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New hotel raises concern

Written by William Tolan and Chelsea Kuchik

Loyola students, community members question plans for Hampton Inn

Recent plans for a new six-story Hampton Inn in Rogers Park have become a hot topic for neighborhood residents and students alike. Students want to know when and how the hotel’s construction will affect them and the surrounding community.

The university started working with Atira Hotels in October 2013 to plan the new hotel, which will occupy the available lot on the corner of Sheridan Road and Albion Avenue.

“Our sister company had done hotel consulting in the [Rogers Park] area before and became aware of the need for a hotel in the community,” said Atira Hotels President Sanjeev Misra.

Concerns have been raised about whether or not the hotel’s workers will be unionized. During last month’s proposal meeting, UNITE HERE Local 1, a union group that represents more than 15,000 hospitality workers in Chicago, expressed unease that workers at the Hampton Inn would not be paid a fair wage.

The group expressed specific worries for employees who do some of the dirtier, more behind-the-scenes jobs in hotels and who can be taken advantage of by management at non-unionized hotels.

The new Hampton Inn hotel is expected to provide 30-50 full-time equivalent position jobs, Misra said.

Hospitality workers who work in unionized hotels have protection from harassment and intimidation, access to affordable health care and make enough to provide for their families, according to UNITE HERE Local 1 President Karen Kent.

“We are hopeful that Loyola University, as an institution committed to justice, will take responsibility for the treatment of [those] who will work at Loyola’s hotel,” said Kent.

Even though Loyola owns the land that the Hampton Inn will be built on, the university will not be managing or operating the hotel, meaning it will not be able to make any decisions addressing the concerns about unionizing workers. However, the hotel promises to pay their workers ethically.

“We pay above-market wages at all our hotels that provide a fair or living wage for all employees,” Misra said. “We are a private, local company and take care of our people.”

Atira was chosen as the partner for this project after an “extensive vetting process,” according to Loyola’s Associate Vice President Tim McGuriman.

Over the last 10 years Loyola looked into a small number of development proposals for a new hotel, said Loyola’s Director of Community Relations Summur Roberts. The proposals did not work out, primarily due to the downturn in the economy.

Initial responses to the hotel have been mixed from both Chicago and Loyola communities, with some students liking the idea of a new hotel.

“I think it would be great to have a hotel in the area because at the moment there aren’t a lot of options near campus for visiting family and friends to stay,” said Elizabeth Anthony, 21, a junior communication studies major.

The closest living accommodation for visitors is the Flats at Loyola Station, a student-run guesthouse affiliated with Loyola that only has seven available rooms. During busier times of the year, such as on weekends, summers and special events, getting a reservation at the Flats can be hard.

The second closest option, for hotels besides Evanston or downtown, is the Heart O’ Chicago Motel (5990 N. Ridge Ave.), which Expedia.com gives two out of five stars.

“The need for a hotel in this area is demonstrated by the success of the student-run Loyola Flats guesthouses and the lack of moderately priced hotels in the immediate area,” said Roberts.

Roberts added that she hopes the hotel will bring more business to Rogers Park when guests visit the university.

While Roberts said that the opportunity to expand retail and restaurant options near campus is exciting, students have also expressed concern over the trouble that future renovations can cause.

“I could see the construction causing a pretty big inconvenience,” Anthony said. “I’m not totally sure if that would be worth it.”

However, Misra said they have taken this into account.

“Traffic studies have been completed and [the Chicago Department of Transportation] has reviewed the plans,” Misra said.

The study said that traffic impact should be small and “will have a miniscule impact on current traffic volume,” according to Misra.

McGuriman said the hotel is meant to provide a new dynamic that currently does not exist near campus.

“We believe that the Rogers Park community will benefit from a hotel by providing jobs and addressing a demand that currently exists,” he said. “There are many positive impacts that the hotel will bring. We feel that this will add to the attractiveness of Loyola.”

The additional five storefronts, which are expected to be retail spaces for guests, will be located at the bottom floor of the hotel. They will be controlled and leased by the university and have Roberts feeling optimistic.

“We have the opportunity to bring in high-quality businesses that will further enhance the available restaurant and retail options near campus,” Roberts said.

Loyola, which already owns retail space on Sheridan Road, will only make money through this retail space and not through the operations of the hotel.

When making the deal, no cash transaction was made between Atira and Loyola. The university gave away the air rights so that Atira could construct the building under the condition that there would be available retail space for Loyola to operate and manage.

Atira cannot estimate when construction will begin until the company goes through the approval process, Misra said. The project still needs to meet certain approvals by the city and Alderman Joe Moore, and the final proposal has not been submitted.

The development of the Hampton Inn currently requires review under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and approval by the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council, according to Moore. Atira also must apply to the City of Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals to have permission for off-site parking.

If approved, Atira plans to open the hotel by summer 2016.

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