Monday, November 30, 2009

2nd Ward Holiday Toy Drive

The holiday season is officially underway! Hopefully you survived the craziness of Black Friday and are in the thick of Cyber Monday. But if you find yourself with money or present left over it would be great to donate something to less fortunate people. Below please see an announcement from Alderman Fioretti's monthly newsletter:
2nd Ward Christmas Toy Drive

Christmas is just around the corner!

Alderman Bob Fioretti is conducting his annual 2nd Ward Toy Drive.

If your family or your business would like to join in making Christmas a brighter holiday for less fortunate children please call our office, 312-263-9273, for information on how to donate toys or time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Printer's Row Church of Scientology To Open Next Year

In February we had a post about the Church of Sceintology coming to Printer's Row and today the Chicago Tribune has more on this topic. It sounds like the new Illinois Headquarters of the Church of Scientology (at 650 S. Clark) could open next year.

More interesting pieces from the article:
The restoration of the $4 million red brick edifice at 650 S. Clark St. built in 1914 follows the church's plan of acquiring and restoring historic structures that embody a city's aesthetic.

More than 70 buildings have been acquired around the globe as part of a multimillion dollar expansion program. More than two dozen churches are set to open in the U.S. before the end of next year.

In Chicago, the 50,212 square feet of space will accommodate worship, courses, spiritual counseling known as auditing, community outreach and church administration.

"That's one of the reasons we need such a large space," said the Rev. Jesse Wells, an ordained Scientology minister, "to accommodate all the activities."

And here is a picture from Google Maps of the building:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Higher Education Update: Spending and More Development

It has been interesting to watch and read about the evolution of higher education in the Loop and South Loop.  It's impossible not to notice the youthful energy of students walking to class or hanging out on State, Wabash and Michigan avenue (to name a few places).

Although some residents have voiced displeasure with the growth around these universities and colleges, we feel that they're good for the neighborhood in various ways.  One way that was recently validated by a report commissioned by the Chicago Loop Alliance was spending:
Twenty-four higher education institutions in Chicago’s Loop, through their employees, students and own expenditures, generate more than $4 billion in regional economic activity annually, including at least $60 million in student retail purchases, according to the 2009 Higher Education Economic Impact Report and Student Survey Update released Nov. 23.

Commissioned by the Chicago Loop Alliance ( CLA ), with student survey data compiled by researchers at DePaul, the study shows that the Loop’s higher education sector is a vital economic engine that contributes to the growth and overall health of the economy in the Chicago region. The findings update and expand upon research released by CLA last June and in 2004.
Although this area was defined as the Chicago River on the north and west, the study also includes parts of the South Loop as it extends south to Roosevelt and east to Lake Shore Drive.  Love them or hate them, students are an important part of our neighborhood.  Without them our retail situation would most certainly be different (and probably much worse).

With that in mind it's a good sign that Roosevelt University just announced that it will move forward with a new tower on the 400 block of South Wabash Avenue (see old Sloopin post on this subject).  The building will serve a variety of purposes for the University and is currently planned to open in 2012.  This is a block north of what we consider the Sloop, but regardless it will still impact the area:

Officials at Roosevelt University are moving forward with a plan to build what they say would be the second-tallest university building in the nation.

Construction on the 32-story, $110 million building is set to begin in February on the site of the old Herman Crown Center in the 400 block of South Wabash Avenue. The groundbreaking will begin once demolition of the old building is complete, with the center itself slated to open in January 2012, officials said.

The state-of-the-art building, which will house classrooms, laboratories, a student recreation center and residence suites for more than 600 students, will be the university's first newly constructed building in the school's history, officials said. 

The 469-foot-tall building will also be constructed as a "green" building and showcase a glass exterior on three sides, drawing in natural light and cutting energy costs. The new building, school officials said, would be the sixth-largest university building in the world and second in the U.S. behind the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.
It's definitely an interesting building.

