Mayor wants to dish out $3.9 million for old transient hotel to reopen with a new purpose

Viceroy reclaimed

08/10/2011 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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The Viceroy Hotel in the West Loop has been shuttered since 2007, but is landmarked by the city.
File 2002/Staff

The building that was once the notorious Viceroy Hotel for transients will now become something quite different — a site for subsidized housing.

The developer Heartland Housing will work with the First Baptist Congregational Church to rehabilitate the now-vacant Viceroy building, at 1517-21 W. Warren Blvd., and turn it into housing for low-income residents, the homeless, and formerly incarcerated women.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel rolled out an ordinance to City Council July 28 that calls on the city’s Community Development Commission to sell the building to Heartland for $1.

The City Council will most likely approve the ordinance in September, and Michael Goldberg, executive director of Heartland Housing, said that construction should begin shortly thereafter.

“We hope to close down all the financing and start construction this October,” Goldberg said. “We are hoping for something in the range of a 14-month construction schedule.”

Besides transferring the property, the ordinance also gives Heartland $3.9 million in tax increment finance property tax revenue from the Central West TIF District. That money will cover about 25 percent of the project’s expected total cost. According to Goldberg, the majority of the funding will come from the state government in the form of low-income housing tax credits.

Heartland Housing, part of the non-profit Heartland Alliance, will then convert the building into 89 low-income studio apartments, with 18 units leased to formerly incarcerated women.

Goldberg said that the developer would work with the Chicago Housing Authority to find tenants and pay for rental subsidies.

The six-story building would include ground floor office space, as well as a ground floor coffee shop that would employ the formerly incarcerated women. Heartland Housing also plans a green roof and rain garden.

Ald. Walter Burnett, whose 27th Ward includes the Viceroy building, said that the project was originally Mayor Richard M. Daley’s. “He asked if I wanted to put in some affordable housing and redo the Viceroy Hotel and I told him I thought it would be a great idea,” Burnett said. “It’s part of the city’s 10-year plan to deal with homelessness.”

Implemented in 2003, Daley’s plan was to replace emergency homeless shelters by moving people into permanent housing and providing services to them once they were housed. Heartland has worked with Daley on several of these projects.

“We’ve been instrumental in providing supportive housing with health care and human services to homeless individuals,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said it was too early to speculate how many currently homeless citizens would be accepted for positions at the apartment.

Burnett, meanwhile, brought in the Rev. George Daniels from the First Baptist Congregational Church, located across from the Viceroy at 1613 W. Washington Blvd. “The church is very involved in the community so I told Heartland that they may want to talk to the church,” Burnett said.

Another local group involved in the project is St. Leonard’s Ministries, at 48 N. Hoyne Ave., which provides residential and job training services to the formerly incarcerated.

St. Leonard’s executive director Bob Daugherty said that the 18 units for formerly incarcerated women will go to graduates of the Grace House residential program, which provides professional counseling to women exiting the Illinois prison system.

Daugherty added that graduates of St. Leonard’s culinary arts program will work in the coffee shop.

Standing across from Union Park, the 81 year-old Viceroy Hotel has sat vacant since 2007 when the Community Development Commission shut it down. Prior to that, the Viceroy was a transient hotel known for drug dealing, prostitution, and physical decay – a community black eye that stood out even more as the area gentrified.

In 2002, Chicago Journal reporter Mandy Burrell spent a night at the Viceroy and judged it, “The most depressing place I’ve ever been.”

A “no loitering” sign is still posted in the building’s vestibule.

At the same time, the building more positively stands out for its distinctive Art Deco style — leading to its designation of city landmark status last year.

Burnett hopes that the apartments will attract near West Side residents and help to balance out a problematic aspect of gentrification. “I know the area is gentrified and the thing about a gentrified community is that they leave people behind,” Burnett said.

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By anonymous
Posted: 08/18/2011 9:47 AM

This property has long been problematic. Better it be rehabbed and occupied than left vacant and decaying. While I agree that mixed income housing is preferable for the reasons cited, developers aren\'t exactly clamoring to build on the west side in this climate at this time. Heartland has a good track record on the north side. I\'m glad they\'re doing this project.

By WeLo from West Loop
Posted: 08/17/2011 4:45 PM

Agree w/other commenters. Experience shows that communities are stronger and safer when there are mixed income, mixed use housing. This isolates low income folks and will encourage crime and drug sales. All for giving people a second chance, but so many places try that without any goals, or oversight, or community buy-in.

By west looper from west loop
Posted: 08/16/2011 9:23 PM

This is what politics is all about-give to those that will vote for you and you have nothing to worry about. This area does not need this project to go forward. The need for affordable housing is not whats being debated, its building up what we already know does not work in low income areas (housing people on top of each other), it will be a housing project all over again-crime-crime-crime. Lets get smart Ald Burnett, maybe your time has past....when are the next elections?

By Just thrilled from Near West Side
Posted: 08/15/2011 7:44 AM

Great---just what the near west side needs----more housing for former felons. The near west side is second only to the Austin neighborhood in the number of beds for half way houses. Why doesn't the city share the wealth and put some up in Lincoln Park, Lakeview or South Loop? And St. Leonards's involved, great. Aren't they the organization that let the violent rapist attacking women in Lincoln Park run around without his 'required' ankle bracelet? I would rather see the building torn down.