife at a renovated American Book Co. building, 320-330 E. Cermak Road. and a project to move the landmark Harriet Rees House at 2110 S. Prairie Ave.
“The saving and relocation of the Rees house, along with a new park are positive signs that [McCormick Place officials] and the city are making efforts,” Feldstein said before the meeting. "But the community still has many serious concerns about traffic, parking and security."
Plans for moving the three-story Rees house include machines that will roll the house a block north of its current location to 2017 S. Prairie, said Dijana Cuvalo, an architect with the Zoning and Land Use Planning Department.
“When Rees house was constructed it was part of a very dense environment,” Cuvalo said, presenting photo slides of the structure then and now. “Currently it’s the only residence that remains on the block.”
Most of the house, with the exception of the basement, will be braced, rolled and situated in its new location at the same height — a guaranteed spectacle for interested residents.
The location for a proposed $5 million park that would be part of the project has not yet been determined, officials said.
More contentious issues include traffic around Cermak Road, Prairie and Martin Luther King Drive due to the proposed construction; issues that remained largely unresolved as of Monday night, though according to Donald Jakesch, traffic engineering consultant for the project, solutions are still evolving.
According to Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), the “parking plan is the element that has the least amount of definition and needs the most amount of work.”
Up until now, South Loop residents have not been quite on board with the plan. Neighbors and community groups for months have been asking for more details about the project, including information on how much traffic it would attract.
In a community meeting in March of last year, about 70 percent of South Loop residents did not approve of the location of the new arena and thought it would have a negative impact on the neighborhood, the alliance said.
Residents overwhelmingly objected to the idea of a proposed access road from Lake Shore Drive to the Prairie District dubbed the Gateway Avenue, saying the road would ruin the neighborhood. The road would run from Lake Shore Drive at 18th Street to either Prairie Avenue and 15th Street or Prairie Avenue and 16th Street.
Neighbors also voiced concerns about traffic, parking, congestion, the possibility of increased crime and preserving the Rees House. Dowell also has been pushing for the new park.
Opinions on Monday ranged from welcoming acceptance to hesitation.
“It’s time,” said Bryant Woods, who grew up in “the projects” near 28th Street and Michigan Avenue but now lives near Prairie Avenue and Roosevelt Road.
Bryant described the proposed construction as an overdue “tapping of potential."
“We need to just make certain that whatever we do is sensitive to the whole community,” he said.
But neighborhood residents Eileen and Jim Friestad were more skeptical. The two recently moved to the Prairie District from the North Side and wondered whether the deal is already a “forgone conclusion.”
“It looks like the train has left the station on this one,” Jim Friestad said. “But we’re not getting off — we’re just hoping we survive it.”