In other higher education development, Columbia College's media production center (at 16th and State) looks to be  nearing completion.  Although we don't have a picture of the actual site, you will have to take our word for's also an interesting building.  Here is a sketch of how it is supposed to look.  Although we didn't see it illuminated like the picture below, it looks very similar in our opinion:

For more on this building, here is another old Sloopin post.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 'Chicago Way' at McPier

Crain's Chicago recently took an in depth look at the 'Chicago Way' of business going on at the government agency commonly known as McPier (which runs Navy Pier and McCormick Place):
The chief executive officer won his post after raising campaign cash for disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The just-departed human resources director owed her job to a powerful state senator. Other top executives have long ties to Mayor Richard M. Daley's political machine.

That's what clout looks like at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, known as McPier, a little-understood government entity that operates the city's primary convention venue, the vast McCormick Place complex; the adjacent McCormick Hyatt Regency Hotel, and the lakefront tourist center Navy Pier.

Since it's a neighbor of Sloop and potentially could be a driving force behind growth in our neighborhood we thought some people might be interested in reading about it. It's been a brutal year for the McPier agency and the article doesn't make it sound like it's getting any better.

(image from

Blackie's...Holding Down the Fort for Years in Printers Row

Don Terry, of the Chicago Sun-times, had a recent article about Blackie's, the old bar/restaurant that's located at the corner Polk and Clark. It's been a family run place for 70 years and has seen the neighborhood boom, bust and come back around.

Terry specifically calls out the diverse wait staff and says that's why he likes the place:

For 70 years, the DeMilio-Thomas family has owned and operated Blackie's restaurant and bar at the corner of Clark and Polk. I love the apple sauce pancakes, but it's the diverse and longtime staff, which includes African Americans, Latinos and Italian Americans, that keeps me coming back.

It is a snapshot of what the rest of the city should be like.

Although it's a nice thought, we would argue that many of the city's restaurants also have diverse wait staffs, just not very diverse clientele. For a highly segregated city, the South Loop in tends to be pretty diverse. Maybe that was the point he was going for...

Anyway, back to the article. It provides a nice history of the joint and even drops some names of the famous celebrities that have graced the place over the years:
Blackie's is across the street from the old Dearborn train station. During the 1940s and 1950s, there was no telling who you might run into having a beer at Blackie's. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., the Harlem Globetrotters, Rocky Marciano, Sam Cooke and Lena Horne were just a few of the celebrities who ate and drank there on their way in or out of town on the Santa Fe Super Chief.

The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers also spent time in Blackie's. One night, the Stooges and the Marx boys got into a food fight when one side criticized the other's comedic skills.

"It was right over there near the window,'' Jeffrey says, pointing behind. "I can't remember who my grandfather said started it.''

(Hat Tip: SC!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shots Around the Sloop: The Windy Pixel

We love the Windy Pixel and we haven't posted one of their pictures in here are two recent ones from locales in our hood:

(Images from

City & State Differ on Effectiveness of Red-Light Cameras

Hate them or love them red-light cameras are a hot topic. We had a post on them a month ago and yesterday the Chicago Tribune had an informative piece on the discussion around them:
Cameras (red-light cameras at intersections) are said to reduce accidents, but collision records compiled by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) indicate that accidents increased at many city intersections the year after red-light cameras were installed. In fact slightly more intersections saw an increase than a decrease, the data show.

The city tells a very different story. Crash statistics compiled by the city reflect broad success in reducing accidents with cameras, and the city could not explain why the numbers are so different.

Overall the article claims that nearly 60 percent of intersections with red-light cameras had an increase in accidents based on the following analysis:
With or without cameras accident totals fluctuate year to year at every intersection. For that reason the Tribune analysis of accident trends treated crash numbers that rose or fell less than 10 percent as essentially unchanged.

The read from the state numbers is this: Although some Chicago intersections indeed appear to benefit from the presence of cameras, nearly 60 percent do not.

