A proposal to build a "straight-friendly" hotel in the heart of Boystown drew both sharp criticism and high praise at a community meeting April 11.
More than 70 Lakeview residents, business owners and LGBT community leaders convened at the Lakeview Triangle Neighbors Association meeting at the Dist. 19 police station to hear details on The Out Chicago, a proposed LGBT hotel.
Ian Reisner of Parkview Developers in New York laid out his plans for a gleaming white 10-story boutique hotel, sandwiched between Minibar and Sidetrack on Halsted Street. The hotel is modeled after Reisner's successful hotel, The Out NYC.
He argued that the Chicago hotel would restore vitality to the Halsted strip without adding to the neighborhood's traffic.
"Boystown needs to be cemented and re-cemented as the epicenter of gay life in Chicago and for that matter, as I like to say 'straight-friendly,'" Reisner said.
The four-star facility will include a spa, gym, conference/meeting spaces, a restaurant, a rooftop bar and lounge, and an enclosed courtyard. Reisner said the hotel will house between 100-112 rooms. The building plan is for a nine-story hotel, with a 10th capping off the top but set back from the street.
Reisner said he originally intended to build a 12-story hotel but brought the height down in response to resident concerns.
The hotel lobby would link to Sidetrack while Minibar would be subsumed by the hotel as a hotel bar and cabaret space.
Reisner said he is in talks with Chef Art Smith, known for his years cooking for Oprah Winfrey, about the hotel's restaurant, KTCHN. Most of the restaurant's customers will be from outside the hotel, Reisner said.
Area residents will have access to the gym and other facilities at a discount.
Reisner said the $30 million project will bring more than 100 jobs to the neighborhood, including management positions. He also intends to feature local art, host fashion shows and performances and hold community events.
Reisner pitched the project as an opportunity to liven up the neighborhood.
"I've spent a lot of time in Boystown, and more than two-thirds of the week, it's really quiet," he said. "By having an active resort hotel on the street, you bring vibrancy. You bring people there 24/7, coming and going. You bring people who can eat and drink and shop throughout the community."
But that influx of people did not sit well with a handful of residents, who said they worried that the building would draw too much traffic and block sunlight.
"We have nice bright windows. They're going to be gone with a building that size right behind us," said one resident.
Reisner said he would complete an air and sunlight study for concerned residents. And he argued that a 100-room hotel would not contribute to neighborhood congestion. Most guests will travel via CTA and taxi, he said, adding that 100 rooms would mean about one additional person coming and leaving the building every 15 minutes.
Among the hotel's most vocal supporters were local bar owners, who said that they have been struggling to draw crowds they did before the recession hit.
Stu Zirin, owner of Minibar, said he strongly supports the proposed hotel, even though it will mean giving up his business. He noted recent closures like Circuit, Cocktail and Buck's Saloon in recent months.
"This is an amazing project that's coming to the street," he said. "We do it as nobody else does. Now, could [Reisner] shrink the building? He could shrink the building…That's not what we do. That's not the style that we have….We're bringing change. We're bringing opportunity."
Alderman Tom Tunney's chief of staff, Bennett Lawson, said that a 44th Ward plan identified a need for hotels in the area.
Reisner said he was open to revisions. He said the community meeting would not be the last on the project.