News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Hyde Park Native Foods off to a strong start, planning April specials

Since opening at Harper Court two weeks ago, vegan restaurant Native Foods Café has gotten a welcome reception from Hyde Park, with sales about 20 percent stronger than expected, according to one of the restaurant's owners.

“Our first two weeks have been great, which we didn’t expect since (University of Chicago) students are on spring break,” said Andrea McGinty, co-owner of the Chicago-based restaurant chain.

McGinty said the eatery at 1518 E.  Harper Court is seeing a “very high level of takeouts” driven by dinner orders. However, in recent days, more customers have been stopping in for lunch and dining in.

Native Foods’ menu is 100 percent plant-based, includes gluten-free options, and is updated seasonally. Best-selling menu items in Hyde Park so far include the “Rockin’ Morracan Bowl,” “Native Nachos,” and “Native Chicken,” according to McGinty. The restaurant also features “Native Community Days” twice a month, where sales proceeds go to support local non-profit organizations that focus on animal rescue, educating kids about obesity, or community gardens.

“A lot of people were ready for a place like this,” said Jose Perez, a manager at the location. He added that many Hyde Park customers had previously frequented the Native Foods location in the Loop, where he was an assistant manager before the Hyde Park outlet opened on March 11.

The new restaurant is on the first level of the Harper Court complex, just south of the Hyatt Place hotel. Perez notes that the address is on a new street that was created as part of the redevelopment of Harper Court, so some people have had trouble finding it and it does not show up on GPS systems. He advises people who call to use the intersection of 53rd and Lake Park Avenue for navigation.

To draw customers, restaurant employees have been visiting other businesses on 53rd Street and giving away gift cards for $5 to $10. Current gift cards are good through March 31.

Starting in April, the restaurant will have two new offerings that it hopes will bring in even more customers. Customers interested in recreating the restaurant’s meals will be able to purchase a new cookbook called Native Foods Celebration Cookbook at the location. And on April 11, 12 and 13, the store will offer a new special menu item, the Crispy Avocado Crunch Wrap, which features avocado battered in coconut. The dish will be available for only three days and is part of a monthly promotion of special meals.

Native Foods is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

 

The Crispy Avocado Crunch Wrap will be available April 11, 12, and 13.
Native Foods' cookbook is for sale in stores.

Mobil gas station demolition underway

Demolition of the Mobil gas station and car wash at 1330 E. 53rd Street began this week and is expected to be complete by the end of next week, according to Mesa Development.

Mesa, the developer for the Vue53 rental apartment and retail project set for the site, said impact to surrounding neighbors is expected to be minimal.

“We are excited to see Vue53 progressing, and we look forward to the many benefits the project will bring to the Hyde Park area, including new jobs, market rate and affordable housing, and new retail options,” said James Hanson, a principal for Mesa Development.

Vue53 will include 267 rental apartments, including some affordable housing; up to six ground-floor retailers; and 230 indoor parking spaces, and a variety of amenities for residents of the building.

Crews began demolition of the Mobil gas station and car wash on March 18, 2014.

UChicago seeking a buyer for Harper Court

The University of Chicago has listed the 12-story Harper Court complex for sale and said it plans to lease back all of the office and retail space when it finds a buyer.

Harper Court opened in November 2013, after a multi-year redevelopment project designed to bring new amenities to Hyde Park and create economic opportunities for the surrounding area. The University first announced plans to sell the property shortly after it purchased it from the developer, CJUF III Harper Court LLC, in November.

“This project is the result of many years of planning and input from members of the community about the kinds of retail they wanted to see in the neighborhood, and we are looking for a new owner that will be committed to Harper Court for the long-term,” said James Hennessy, Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate Operations for the University.

Harper Court includes 224,000 square feet of office, retail and parking space. As part of a purchase deal, the University would sign a 20-year master lease for the office and retail portion and would continue to work with its leasing agent to identify retail tenants for the remaining spaces in the building. Harper Court is currently 93.6% leased.

The University exercised an option to purchase the project from the developer for $98 million, with the intention of maintaining goals set for the project through its partnership with the city and local community. Harper Court grew out of community visioning workshops held in 2008 that led the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago to contribute land and other resources to redevelop a former shopping center. The University committed to a 20-year lease of the office tower to help attract developers to bid on the project during the height of the global financial crisis, which made financing large real estate projects nearly impossible. Late last year, UChicago relocated about 550 employees to the building.