So what about the Sloop? As of now only the State and Roosevelt intersection has statistics to look at:
So based off of IDOT's information, the Tribune would classify this South Loop intersection as one where the presence of red-light cameras caused more accidents. The city's numbers would prove the opposite. Judge for yourself.

The one thing these numbers don't take into account is increased traffic. Although we're not 100% sure, we assume the amount of traffic in the South Loop (particularly at this intersection) has increased from 2005 to 2008.

For more information specific to other intersection check out this Chicago Tribune link.

Pay to Park Comes to 18th Street

We know many people are infuriated with the parking situation in the Sloop (and the city) and this weekend we received an email from a reader who said pay to park kiosks have recently been installed on 18th street:
There are new “pay to park” kiosks along 18th Street. I noticed that formerly free street parking had been converted to metered parking during the week ending 11/13/09. The formerly free spaces are on the south side of 18th between Wabash and Michigan and the north and south sides of 18th between Wabash and State. There could have been others, but these are the stretches that I noticed.

As a traveling consultant, I often get stuck with rental cars over the weekend. I was infuriated last Friday when I tried to park in the formerly free spaces that I used to count on. Of course, the still-free parking on the south side of 18th between State and Clark, was packed with cars that could not park in newly metered spaces. I had to park west of Clark. Granted, this probably isn’t the worst parking situation in the city, but knowing that Chicago is not even benefiting from these really makes me angry. I did a quick search of the Internet, but I couldn’t find a map delineating free and metered stretches in the South Loop. Do you know if one exists?

We didn't have much luck finding a map either, does anyone know if one exists?

(Hat Tip to Jay for the email and pic!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ideas for a New Northerly Island

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the future of the high profile Northerly Island. It's prime property and many people have many different views on how this space should be used. Last week the Chicago Journal had a nice write-up recapping some of the current additions being considered:
On Tuesday night, park district planners and its contractors shopped four different concepts for a future iteration of Northerly, culling feedback from hundreds of residents in a three-hour session downtown.

The additions contemplated in the designs range from the natural (like dunes, berms, trees; one idea calls for a river running through the island. In another, there are a series of new barrier islands in Lake Michigan) to the athletic (beaches, a canoe and kayaking course) to the cultural (a Great Lakes research institute, an amphitheater, a nature center).

Jeanne Gang, principal at Studio Gang Architects, one of the firms working on the designs, said a video message played at the beginning of the night that past input about Northerly indicated a preference for a natural space that wasn’t thronging all the time.

“People wanted to see this as this ecologically rich and diverse space — not a Millennium Park that’s super busy all throughout it,” Gang said. “Because it’s so close to the water and further away from the city, it’s a place where you can actually find some solitude.”
Since our neighborhood is the closest to the land (and yes we consider this in the Sloop) we're very interested to see how, when and if any of this actually happens. We reference New York a lot on this blog, because we're a big fan of their public spaces (especially Central Park). We love the beauty of Grant Park and Millenium Park, but they feel a little overly manicured in our opinion (which is also the case for some places within central park). However, in Central Park there are many places where you feel like you're in a natural park and don't feel like you're in a bustling city.

From reading some of the coverage on the plans for Northerly Island, it sounds like the island could evolve into something similar to central parks 'natural' areas. This would be great! Although the current 'natural' space on Northerly Island is serene, it's nothing special and actually a little boring in our opinion. The concept pictured below would make this area interesting and somewhere we would like to go to explore.
The one major request we have is to provide some form of access to the island besides Solidarity drive (which is the street to get to the Planetarium). Every sketch we've seen addresses this problem, so it's obviously on the planners radar.

