Dear editor:

The Reader’s article of July 7 [The Works] and Rita Bell’s letter to the editor on July 21, about Loyola’s grants to repair the architecturally significant Skyscraper Building at the gateway to Chicago’s Rogers Park, illustrate both an animosity toward Catholics in general and a complete ignorance about the nature of intelligent urban planning.

Yes, Loyola is a religiously oriented institution. But they are also one of the top ten employers in the Chicago area and an institution of a quality that stands as a bulwark against neighborhood decline. Loyola’s Maywood medical center is one of the few remaining trauma centers in the Chicago area, because Loyola has a fundamental commitment to community–something you won’t find from purely commercial enterprises. In the mid-1990s Loyola paid a great deal of money out of their own pocket to refurbish the streetscape on Sheridan Road between Devon and Albion avenues in Rogers Park. Loyola offers its professors and employees benefits to seek housing within walking distance of campus–a program that stabilizes the neighborhood and its property values while easing the burden on traffic congestion and radical neighborhood change. And Loyola provides additional security patrols in the surrounding neighborhood that include a joint Chicago Police Department and Loyola security office on Granville Avenue.

Meanwhile, the University of Chicago and Northwestern–nonprofit organizations that have had various levels of religious involvement in their history–have received outlandish benefits from the state that include waivers to build territory into Lake Michigan. Loyola was denied in applications for similar waivers. In fact, Loyola is the only lakefront university that has been threatened with having their lakefront access eliminated for a bike path and park project. And these proposed projects in the wake of Loyola’s application to expand into the lake violated every single one of the environmental conditions for which Loyola’s lakefront expansion application was denied.

Compare the $8 million grant to Loyola (for the primary purpose of restoring an historic art deco high-rise building) that provoked hysterical outrage by the author of the Reader article and one of its misled readers to the tens of millions given by the state to private corporations like Sears and Motorola that have moved their headquarters from accessible locales to the farthest reaches of the metropolitan area. Please tell me how those purely commercial enterprises with no apparent commitment to their neighborhood, the city, the state, or anything else besides their bottom line has any more legitimate claim on state grants than what Loyola recently received.

I am not Catholic, but I am a proud Loyola graduate and former employee. I have a master’s degree in urban planning and live in the Loyola area partly because I realize what a beneficial force they are to the stability, prosperity, safety, and diversity of the neighborhood. As an urban planner, I think Loyola’s contribution to the state of Illinois compares favorably to any public, private, or religious institution in the 188-year history of this state.

John C. Thomas

Director of public relations, East-West University