To date, the University has invested more than $30 million in Harper Court, including acquiring land for redevelopment and building out the office space. It also provided a $21.5 million loan guarantee for construction of the new Hyatt Place hotel, which is adjacent to the office tower and was part of the phase one construction for Harper Court. The Hyatt Place is owned by Smart Hotels and is not up for sale.

Harper Court is part of a larger effort led by the University to redevelop the 53rd Street commercial corridor. The University has made significant investments to renovate a number of other buildings on 53rd Street since 2011, helping to attract 23 new businesses to Hyde Park.

“From the beginning, Harper Court helped boost interest from prospective tenants and is now providing increased foot traffic to support the surrounding businesses,” Hennessy said. “We’re confident that it will be a good investment for the right buyer and continue to be an important center for the community.”

As current owner of the project, the University pays property taxes that contribute to the 53rd Street TIF district. It will continue to contribute to tax revenues as anchor tenant after the building is sold.

Harper Court is listed for sale with commercial real estate firm CBRE Group.

Renovation of Harper Theater Receives Two Preservation Awards

By Katherine Steward

In 2008, a vacant and rundown Harper Theater Building complex was placed on Landmark Illinois’ watch list for endangered buildings. This month, the complex will receive the second of two recent awards for a renovation project that has brought the historic buildings on the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper back into use.

The Hyde Park Historical Society recently named the University of Chicago as recipient of the 2014 Marian and Leon Despres Preservation Award for its renovation of the Harper Theater Building complex. The award, which recognizes “outstanding achievements in the preservation of Hyde Park's architectural heritage,” will be given at the Historical Society’s annual dinner on February 22. In October 2013, the renovation project received Landmarks Illinois’ prestigious Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award in the rehabilitation category, which honors work that allows for continued use of a historic site.

The University purchased the buildings in 2002 and, as part of broader redevelopment efforts on 53rd Street, undertook a major renovation in 2008.

“Early on, we recognized the architectural heritage of the property and the historical significance of the buildings as a gathering place for the community, and we wanted to restore that,” said James Hennessy, associate vice president for Commercial Real Estate Operations at the University of Chicago. “We are delighted to receive these awards on behalf of the many individuals and organizations that contributed to re-opening the buildings for community use—from local aldermen and community leaders who supported the effort, to the artisans who completed the renovation work and the tenants who committed to lease space in the buildings.”

Designed by architect Horatio Wilson, the Harper Theater Building opened in 1914. The theater space was a 1,200-seat vaudeville house, which was converted to a movie theater in the 1930s. The movie theater closed in 2002 and the building sat vacant for more than a decade before it was renovated and reopened in January 2013. Renovations on the buildings included restoring the external façade and installing a replica of the theater’s original marquee.

The Harper Theater complex now houses the four-screen Harper Theater, Hyde Park’s only first-run movie theater; A10, an upscale Italian restaurant by chef Matthias Merges; and the Chicago Innovation Exchange, which is under construction and expected to open by the end of the year.

In a press release announcing the statewide Driehaus Award recipients, Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald noted, “This year’s winners of a Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award demonstrate that preservation is not only a tool to rejuvenate a vacant building, but a key revitalization strategy for business, government, and community purposes.”

The Hyde Park Historical Society bestows the Marian and Leon Despres Award in honor of the late Chicago alderman and activist Leon Despres and his wife. Leon Despres was a 1927 graduate of the College at the University of Chicago and a 1929 graduate of the Law School.

 

 

The front exterior of the renovated Harper Theater Building; Photo Credit: Mary Plasman

UChicago welcomes returning students with First Friday event January 10th

The University of Chicago's Campus and Student Life and the College have organized a new event to welcome students back to Hyde Park after the winter break -- First Friday Night on 53rd Street. UChicago students can present their University IDs for lots of freebies, discounts and fun.

The event will run tomorrow evening, January 10, until midnight.

 

Yusho Hyde Park is moving forward

Chef Matthias Merges, owner of the new Hyde Park restaurant A10, said he is moving forward with plans to open a second restaurant in the neighborhood, the Japanese-inspired Yusho Hyde Park, at 1301 E. 53rd Street.

Merges anticipates a summer 2014 opening for Yusho and said future customers can expect “great hospitality and great cuisine” at the restaurant, a Hyde Park version of his successful Yusho concept in the Avondale neighborhood.