In terms of next steps for the planning of Northerly Island, the Tribune reports:
Tribune reporter Erika Slife reports that park district officials said they will analyze the feedback they got from the nearly 200 people who attended the meeting and will make another presentation to the public in 2010. Perhaps the Friends of Meigs Field, who boycotted the workshop, will attend next time around. For now, the idea of bringing back the airport is thankfully off the public policy agenda. This is one place where nature, not technology, should prevail.
Also, as you might remember we had a post on Sloopin talking about another design for Northerly Island (as part of the Daniel Burnham 100th anniversary celebration: Big. Bold. Visionary. Chicago Considers the Next Century Exhibit). This idea, pictured below didn't purely picture the island as a natural oasis, but more of a functional and practical space that would serve as a place for a variety activities. This idea is much more conceptual, but wanted people to get a full sense of some of the ideas being floated around.
(Images from Chicago Journal and Chicago Tribune)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ray Lamontagne Solid, but Star is Auditorium Theater

Last Thursday we had the pleasure of taking in our first concert at the Auditorium Theater (50 east Congress). The historic building is run by Roosevelt University and was designed by famous Chicago architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. The building was completed in 1889 and is registered as a national and Chicago landmark.

Last week we took in the soulful folky singer Ray Lamontagne and although he was solid, the venue slightly overshadowed the crooner. The auditorium is truly a remarkable thing. The murals, architectural detail and sheer size is something to behold. For this show, Lamontagne played a stripped down concert where it was just him, a rug and a acoustic guitar. In fairness to the artist, he really does have an amazing voice, but the venue probably wasn't the most conducive to a solo performance.

In between songs, Lamontagne seemed nervous and at times awkward as he stumbled through rambling stories. We don't blame him though, the venue is pretty intimidating as there are three balconies (with the top two pretty high up and seemingly ontop of the performer). Although we weren't that high up, we've heard that it's not the best place to take in a show or performance.

Regardless, the venue was truly beautiful and classic. It has signs of deterioration, but any building that's 100+ years is going to. It also had a slight lean to the staircase, but we like to call that character.

Anyway, the Auditorium Theater has a pretty wide variety of shows (music, balet, comedy, etc) so we highly recommend checking out whatever floats your boat.

For more info on the history of the theater here is a wikipedia page on the topic.

And for those of you who like Ray Lamontagne, enjoy:

Monday, November 16, 2009

South Loop Condo Auctions Prove to be Relatively Successful

We've been following the condo auctions of Michigan Avenue Towers (1400 S. Michigan) and Motor Row Lofts (2301 S. Michigan) for a couple weeks now. This past weekend the auctions were held and they proved to be relatively successful.

The Michigan Avenue Towers auction had more units and was advertising that the starting auction prices for some units were up to 62% off the original list price. The auction came and went and overall 43 units sold for 26% off the original list price (however this doesn't include parking which is still going for $35K a spot). Although that's still a lot off the price, it sounds like the general feeling was that the developer did pretty well. According to a post on YoChicago:
I got the sense that these homes sold for more than many had expected — “The developers have to be thrilled with this,” I heard one agent say. The units sold for an average of $276 per square foot, down 26 percent from an original average of $375 per square foot. In all, sales surpassed $11.2 million.

The other auction at Motor Row, seemed to be successful as well:
The auction was well attended and resulted in the sale of 20 units (several at reserve) at prices ranging from $187,000 to $316,000. You can see more details on pricing from commenter neo at CribChatter.
Although none of this is particularly good for the neighborhood as it drives down real estate comps, at least some of the rates were higher then expected.

Groupon has Manny's Today!

We love Manny's (1141 S. Jefferson), the famous Jewish Deli, however it's a little pricey. If this is a concern for you, today is your lucky day. Groupon has a deal for Manny's where you pay $11 and get $22.

Over 1,500 people have already signed up and there is a limited quantity, so hurry up and get your groupon!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Demolition is the Word of the Moment in the Sloop

It feels like we continue to hear and read about buildings being demolished in the Sloop. A couple of months ago the Harold Ickes homes felt the wrath of the wrecking ball. Last week we read about the historic YMCA building on Michigan Avenue that might be coming down.

This week the Chicago Journal had an article about two buildings on Wabash that are owned by East-West University coming down and today two people let us know that the old Firestone garage (at the corner of Wabash and 16th) was also being demolished.

Seems like a lot of stuff is coming down in the Sloop.

