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Relentless scourge of progress continues...

The City of Chicago, in its never-ending quest to sate the petulant whims of powerful real estate developers, wants to tear down a block of buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph Street. Included in this block is 300 W. Randolph, the charming home of the Showmen's League of America, a fraternal organization of carnival workers, and 50-year Loop mainstay Harry's Hot Dogs. The building is one of the few quirky buildings left downtown, replete with carved elephants above each of the 24 upper-floor windows and a vividly-colored painted depiction of the league's logo.

Why does the city want to tear this endearing building down? Does it want a brand-new commercial building in its place, one which will bring hundreds of workers downtown? No. Does it want to build a new public park? Yes, but with a huge catch. Uber-developer John Buck Co. is pushing for the vacated space to become a publicly-owned plaza, not for the common good of the city's residents, but to enhance the value of its latest Wacker Drive office tower which is being built right next door. Never mind that the property owners don't necessarily want to sell, or at least not at the terms offered by Buck, which now wants the city, through eminent domain, to do all the dirty work instead. Never mind that, if the city really wanted park space in this area, there's a large surface parking lot right across Randolph which could be developed into a park at a substantially lower cost than acquiring and demolishing the buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph would require. But, of course, that scenario wouldn't directly benefit the value of Buck's property (since that park would be across the street instead) and thus, given the developer-friendly milieu of City Hall, will never happen.

Let's see, obliterating a unique relic of the city's past, at public expense, and removing productive commercial buildings from the property tax rolls, all for an amenity whose primary function is to greatly benefit the coffers of a well-connected real estate titan. Yes, indeed, the city's priorities are firmly in place.

June 13, 2007 in Chicago Observations | Permalink