A temporary stay of execution for Bronzeville's historic Forum building?

June 7, 2011

City bulldozers won't roll on Bronzeville's derelict Forum hall until at least next month in hopes of allowing an interested developer time to purchase the historic, 112-year-old structure from its current owner, according to the community's alderman.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd)--who said she reluctantly sought an emergency order to raze the decaying building when bricks from atop the structure came crashing down--has moved to hold off demolition until July 19, the date of a building court hearing against the Forum. In  theory, the delay would allow developer Bernard Loyd to complete purchase of the Forum and erect protective scaffolding until a reuse plan to put together. The hitch: other sources said the building's owner, Hayel Sweis, has frequently entertained selling the building--and allegedly sought as much as $1 million for it--only to pull away at the last minute for reasons unknown.

"The demo permit is ready to go," Dowell said. "If this owner is not going to sell the building, then I don't have any choice but to demolish the building." Loyd who began what he called a "low profile" effort to purchase the building at 43rd and Calumet just two weeks ago, said he can get the building scaffolded within 48 hours of signing the purchase contract and has a masonry team at the ready to make repairs.

"We are living on borrowed time," said Loyd, a 20-year Bronzeville resident and MIT graduate who is president of Urban Juncture, a company that develops commercial real estate in economically depressed areas. Loyd's company is working on a project called Bronzeville Cookin' that would bring four restaurants and a fresh produce market under one roof at 300 E. 51st St.

The fate of the Forum has been a growing concern within the community since at least the middle 1990s, when the building began its descent into disrepair. The building's age, architecture, prominence and links to Bronzeville's history makes is worthy of preservation, for some.  Dowell, who just began her second term as alderman, said she has attempted unsuccessfully throughout her first term to get the Sweis to make repairs on the building. As reported here yesterday, Dowell sought demolition of the building as a way to rid the area of a clear safety hazard. "But I really don't want to tear the building down," she said.

Loyd has seen the Forum's historic second-story hall which has been closed for decades. He described it as an open, unobstructed space made possible by a truss that supports the big pitched roof. An elevated main stage still remains as does a fireplace, a bar and a balcony that he jokingly called the "high-rollers' balcony." The space is not ornate, but the floor is in good shape. There is water damage on the walls, he said.

"It's a unique space and it could be home for any number of performance-oriented enterprises," Loyd said. "Live performance, culturally-oriented enterprises--particularly with a culinary component. This is a 'dinner-and-a-show' kind of place. It's 'dinner-and-something.' "

Loyd said saving the building also means allowing residents to help shape how the structure and others in Bronzeville will be reused. "I think with the Forum building, if we do this right, it represents an opportunity to really engage the community quite broadly around what we do with our [other] cultural assets," he said. "It's a discussion we're having in pockets, but we've not been able to do in a larger way."