Does anyone know if there are plans to build something else at the property at 16th and Wabash?

(Hat Tip: Nick D and BT!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Code of Conduct Comes to 11th Street

We recently got an email about a new place opening at 14 East 11th Street (where the old Hi Tea shop used to be). Although we're not 100% if it's open or not, it looks like they're making progress according to their facebook page.

Code of Conduct is:
an environmentally conscious high-end tattoo studio integrated with a clothing boutique located in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago, IL.

And their mission statement is:
Code of Conduct has blossomed from a shop name into a mantra that we as partners and entrepreneurs choose to abide by in both business and life. We are a team of young energetic professionals - the respect, trust and admiration we have for one another are the roots of our Code. We have chosen to take action in a time of economic uncertainty. We believe in the future of our generation and those to follow. We believe in a Code of Conduct.
They also have a twitter page and a website (that isn't very evolved yet).

(Hat Tip: JC!)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We Love Your Comments and Want Your Opinion

As Sloopin has grown we've appreciated and enjoyed reading all the comments. One of the main goals of the site is to be a forum where residents and people interested in the neighborhood can come to discuss their opinions. There have been many intelligent, thoughtful and entertaining discussions that we feel have added to the discourse within the neighborhood.

Since we wanted to encourage anyone to comment, we've had a pretty lax policy towards our 'comments' registration process. As of now anyone can post a comment anonymously. However, there have been some instances where this has been abused.

With that said, we've had some discussions, received some comments and emails from people who think there should be a more stringent policy towards commenting on Sloopin. Since the goal of the site is to encourage discussion, we thought we would open it up to the readers.

Should people be required to register if they want to comment on Sloopin?

Let us know what you think by voting on our poll on the right or commenting below. After the poll closes we will re-examine our policy based on the feedback.

Some Sad, Some Glad to See Venetian Nigth Go

Monday, November 9, 2009

A New Favorite Entree

Like most people, we like to go out around the neighborhood and try new dishes. Last week we were happily surprised when we opted for a new entree at Ma & I (1234 S. Michigan). When we've gone to the restaurant before we've gone for noodles, sushi, curries and standard Thai entrees which have mostly been solid.

This time we decided to try out the "Sear Tuna Salad" which is described on the menu as:
Seared tuna tossed with citrus soy dressing on organic salad
To be honest, this doesn't do it justice to the dish. We love ourselves some seared tuna and have tried out variations of this fish at various locations throughout the city and this was probably the second best seared tuna dish we've ever had (FYI - Catch 35 at 35 West Wacker is slightly better, but it's also nearly double the price).

Anyway, the tuna at Ma & I was very tender and practically melted in your mouth. When we've had this type of dish in the past it's typically encrusted with pepper and sesame seeds, but at Ma & I they had an interesting seasoning that gave it a different taste. The cold raw tuna coupled with the slightly spicy seasoning was different and really nice. The salad also comes with a refreshing citrus dressing that we really enjoyed. In terms of other ingredients it had a lot of avocados and grape tomatoes, which is always a plus in our book.

All in all a new favorite for us in the Sloop. At $14.95 we will be enjoying this one again!

Friday, November 6, 2009

South Loop School Tries to get Creative for Funding

The Gazette Chicago has a small article about how the South Loop Elementary School is seeking funds to offset budget shortfalls due to issues with local and state funding.

Although the idea was dropped, we liked that the school council was willing to think creative to get funding:
The South Loop Elementary School Local School Council (LCS) in September proposed leasing the school's parking lot during Chicago Bears games to raise money for the lot's upkeep during winter months.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Auctioning Off the South Loop"

The Chicago Journal has a good article about the upcoming auctions for the Motor Row Lofts (2303 S. Michigan) and Michigan Avenue Tower II (1400 S. Michigan).

The most interesting quote was in regards to people who bought before the auction was announced:
Thomas FitzGibbon, executive vice president at MB Financial Bank, said it was safe to assume the units offered Nov. 15 would be sold for less than what the developers originally hoped for.

