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Marina City Board Promises Never to Support Landmark Status

(Photo: Does this look like a landmark to you? If you’re a Marina City condo board member, better keep that answer to yourself. Credit: Looper’s flickr photostream.)

The Marina Towers Condominium Association signed a little-known but publicly available legal agreement in 2003 promising never to seek or support landmark status for Marina City.

Who knew?

Apparently, not preservation champions Landmarks Illinois and Docomomo Midwest, who, on December 7, recommended such a designation to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. In fact, according to local architecture blogger Lynn Becker, who discussed the recommendation earlier this month, Marina City meets all seven criteria for being designated a local landmark.

So why did the Marina Towers Condominium Association enter into a 2003 agreement with the commercial interests who share the block-sized property–notably including the House of Blues–to turn its back on landmarking Bertrand Goldberg’s twin-towered icons of mid-century modernism?

The 132-page legal agreement, publicly available from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds website as document no. 0310503013 (“Second Amended and Restated Operating Agreement Among Marina City Hotel Enterprises, Marina Towers Condominium Association, and HOB Marina City Partners”), holds few clues, but it does have some other surprises.

Consider page 47, section 14.4:

“14.4 Political Covenant.

The MTCA for itself, and for any successor, covenants that it will not initiate, enact, endorse or in any way give support to or voice support for any action which (a) seeks to have the Complex or any portion thereof designated as a landmark; (b) seeks to have the precinct in which the Complex is located voted “dry”; (c) opposes, or challenges or seeks the revocation of any liquor license issued or to be issued or renewed to (i) the House of Blues Owner (or any Affiliate) or Occupant of the House of Blues or (ii) the Hotel (or any Affiliate) or operator of the Hotel or (iii) any Occupant of any commercial space in the Hotel/Commercial Property; or (d) seeks to have the Marina City Complex’s current zoning changed. Moreover, at the request of either the Hotel/Commercial Owner or the House of Blues Owner, the MTCA shall issue a letter, addressed to any potential Commercial Space tenant as either the Hotel/Commercial Owner or the House of Blues Owner identifies, expressly restating and reconfirming the foregoing covenant and affirming the MTCA’s continuing adherence thereto.”

Get that, folks? A covenant binding the condo board and its successors in perpetuity? One that the condo board is required to affirm, in writing, upon the request of the commercial owners? On the face of it, an odd agreement.

Wouldn’t residents benefit from increased property values that a landmark designation would almost surely generate? How about if the ever-present drunken rowdiness from House of Blues revelers finally got to be too much, and residents wanted to seek relief by requesting State authorities to suspend the HOB liquor license? Why would a condo board sign away what would seem to be options potentially beneficial to the owners that it represents?

Perhaps the price of peace between Marina City residents and the commercial interests who own everything from the 19th floor down–including the only access routes into the condominium towers–is for Marina City residents to shut up and keep smiling.

I wonder what kind of pressure was brought to bear on the Marina Towers Condominium Association in order for it to sign a “Political Agreement” like that. And I wonder why no one seems to knows about it. And if pressure really was brought to bear, then, at least for once, I truly feel sorry for the board. I’m sure lots of money and lots of time when into drafting the agreement. But no signatory comes away happy from entering into an agreement like that.

Well, maybe one does. But, sadly, not the one that represents the 1,300 people who live here.

Landmark lovers, if you’ve been asking yourselves lately why Marina City, itself, hasn’t been officially keen on landmark status, now you know. As far as why such demands were placed upon or agreed to by the MTCA, as a Marina City resident, I’d sure like to know the answer to that, myself.

Wouldn’t you?

Categories: Architecture Marina City

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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5 replies

  1. I know you’ll think I’m nuts, but the paint on the HOB Hotel doesn’t bother me that much. I am more offended by the crappy conditions of the lobbies inside the towers.

    I am all for whatever makes the building worth more on every level. Historically, financially and
    architecturally. But it must be balanced with the real repairs that the building needs, not just for historical purposes. This board has driven our financial condition into the ground, so they must repair that first.

    I do wish there was better communication so that renters would know what is going on in Board meetings, but I guess there are limits as far as imformation dissemination goes when the financial risk of owning is not a part of living here.

  2. I’m sure it becomes more difficult to own when it is a landmark, but at the same time it prevents shoddy restorations and horrible changes like painting over the HOB building.

  3. Hi Mike,

    The agreement was discussed in open board meetings with owners present. I was told by board members of that era that the agreement was in the works for 5 years. The condo lawyer at the time was draining the board for fees and as soon as they got new representation, he was able to hammer out an agreement that essentially saved them from bankruptcy. I was told it was a very complicated process and the only real solution to the problems of the building at the time.

    I believe you’ve received e-mails from a former board member that hopefully cleared up the reasons why this agreement was put in place.

    The agreement does not prevent owners or others from trying to achieve landmark status, but I don’t really think the commercial (majority owners) folks will ever allow it to happen.

    I absolutely respect the opinions of those who want landmark status. God knows, the building is iconic, but as an owner there can be many unwanted financial burdens that come with it.
    Changes that cannot be made. Restorations become much more expensive, etc.

    Thanks. Happy Holidays

  4. Uhh… I know that I know nothing of contract law, or real-estate law but doesn’t the lack of landmark status leave the building (which stands on PRIME property) open to the possibiliy of being purchased and God forbid, torn down? Doesn’t ladmark status protect such architectural wonders like Marina Towers from things like that?

  5. Wow! Seems like a betrayal of the longer-term interest of the owners. These towers clearly deserve landmark status.