It was a gloriously sunny afternoon as the Hideout's annual block party kicked off late last month. Beer was flowing, hot dogs were being grilled, and bands played into the night. But there was a touch of melancholy in the air. Some attendees were quietly murmuring that such celebrations may be coming to an end. At least at this location.
Big things are in store for the area surrounding the club near Elston and North, just west of the Chicago River. The city's already approved the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan, a massive zoning change that would transform the area along the river from Fullerton to Kinzie from manufacturing to residential, retail, and high-tech commercial. In the next few weeks, the City Council, at Mayor Emanuel's urging, is likely to approve the sale of the fleet facility just across the street from the Hideout to Sterling Bay developers for about $105 million.
Chicago is competing to land Amazon's second headquarters, and it's conceivable that this area could be the chosen site. And even if Amazon doesn't come here, some huge development deal, no doubt fueled by heaping expenditures of tax dollars, is bound to be announced in the coming months.
In most cases, rampant gentrification could be good for an establishment that happens to be in the right place at the right time. But the Hideout's thrived over the last 20 or so years in part because it's hidden amid factories, warehouses, and the fleet yard. The remote location has made it a destination, one to be sought out by an in-the-know audience; no one stumbles upon the Hideout. The club's co-owners, Tim and Katie Tuten, don't like to publicly talk about the place. But it's probably only a matter of time before rising property taxes or even an eminent domain order from the city force them to relocate.
I call this phenomenon Disposable Chicago. Sometimes it seems as though the Emanuel administration can't dispose of people, places, and things fast enough. It's an old story, one I've been covering in gentrifying neighborhoods for years. But it hits a little closer to home with the Hideout. The bar's been good to me. For the last three years, the Tutens have allowed former Reader and current ProPublica Illinois reporter Mick Dumke and me to host First Tuesdays, a monthly political talk show. What else but a funky little rock 'n' roll bar would let a journalistic misfit like me take center stage?
If the Hideout's forced out by the North Branch development plan, I'll be one of the old-timers lamenting the end of the salad days. Hell, I'm already one of those old-timers. (Don't even get me started about how much better it was to watch my beloved Bulls play at the Chicago Stadium.)
From the perspective of Mayor Emanuel, such changes are part of the city's glorious transformation into a sleek midwestern version of Silicon Valley. Of course, the people getting displaced have quite another perspective.
Far more significant than the future of one Chicago bar is the steady migration of black people out of Chicago. Between 2000 and 2010, Chicago lost about 180,000 black residents, according to census figures. And the trend continues, according to a recent study by Alden Loury, research director for the Metropolitan Planning Council. MPC's analysis of additional census data shows that Chicago has lost another 56,000 black residents since 2010. In 1980, the city had roughly 1.2 million black residents. It now has just less than 800,000.
By the MPC's calculation, roughly 60 percent of the black residents who leave Chicago are low income. "The drop in black population coincides with a number of other major transitions on the city's south and west sides," Loury recently wrote for the state politics website Reboot Illinois. This includes "an eroding job market," the "demolition of thousands of public housing units," an "explosion of foreclosure, including thousands of rental property following the recession," school closings, and "in recent years, a dramatic spike in homicides." To Loury's list I'd add Mayor Rahm's 2011 closing of mental health clinics in low-income, high-crime areas. The not-so-subtle message the mayor sent is that people who need help the most sure as hell aren't going to get it in Chicago.
While there's no direct correlation between the out-migration of black people and the possible relocation of a north-side cultural hub, the indisputable fact is that when the city goes upscale, people get priced out.
For the Hideout, the writing on the wall appeared last year, when the mayor proposed to remove the protective zoning that kept much of the area industrial or manufacturing.
Then last summer Emanuel announced he was moving the fleet yard to the old Kennedy-King College campus at 67th and Wentworth. So the north side gets the retail and residential and the south side gets the trucks.
And then last week, the city announced it had sold the fleet yard to the highest bidder. Well, actually, it was the lowest of two bidders. A Canadian-based company called the Onni Group offered about $115 million for the land—roughly $10 million more than Sterling Bay. But planning department officials said they were taking Sterling Bay's offer because it came with fewer zoning change contingencies.
The deal was set to be approved by the City Council's Committee on Housing and Real Estate during a September 25 meeting even though it wasn't on the agenda. Give Second Ward alderman Brian Hopkins credit for preventing the deal from being sent to the full council for a vote. He said the sale shouldn't be approved without a public hearing and debate, forcing a meeting about the matter that took place September 28 on DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus.
It was at that hearing that Hopkins relayed that the city told him the issue was omitted from the housing committee agenda because of a "typo." As a guy who's been known to reverse his i's and e's, I know all about typos. But forgetting to include a 335-page document in the agenda—man, that looks less like a typo and more like an attempt to conceal Mount Everest. v
Correction: Due to an editing error, this article has been amended to reflect that Second Ward alderman Brian Hopkins relayed the city's explanation that a typo was to blame for the fleet yard issue being left off the housing committee agenda.