That could help push home values down, he said, tough for those who bought “at the top of the market in a development that has suffered in sales.”

“Does that mean you overpaid? I don’t know. You may have paid the right price when you bought it,” he said.
Although we've had people tell us these auctions had nothing to do with the Olympics not coming to Chicago, we still think this was a driving factor. If an auction was inevitable, they should have done it prior to the Olympic decision as demand/speculation probably would have been greater (in our opinion).

For some of the older posts we did on this subject here are a couple links:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More on the Old YMCA Building that Might be Demolished

Last week we had a post about the possible demolition of the old YMCA building (830 S. Michigan) and today the Chicago Tribune has a nice article providing more detail about the buildings history and the current mess the building is in:
Instead of having the look of a typical charitable organization, the YWCA building was lavishly ornamented with brick and terra cotta and used to house working women newly arriving in the city, said Jim Peters, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, which placed the structure on its endangered landmarks list last year.

Now, the building is dilapidated, abandoned for at least 20 years after having been a hotel since 1929, Peters said. Although saving the integrity of the entire building seems too costly at this point, Peters and others would like to save the facade, now hidden by scaffolding, to keep with many of the surrounding historic buildings. The strip of buildings is known to some as South Michigan's "Streetwall" and encompasses buildings on Michigan between 11th Street and Randolph Street.

Recession Rocks McCormick Place

At the South end of the South Loop sits the huge McCormick place complex, home of many conventions and events. In prosperous times, this is a huge cash cow, but in this time of the recession it's hurting.

Chicago Tribune outlines their issues in this article.

(Hat Tip: Nikki D!)

Jerry Kleiner's Bar in Roosevelt Collection to Open Dec 20th

According to a metromix blog entry, Jerry Kleiner's bar/lounge that will be within the movie theater will open on December 20th. Kleiner describes the lounge as:
"It'll look like the lobby lounge of a boutique hotel," filled with comfy chairs and loveseats, with a view of the downtown skyline, he says. "It won't look like anything else I've ever done,"
The other good news is that the name of the bar won't be StarBar (as previously thought).

For those of you not familiar with Kleiner he is the mind behind some eccentric Chicago and South Loop eateries like Opera, Gioco, Marche, Red Light, Carnivale.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Two South Loop Developments Still Moving Forward?

It doesn't seem like building new condo buildings in the South Loop would be a good idea right now given the over saturation and subsequent auctions going on, but according to the Chicago Tribune a developer who has gained success from some Chinatown projects is still moving forward with two projects in the neighborhood.

See Wong, owner of the Wabash Development Group, has two properties that in or very close to the South Loop that sound like they're still moving forward. To be honest, we were under the impression his planned building at 1349 S. Wabash was off the table, but the article makes it sound like it is still moving forward (however no time frame was mentioned in the article).

The Grand Imperial Hotel at the corner of Clark and Archer (on the fringe of the South Loop depending on who you talk to) looks like a unique piece of architecture that could bring some interesting character to the neighborhood. We had a post on the development a couple of months ago which includes a video and interview of Wong. According to the Tribune article this is scheduled to break ground in 2010.

So why move forward with two new projects in the current environment? According to Wong it's because he caters to a different buyer and market:
While many builders have yielded to the recession, Wabash is thriving, says Wong, because the neighborhoods where he builds -- primarily Chinatown and Bridgeport -- serve an influx of immigrants. "There isn't an oversupply of housing here, especially of condos that cost less than $300,000," he reports.

Wabash developments that serve the Chinese-American market have units that are small by intention, says Wong. "In China, an 800-square-foot condo is a luxury condo," he explains. "So, here, this community wants small units." While his buyers do want nice finishes such as hardwood floors and granite countertops, he says, they are willing to forgo extras such as fireplaces, whirlpool tubs and balconies to minimize their home prices.
Although we're still skeptical about anything going up in the current environment, maybe Wong is right. We will continue to follow this and see if these developments actually happen.