The team chosen to redevelop Harper Court had its first chance to present its ideas to the public last week, and got a warm welcome from more than 150 community members who turned out to get a look at the latest ideas on the table.
The City and the University announced last month that together they had chosen a team led by Vermilion Development from among three finalists — on the strength of Vermilion’s ideas, the team it had assembled and the financial strength of the proposal.
In coming weeks, the City, the University and Vermilion will sit down to begin negotiating the details of what finally gets built on the site, the timetable and the financing.
At the Feb. 8 meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Council, the developers, designers and other team members introduced themselves, and talked about their current thinking for Harper Court.
Dave Cocagne, the president and CEO of Vermilion, said the team had been assembled to reflect the unique nature of Harper Court. He explained that the project is large, is deeply rooted in community planning done to date, and must meet the combined needs of an urban neighborhood and a university community, a mix that requires special skills.
Christopher Dillion, Vermilion’s managing director, said that team’s early design work builds upon the 53rd Street Vision Workshops that took place in 2008. And many of the contemplated uses go back much further, to the early part of the 20th century.
The combined City and University properties that make up the site begin at the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue, with their boundaries zig-zagging back toward the northwest. In order to break down the scale of the project and provide crucial access to retailers, the Vermilion proposal suggests two new streets, a block long each: Harper Court would run one-way north from 53rd Street; 52nd Place would run west from Harper Court to Harper Avenue, completing the loop.
While the new one-way streets would accommodate a single lane of cars, they would be designed with extra-wide sidewalks, textured paving, plantings, fountain-like water features, benches, tables, a canopy of overhead lighting and other amenities that would make them inviting to pedestrians. A performance stage is envisioned at the corner Harper Court and 52nd Place that could turn the two new streets into festival grounds for special events, when the streets could be closed off.
“What we are really trying to do is create a sense of destination,” said Sophie Bidek of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, one of the team members. Bidek suggested that the plentiful outdoor space could be used for events like the Jazz Fest and the farmer’s market, as well as a place to relax during the regular workday.
While the architecture of the buildings is not yet settled, Dillion said that the goal is to employ the latest in sustainable technology, in everything from rooftop plantings to floor plans that maximize the natural lighting for daytime use. The designers are seeking LEED ratings from silver up to platinum, depending on the buildings.
The team also is planning to exceed city requirements for employing minority- and woman-owned business enterprises. Vermilion estimates the project would create 873 construction jobs, with more than 5 percent going to local workers. When complete, it would create an estimated 1,007 new jobs in retail, office and hospitality settings, and the team is working to partner with local job-training institutions to help residents of the mid-South Side become qualified for those jobs.
As envisioned by Vermilion, the project would be built in two phases. The first phase would cost roughly $150 million, including a 12-story office building; 146,900 square feet of retail space in a separate building and on the lower levels of the office building; and hundreds of parking spaces in a structure connected to the office and retail buildings.
During the same time period, developers project construction of a 200-room boutique hotel, with its own parking, on the site. All infrastructure improvements would be built as part of the first phase.
The second phase, estimated at $90 million, would include two midrise apartment buildings and a condominium tower on top of the parking structure. Cocagne explained that the timing of the second phase would depend on the rebound of the housing market.
He also explained that a larger than usual foundation of private equity would be used to leverage public funds, including federal stimulus money, tax increment financing through the City and other tax credits for new construction.
The hour-long presentation was followed by an hour of questions and discussion. Audience members, who came from Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Bronzeville, Kenwood and other nearby neighborhoods, returned repeatedly to the excitement of community members at the ideas Vermilion had offered. For another look at the response, read one attendee’s commentary as posted on the Hyde Park Progress blog: http://hydeparkprogress.blogspot.com/2010/02/harper-court-it-can-be-done-even-here.html.