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Jane Addams: Champion of the poor. Affordable housing advocate. Glitzy hotel brand?

Fans of community activist and Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams admire her legacy of advocating for the underprivileged people in Chicago and beyond.

But what they've never done is associate Addams with endorsing or fronting a commercial enterprise.

That's about to change because St. Jane Chicago — a derivative of Addams' name — will soon be the title of a rebranded Hard Rock Hotel, which is in the landmark Carbide & Carbon Building on North Michigan Avenue.

The hotel's backers say the St. Jane Chicago, which will open in 2018, will pay homage to Addams, who died in 1935.

That may be true. But leveraging off the reputation of a local historical icon, especially Addams, is a tricky and controversial proposition. So far, the St. Jane Chicago plan is off to a rocky start.

For example, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, located on the University of Illinois Chicago campus, has some trepidation about the move.

When I asked the museum's director about the project, she noted its representatives didn't reach out to the museum staff to discuss stamping their lodging business with Addams' name.

The hotel's building owner, Michigan-based Becker Ventures, is under no legal obligation to contact the museum. But a courtesy call would have been appropriate, not to mention sound community relations.

The company confirmed there was no such outreach, adding the "concept for the St. Jane Chicago has been developed independently," according to an email sent to me from Elizabeth Janis, a spokeswoman for Becker.

The museum staff wants Becker to realize the broader ramifications of attaching its hotel to Addams' star.

"Should they want to deepen their connection to the Addams legacy, perhaps they can create a new hotel model — one that champions equitable and inclusive labor practices, emphasizes public engagement and contributes regularly to causes that promote more humane living in Chicago," museum director Jennifer Scott wrote in the email.

Another, albeit smaller, wrinkle is the "saint" in "St. Jane."

Addams, who already has a stretch of local tollway named after her, was never canonized by any religion, so that title shouldn't be taken literally.

Instead, "St. Jane" is a nickname neighbors called Addams behind her back, according to American Heritage magazine, and could have been used as a compliment or a pejorative — depending on circumstances.

Then there's the incongruous nature of aligning Addams' name to such a snazzy, multimillion dollar venture in the heart of downtown Chicago.

As the Tribune reported, the St. Jane Chicago intends to fill a niche right below the city's highest-priced hotels.

Is this the most natural alliance for Addams, who ferociously fought with Chicago's powers that be to build affordable housing and other residential accommodations for the West Side's urban poor during the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

Becker Ventures stresses the hotel is not named after Addams but in her honor. It intends to play an active philanthropic role in the community and the hotel will commit a percentage of revenue to "locally rooted charitable causes," said Janis, the company spokeswoman, in her email.

The company will make St. Jane Chicago a meeting ground and a place for "Chicagoans and travelers alike to revel, debate, dine and commune," she added.

Press materials boast of St. Jane Chicago's guest rooms having "breathtaking views and beautiful furnishings" along with a full-service restaurant, market cafe and cocktail bar.

Sounds promising.

But is it really the type of place Jane Addams would want using her name?

roreed@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @reedtribbiz

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