News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

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Mesa presents revised plan to TIF Advisory Council

Mesa Development, LLC, the Chicago-based firm that is leading redevelopment of the site at 1330 E. 53rd Street, presented revised plans for its Vue53 project at last night’s 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council meeting at Kenwood Academy. Vue53 would replace a Mobil gas station and car wash currently on the site.

Mesa first presented plans for a mixed-use building with upscale rental housing and ground-floor retail at the TIF Council meeting in January this year. James Hanson, a principal with Mesa, said the firm adjusted its plans based on community feedback from that meeting and other discussions with local organizations and individual community members.

Among the changes made to the project, Mesa said it increased the amount of affordable housing that would be available, reduced the building height from 14 to 13 floors, added residential units on the second and third floors to screen parking, increased the number of parking spaces from 218 to 230, and moved the building’s loading dock away from Kenwood Avenue to reduce impact on residences on that street.

Hanson noted that Mesa engaged an independent third-party traffic consultancy, KLOA, to determine the impact the project would have on traffic and parking in the area. KLOA projected the impact would be minimal. Because the traffic study was conducted before Mesa increased the parking spaces from 218 to 230, Hanson explained that the ratio of parking spaces to rental units in the building would be even higher than referenced in the report. Read the traffic and parking study here.

Mesa also distributed a set of Frequently Asked Questions to address some of the most common questions the firm has heard from members of the community. For more information, view the FAQs and Mesa’s full presentation.

Note: To clarify points made at the TIF meeting, Mesa Development revised questions 8 and 14 in the Frequently Asked Questions.

Mesa shares name and benefits of proposed project

Late last week, posters in the windows of some 53rd Street businesses revealed the name of the proposed project that would replace the Mobil gas station and car wash at 1330 E. 53rd Street: Vue53.

The posters, from Mesa Development, LLC, the firm leading redevelopment of the site, also touted the project’s expected benefits to the community, including 300 new construction jobs, new affordable housing in the neighborhood, new retail options, and an estimated $7.7 million in additional revenue to the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing district. Some local residents also began receiving postcards in the mail with similar details, asking for support of economic growth in Hyde Park.

For more information, download a copy of the poster and postcard.

Akira gets new sign

53rd Street patrons may have observed a small but notable change in the retail corridor this past week: Akira’s new sign. Die-hard fans of the Chicago-based fashion boutique know the simple but sleek bold lettering that is the store’s trademark. Akira opened last November at 1539 E. 53rd Street, and the sign was installed on the east wall of the building last week.

On the south end of the building, work continues on the space that will house the new Promontory restaurant and concert venue, which are set to open in the coming months. A CorePower Yoga studio also will open in the space above Akira this year.

Multiple impacts of redevelopment

Did you know that ongoing redevelopment efforts on 53rd Street are creating an estimated 1,320 new jobs? Or that the new apartment building proposed by Mesa Development would add about $7.7 million in additional increment to the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing district – while using no public tax dollars to build?

You can read more about these positive economic impacts – and many of the new and existing businesses that are making Hyde Park and 53rd Street a growing destination for shopping and dining – in two flyers recently distributed by supporters of redevelopment. Download them here:

KAM congregation extends spring gala to 53rd Street

If you’re looking for a way to enjoy a “night on the town” in Hyde Park, you could certainly find it next Saturday, April 27. It is set to be an evening to look back on history and look forward to things to come. 

New and upcoming offerings on 53rd Street will be on display as Harper Theater holds a private showing of 42, the new film detailing Jackie Robinson’s story as the integrator of American baseball, and chef Matthias Merges (of Charlie Trotter’s fame) previews the fare of his new bistro restaurant coming to Hyde Park. Merges is set to open the yet-to-be-named restaurant, along with Yusho Hyde Park, as part of redevelopment on 53rd Street.

Adding to the excitement, Jonathan Eig, the New York Times best-selling author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season, will discuss baseball in the early 20th century.

The evening’s line-up has been put together as part of KAM Isaiah Israel’s Spring Gala fundraiser. KAM is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Midwest and a longtime presence in Hyde Park. Tickets start at $125 per person and the event starts at 6 p.m. For more information visit the event’s website here.

Results of Community Survey

In mid-January, the South East Chicago Commission, with support from the University of Chicago, surveyed residents of Hyde Park and Kenwood about their views on 53rd Street redevelopment. The survey, which was conducted by phone, was intended to include the voices of more community members in the conversations about redevelopment that have taken place largely in community meetings and visioning workshops since late 2007.

To read a summary of the survey findings from Anzalone Liszt Research, which conducted the survey, download it here.

Now Playing at Harper Theater: 53rd Street

The Harper Theater recently added a new trailer to its lineup of preview clips: a promo inviting moviegoers to explore 53rd Street.

