(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.
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.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.