Community conflicted over proposed ban on alcohol sales

A proposal to ban alcohol sales in several wards in Hyde Park could be the death knell for a University of Chicago plan to build hotels.

The referendum on the ballot would affect precincts eight and 39 in the 5th Ward, precincts 11, 13, 22 and 43 in the 8th Ward, and Precinct 36 in the 19 Ward. 

Community members have mixed feelings about the referendum because alcohol brings money into a community, even in a bad economy.

Some argue that alcohol also brings problems.

Fifth Ward resident Desiree Futrell says she would like to see the anti-booze referendum approved on Election Day even though she is concerned about the possible negative affects on the surrounding economy. 

“It would be a better step to take to cleaning up our neighborhoods, getting rid of some crime," she says.  "The results would be less unwanted activity happening in the neighborhood, streets becoming quiet, and we would become actual neighborhoods again.”

However, others, including people representing businsess interests, argue the referendum would stifle jobs and opportunity.

The passage of the referendum, according to South East Chicago Commission Executive Director Richard C. Mason, "would severely hamper any future retail development that residents have expressed a desire to bring to our community."

A group of residents banded together to get enough signatures for the referendum in an effort to kill the proposed redevelopment of Doctor’s Hospital site at 800 S. Stony Island. The University of Chicago purchased the hospital for about $10 million and White Lodgings, Inc. planned to build a couple of hotels and a Starbucks in its place.

University officials had said that the hotel is needed near the campus to serve visiting  students, professors and special speakers.

The hotel was also supported by the SECC and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. Both groups condemned the anti-alcohol referendum.

"...Hyde Park area residents have complained about the necessity of lodging visitng family members and other guests somewhere north of Roosevelt Road," Mason writes in a letter dated Sept. 17. "Now is the time to secure that hotel right here in our neighbborhood."

However, the hotel plan met resistance from residents with varying interests. Some wanted the developer to save a historic building on the site, a plan the developer resisted. Others were critical of the developers' labor record, the look of the hotels and the overall development plan for the area.

Voters under Illinois law can cast ballots to turn an area “dry” by first collecting the signatures of 25 percent of registered voters in a precinct. Petitions must be circulated no more than four months in advance of an election, and the petition must be filed with the City Clerk of the City of Chicago not less than 90 days before the election at which the referendum is to be held. 

A group of Hyde Park residents went to Circuit Court to challenge the referendum, but dropped their lawsuit in October.

It was unclear what would happen to the development site in the wake of the vote.