The 77-second video highlights retail, dining, and entertainment options—including newcomers such as Akira, Clarke’s and Kilwins, as well as longtime 53rd Street businesses such as Mellow Yellow, Chant, and Freehling Pots and Pans. The clip also previews CorePower Yoga, Hyatt Place hotel, and new restaurants by award-winning chef Matthias Merges, which are expected to open later this year.

"Chef of the Year" shares plans for 53rd Street

Chicago restaurateur Matthias Merges, who plans to open two new restaurants in Hyde Park this year, was recently named Chef of the Year at the 2013 Jean Banchet Awards—a high honor in the restaurant industry. Merges, who owns the popular Logan Square eatery Yusho, also told the Eater blog that one of his new spots will be called Yusho Hyde Park and that the other would feature cuisines from Northern Italy, Southern France and the Alps. That restaurant has not yet been named.

Read more about Merges award and his plans for 53rd Street on the Eater blog.

Proposed redevelopment of Mobil site on agenda for Jan. 30 TIF meeting

Representatives from the University of Chicago and Mesa Development LLC will present a plan to redevelop a parcel of land at 1330 E. 53rd Street at the next meeting of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m.

The site on the west end of the commercial corridor currently houses a Mobil gas station, a car wash and a vacant lot. The proposed mixed-use project would enhance the vibrancy of the corridor by linking new development at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue with existing retail near Kimbark Plaza, creating a continual retail presence that will encourage a positive and interactive pedestrian experience.

Redevelopment of the site was among the topics of discussion at an April 2012 visioning workshop, where members of the community provided input on what they would like to see there. That input was summarized in a Visioning Report released in October 2012.

The TIF Council meeting will be held at Kenwood Academy in the Little Theatre and will begin at 7 p.m. Other topics on the agenda include the City Hyde Park project, Enterprise Zone, a Special Service Area for 53rd Street and the possible re-opening of Harper Avenue.

Members of the community are welcome to attend the meeting.

Harper Theater opens this weekend

The newly renovated Harper Theater will open for business this weekend, bringing first-run movies back to Hyde Park for the first time in about 10 years.

Starting Friday, Jan. 18, the four-screen theater will feature the films Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. The box office will open at 8 a.m., and the first show time will be 11 a.m., for Silver Linings Playbook.

The Harper Theater website began selling tickets online Wednesday of this week and “had sold more than 60 within the first few hours of posting,” said Tony Fox, owner of the New 400 Theaters, the company that is operating Harper Theater.

The theater, at 5238 S. Harper Avenue just off 53rd Street, includes a café that will offer a variety of food and beverage items from Chicago-based providers, including croissants from Hyde Park’s Medici café, cupcakes from the Brown Sugar Bakery in Greater Grand Crossing, and coffee drinks from North Side roaster Metropolis Coffee. The café will be open daily from 8 a.m. until the last show time.

“We want the theater to be a central place for culture and family time in the community – from date nights and family outings to a place to enjoy a great cup of coffee or a sandwich,” Fox said, adding that show times for matinees may be adjusted based on demand.

Movie ticket prices are $8 for adults, $7 for students and $6 for seniors, children and matinee shows. Fox said the New 400 plans to give away movie posters to customers who come out for the theater’s first day.

The theater opening returns a historic Hyde Park building to use. The Harper Theater building was first issued a permit in 1913. The University of Chicago, which purchased the building in 2002, announced in February 2011 that it planned to renovate and re-open the theater with the New 400 as operator. Prior to that, the building had been unoccupied for more than a decade.

The re-opening of Harper Theater also is part of a broader redevelopment effort in Hyde Park’s 53rd Street retail corridor. Development activity began with the November 2011 groundbreaking for Harper Court and has included the recent openings of new businesses such as Akira, Kilwins, Clarke’s and Five Guys.

Community Discussion on 53rd Street Continues

This month, the South East Chicago Commission in partnership with the University of Chicago will conduct phone surveys and host informal meetings to continue gathering community input on the ongoing development on 53rd Street. These steps follow visioning workshops that have already helped shape the redevelopment of Harper Court and generated ideas for future development.

The upcoming discussions will lay the groundwork for a public meeting to discuss plans for developing a parcel of land that is now the site of a Mobil station and surface lots. The University of Chicago and 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns plan to announce a date for the public meeting in the coming days. Read more on the SECC website.

Kilwins to debut sweet offerings on 53rd Street this weekend

Hyde Parker Jackie Jackson says she expects to open her new Kilwins Chocolate, Fudge and Ice Cream shop in the 53rd Street retail corridor by December 8. The store, located at 5226 S. Harper Avenue, will offer hand-crafted chocolates, truffles, hot apple cider, hot chocolate (made from real chocolate), cappuccinos, and other warm treats, alongside gourmet ice cream and candy.