A recent court ruling cleared the way for Yusho Hyde Park to serve alcohol at 1301 E. 53rd Street, which had previously been part of a dry precinct. Last month, a lawsuit challenging a petition signed by local residents to un-dry the precinct was dismissed with prejudice, and the Circuit Court of Cook County deemed the petition valid.

"I’m here for the long haul. I believe in Hyde Park and what it has to offer,” Merges said. The chef added that construction of the restaurant needs to be completed and that he has to obtain a permit and a liquor license from the city of Chicago.

James Hennessy, Associate Vice President for Commercial Real Estate at the University of Chicago, said the University is pleased to be able to bring Yusho Hyde Park to the neighborhood.

“The success of A10 so far, as well as local support of plans for Yusho, shows that the community has an appetite for new dining options, and we look forward to seeing Yusho open soon,” Hennessy said. “Having a second restaurant by Matthias Merges, an award-winning chef, will further complement everything 53rd Street and the Hyde Park neighborhood have to offer.

Merges opened A10 in November at 1462 E. 53rd Street—next door to the Harper Theater, which opened in early 2013, and across the street from the Hyatt Place hotel, which opened in September 2013. A10 is open for lunch and dinner.

Experience 53rd Street Map and Listings

Ads promoting 53rd Street businesses have appeared in the Hyde Park Herald this month -- with a list of dining, entertainment, shopping, and lodging locations in the commercial corridor.

UChicago Letter to the Editor regarding Harper Court

Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago, submitted the following letter to the editor of the Hyde Park Herald:

 

To the Editor:

In recent days, some discussion has arisen about Harper Court that would benefit from a clearer recollection of the project’s history and the role that tax increment financing played in making it possible.

For years, Hyde Park residents had asked for amenities the market was unwilling to provide. In 2008, at the request of the City of Chicago, the University of Chicago purchased the old Harper Court and agreed to work with the community, leading a public-private partnership that would bring new retail activity and new economic opportunity to the neighborhood. In the face of a global financial crisis that put a halt to projects in Chicago and across the nation, Harper Court moved ahead to a successful opening only through extraordinary efforts from the university, the city, the community and the private developers. Among the university’s contributions were the donation of a property that had cost the university $10 million, the university’s credit rating, and years of time and expertise from staff and outside professionals, worth millions more.

Another critical contribution came through tax increment financing. TIF districts capture additional real estate taxes generated by new development, beyond existing real estate taxes, to catalyze economic development in underserved neighborhoods — exactly what has happened at Harper Court. Through the 53rd Street TIF district, the city invested $2 million to help launch Harper Court. The promise of $17.5 million in new real estate taxes generated by the new development allowed the developer to obtain financing critical to the project. The real estate taxes paid by the university and the retail stores will repay the TIF investment by the city. Without this public-private partnership, the developers would not have had the financing to move forward, and Harper Court never would have been launched.

Last month, the University of Chicago exercised an option to purchase Harper Court, to assure that the development will continue to support a balance of quality national, regional and locally owned businesses, consistent with community values and the vision articulated by neighbors through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, visioning workshops and other planning processes. Rather than claiming exemption from property taxes, the university committed to pay full market rate real estate taxes through 2024, when the 53rd Street TIF district expires. After that, the expanded tax base will remain, generating new support for schools and city services. In the meantime, Harper Court’s success has catalyzed new businesses nearby that are already providing additional support to schools and city services through their ongoing tax payments.

The university has invested a great deal in Harper Court and 53rd Street to help attract amenities, create jobs and support new business opportunities. As neighbors, we are committed to seeing Hyde Park flourish, now and in the future. But this represents only a small part of our engagement and investment in the community. Take public schooling: the university operates four standout charter school campuses on the city’s South Side serving 1,800 students and provides enrichment programs for more than 900 high school and middle school students. At the same time, more than 400 U. of C. students volunteered with Chicago school students last year, donating more than 35,000 hours last year as teaching assistants and support staff at more than 50 partner sites. UChicago Promise helped 1,100 local high school students apply for college, waived $89,000 in application fees for students from Chicago and committed to replacing more than $2.2 million in loans with grants for Chicago undergraduates who qualify for financial aid. Along with police protection, transportation, medical care, cultural opportunities, job training and much more, this is an important part of our civic engagement mission, and a significant mutual benefit that comes from the partnership between a great urban research university and a great city.

Derek Douglas
Vice President for Civic Engagement
University of Chicago

 

Read the letter in the December 11 issue of the Hyde Park Herald here.