UPTOWN — The site of a controversial Uptown apartment project is now the temporary home of neighbors and housing activists who are occupying the property in an effort to thwart the development.
With work on the project seemingly imminent, neighbors and activists are occupying the former Weiss Hospital parking lot at the corner of Wilson Avenue and Marine Drive around-the-clock in an effort to stymie the development. Weeks ago, the parking lot was cleared of cars and prepped for construction of a 314-unit apartment complex that has drawn the ire of some in the neighborhood, they said.
About a half-dozen people have spent the past three nights sleeping in tents in the parking lot. Many more are at the site during the day, with neighborhood groups offering mutual aid at the site, including free food, clothing and medical supplies.
The activists said they will remain until their demand that Weiss’ new owner buy back the parking lot is met or until they are forcibly removed.
“We’d like to see the property utilized for community needs, not another luxury high rise,” said Ronald Schupp, of Uptown. “Uptown doesn’t need any more luxury housing. Poor, elderly and homeless people are being pushed out systemically.”
The occupation comes as the developer, Lincoln Property Company, is seeking a construction crane permit to begin work on the project. The company has also applied for a permit to build the foundation of its planned apartment building. Neither permit has been issued by the city, records show.
If the permits are approved, work on the project would begin nearly two years after the development was announced to the community. A campaign against the project has been active ever since.
Lincoln Property Company won city approval last year to build a 314-unit apartment complex at 4600 N. Marine Drive, which for years has been a parking lot for Weiss Hospital.
Lincoln Property’s 12-story building would include 136 parking spaces, bike parking and a green rooftop. It will include eight affordable apartments — the minimum required of the project — under the plan approved by City Council.
To satisfy its remaining affordability requirement, Lincoln paid $3.1 million to nonprofit Sarah’s Circle for an Uptown housing development for women facing homelessness.
Weiss Hospital sold the parking lot to Lincoln Property, saying the $8 million profit would be invested into the hospital for upgrades and new services. That would be on top of other recent investments made into the community hospital, its owners at the time said.
But Weiss is now being sold to a new company, Michigan-based Resilience Healthcare. Its current owner, Pipeline Health, has pledged to reimburse Resilience $12 million, including $8 million from the parking lot sale, to be reinvested into the hospital, leaders for the current and likely new owner have said. The hospital sale has not yet closed.
Efforts to stop the development have continued despite the project being approved and the property being acquired by the developer. Now, neighbors and activists are asking Resilience to use the reimbursement from Pipeline owner to buy back the parking lot and use it for further hospital expansion.
“We’ll be out here until our demands are met or until we’re removed,” said Marc Kaplan, organizer with Northside Action For Justice.
Neighbors made this request of Resilience CEO Manoj Prasad in person at a community meeting in April. Prasad said the property sale involves Weiss’ Pipeline and the developer and the money would be better spent investing into the hospital facility.
“This is a community hospital, and that shall remain,” Prasad said at the meeting. “We are going to be here to serve the needs of the community passionately.”
The activists are occupying the parking lot and providing services to highlight the issues of gentrification and displacement they say are made worse by developments like the one at Weiss.
A clothing-mending workshop was held at the occupied site Tuesday where people could come and get clothes fixed or pick up new items. Also held Tuesday were discussions of other housing struggles across the city, a “social housing workshop” and a poetry and music session.
Some involved in the occupation are people who live in tents and under the DuSable Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown. Mutual aid and other services offered at the parking lot site seek to show the need in Uptown for resources that address homelessness, activists said.
“People are being pushed into homelessness by gentrification, by luxury developments like this, by rising rents,” said Adam Gottlieb, organizer with Chicago Union of the Homeless. “We’re talking about human beings here. Everyone deserves a place to live.”
Police came by the encampment Monday morning to ask questions but took no further action, the activists said.
Lincoln Property Company did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for Weiss Hospital confirmed the parking lot sale recently closed and that it is no longer owned by Weiss’ current owner, Pipeline Health.
“As previously reported, proceeds of the parking lot sale will be reinvested in Weiss,” Jane Brust, vice president for marketing and communications for Pipeline, said in a statement.
Proponents of the development, including Ald. James Cappleman (46th), say it will make better use of a surface parking lot on lakefront-adjacent land.
Cappleman, who voted to support the project, has said throughout that bringing housing to the neighborhood does not make existing housing less affordable. Instead, it takes pressure off that existing housing in a high-demand area.
“There’s also this assumption that more really nice units will make the other area units unaffordable,” Cappleman said on social media Monday in response to the occupation. “However, valid and reliable research states just the opposite.”
Pipeline leaders have said it has invested more than $35 million into Weiss. That includes a $12 million parking garage renovation, a $13 million medical records upgrade and a $5 million new orthopedic center.
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