The Hyde Park shop will be only the second Kilwins in the Chicago area. “We think this location is going to be great,” said Jackson, who co-owns the business with her fiancé, Kenneth Faulkner, and has operated the Kilwins in the Old Town neighborhood since 2008. “As Hyde Park residents, we’re especially excited to be opening here.”

To honor the community, the Hyde Park Kilwins will offer a new ice cream flavor called Hyde Park Mud, a combination of creamy vanilla ice cream, caramel swirls and chocolate chips. Customers will be able to enjoy free Wi-Fi, large-screen TVs, and seating for up to 30 people. Jackson and Faulkner also plan to make the new store a site for social gatherings, with events like open-mic poetry, “Jazz and Java,” birthday parties and fudge demonstrations. They hope to partner with local churches, schools and other organizations that might want to use Kilwins products for fundraising.

Ice Cream & Treats

Jackson and Faulkner have hired new employees for the store and expects to have 16 employees during peak seasons. She says they “will be working like little Santa’s elves” to get everything ready for a first day of business this Saturday. While she is planning a grand opening event for December 21 (with prizes, photo ops with Kilwin the Moose, and a chance to win free fudge for a year), she wants to be sure the store is open in time to allow customers to order customized gift baskets for the holidays.

Regular store hours will be 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. Monday – Friday, and 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. However, Jackson adds that Kilwins might adjust its hours to accommodate late-night theatergoers after the new Harper Theater opens.

Kilwins is located just north of the theater, which is expected to open in the coming weeks. Both new businesses are part of a broader effort to revitalize the 53rd Street retail corridor. The University of Chicago first announced the Kilwins lease signing in February this year.

CorePower Yoga Deal Fills Former Borders Building

CorePower Yoga, which offers yoga classes for beginners to advanced students, has signed a lease with the University of Chicago for 4,347 square feet of space in the building at 1539 E. 53rd Street. CorePower Yoga expects to open the new location in mid-2013.

The agreement brings the building, which previously housed a Borders Books and Music store, to 100% leased.

Other confirmed tenants in the 25,000-square-foot building include The Promontory, a new restaurant and entertainment venue by the owners of the popular Longman & Eagle eatery, Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden; and Chicago-based fashion retailer Akira, which opened on the first floor of the building last week. The yoga studio will occupy the space above Akira.

The University purchased the former Borders building in July 2011 after the now-defunct bookseller closed its Hyde Park store. Securing new tenants for the building has been part of a broader effort to revitalize the 53rd Street retail corridor.

“The building’s size and location make it well-suited for a variety of uses, and we’re pleased that we’ve been able to fill it with some great new options for shopping, dining and working out in Hyde Park,” said James Hennessy, Associate Vice President of Real Estate Operations for the University of Chicago. “These amenities complement the existing and new businesses around the building and add to the economic vitality and momentum of the corridor.”

AKIRA opening tomorrow

Fashion retailer AKIRA is set to open its newest store at 1539 E. 53rd Street tomorrow, Nov. 21. The Chicago-based boutique will bring a new option for women’s apparel to Hyde Park.

“This is going to be one of our larger stores and one of the first locations with both shoes and clothing,” said Eric Hsueh, co-owner of Akira, which operates about 20 stores in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. “There has been a lot of buzz about Hyde Park, and we are really excited to be in the neighborhood.”

Akira will open tomorrow from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and will reopen Friday, Nov. 23, at 6 a.m. for “Black Friday” shopping. Regular store hours will be 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Monday – Friday; 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday; and 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Sunday.

The opening of Akira, along with the redevelopment of Harper Court and other recent business openings, is part of a broader effort to revitalize the 53rd Street retail corridor. The new Akira is located in the former Borders building in Hyde Park, and the exterior of the building has been completely renovated. The University of Chicago announced the deal to bring Akira to 53rd Street in January this year.

Signage going up at Harper Theater

Workers began installing the marquee and vertical blade signs at Harper Theater this week, signaling that the new theater will be opening soon.

The New 400 Theaters will operate the theater at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue as a four-screen multiplex, with 90 to 138 seats per screen. Sign installation is scheduled to be complete today, and the newly renovated theater is expected to open in the coming weeks.


The blade sign, which is 24-feet tall and about 4-feet wide, arrived at the theater site earlier this week. Photo courtesy of Jon Dennis.


Installation of the 38’ x 3’6”marquee is nearly complete. Photo by Rob Kozloff.


The Harper Theater blade sign lit up last night. Photo by Rob Kozloff.