News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Retail and parking structure at Harper Court reaches second story

Construction on retail and parking space at the far northwest corner of the new Harper Court recently reached the second story—the highest planned enclosed level for that part of the mixed-used development.

While the most visible piece of the redevelopment of Harper Court is the office tower that has been rising at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue, McHugh Construction also has been busy working on the opposite end of the site. The two-story structure, which extends to Harper Avenue, will include one-level of underground parking, retail space on the ground floor, enclosed parking on the second floor, and open-air parking on the roof.

That end of the development eventually will be connected to the office tower, forming an L-shape. Construction progress on the corner of the L (the northeast end of the development, on the Lake Park side) so far has not been visible from the street.

Ground-floor retail space, along with second-floor and underground parking, will extend throughout the development. In the office tower, the third floor will house an LA Fitness center, with office space on the upper floors.

McHugh Construction recently poured cement for the ninth floor of the 12-story tower, and the first phase of the redevelopment is set to open in 2013. Besides the office tower, retail and parking, the first phase will include a Hyatt Place hotel, south of the retail and parking structure.

The Harper Court project, which is a partnership between the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago, broke ground in November 2011. In addition to LA Fitness and Hyatt Place, confirmed tenants include Chipotle Mexican Grill and the University.

For more information about Harper Court, including Twitter updates, visit the developer’s website at

McHugh Construction crew at work on the second level of the retail and parking structure on the northwest end of Harper Court.

The office tower at Harper Court continues to take shape on the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Visioning workshop report available for review and input

Community members’ vision for 53rd Street was a key topic at the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council meeting earlier this week. South East Chicago Commission Executive Director Wendy Williams presented a preliminary report from the 53rd Street Visioning Workshop that took place on April 21 this year. The workshop was the fourth held since 2007, after the City of Chicago, the University of Chicago, local elected officials and the community began partnering to redevelop and revitalize the commercial corridor on 53rd.

More than 200 community residents attended the April workshop and shared their ideas and opinions on three topics: redevelopment of the Mobil site at 1330 E. 53rd, Nichols Park in relation to the commercial corridor, and the overall 53rd Street experience. The preliminary report details those ideas and provides an overview of progress that has been made toward achieving community members’ vision expressed in earlier workshops.

Both Williams and 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns asked that individuals who attended the workshop read the preliminary report to make sure all the ideas presented at the workshop are included in the final report. Download the preliminary report here, and send any changes to SECC Program Manager James Kenady at by Monday, July 16, 2012.

Summer Festival brings out crowds

East 53rd Street was bustling with people shopping, eating and enjoying live musical performances last weekend, as crowds turned out Saturday and Sunday for the third annual Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival.

Despite an unexpected rainstorm that slowed down the festival for a short while Sunday, about 60,000 people attended the two-day event, according to Wendy Williams, executive director of the South East Chicago Commission, which organizes the festival.

Roy Ayers headlined the event Saturday evening, and the Average White Band performed on the main stage Sunday night.

Several local elected officials attended the festival and took to the stage briefly Sunday evening to greet the crowd, including 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell, 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, State Representative Kimberly du Buclet and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. State Senator Donne Trotter attended Saturday.

Friends of Celebrate Hyde Park, which allowed individuals to support the festival and secure a seat close to the main stage with a $100 donation, was a new addition to this year’s festival and was well-received.

“Friends of Celebrate Hyde Park was a big success, with dozens of people choosing to support this and future festivals on 53rd Street,” Williams said.

The Celebrate Hyde Park festival series was designed to attract consumers to East 53rd Street as several sites on the street undergo construction as part of revitalization efforts. The Hyde Park Vitality Committee kicked off the first festival three years ago, with key sponsorship from the SECC, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement.

Crowd gathers on 53rd Street for Roy Ayers’ performance June 30.

Festival-goers enjoy the show.

Face painting was among several featured children’s activities.

Dozens of vendors displayed their wares on 53rd.

Wendy Williams speaks to the crowd from the main stage.

Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival Attracts More Vendors, Sponsors in its Third Year

This weekend 100 vendors will set up booths along East 53rd Street as part of the third annual Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival, up from 60 vendors at the first festival in 2010.

The increase in vendor participation is a sign of the festival’s growing popularity and the fact that it has become a signature event in the Hyde Park community, according to Wendy Williams, executive director of the South East Chicago Commission, a key festival sponsor.

Nearly 60,000 people turned out for the festival last year and sponsors expect 2012 attendance to exceed that.

“People attending this year’s festival will have the opportunity to browse the wares and offerings of about 85 art and specialty vendors and 16 food vendors,” Williams said. “More than a dozen of these will be local Hyde Park businesses and several also have a store-front presence along 53rd Street, so there will be an extra opportunity to support local businesses.”

Festival sponsorship also is up this year, with more than 20 corporate, community and individual sponsors lending support. The Hyde Park Vitality Committee, which launched the first festival, continues to be the main sponsor. The committee includes the SECC, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, among others.

The two-day festival, which will take place this coming Saturday and Sunday, June 30 and July 1, features live musical performances, shopping and other entertainment. Headlining this year’s event are two 1970s music icons—the Average White Band and Roy Ayers. The main festival will be held on 53rd Street between Harper and Kimbark Avenues, with activities for children in Nichols Park. Festival hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days, with face painting, kids’ yoga and other children’s activities from noon to 4 p.m.

Admission is open to the public, and a $5 donation is requested.

Download a festival map, with vendor and sponsor listings below. For more information, visit

Roy Ayers performs at the 2011 Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival.

Construction Update

A May 31 post reported the beginning of demolition of the façade of the former Borders building. Now, the exterior walls of the building have been largely removed, and construction of the new façade is scheduled to begin next week.

The building at 1539 E. 53rd Street will house a flagship store of Chicago-based fashion retailer Akira. Akira is expected to open this fall, bringing a new option for women’s clothing, accessories and shoes to Hyde Park.

2012 Summer Festival Expected to Draw More than 60,000 to 53rd Street

The third annual Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival will bring the sounds of summer concerts back to East 53rd Street Saturday, June 30, and Sunday, July 1. The 2012 festival will feature both first-time and returning attractions, as well as a new option for VIP concert access.

With featured performances by two 1970s music icons—the Average White Band and Roy Ayers—Celebrate Hyde Park sponsors expect more than 60,000 people to attend this year’s festival.

“The Summer Festival has grown from a single-day of concerts in 2010 to a two-day event that brought nearly 60,000 Hyde Park residents and visitors out last year to enjoy the music, food and activities on 53rd Street,” said Wallace E. Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, one of the festival sponsors. “This year we expect to easily exceed that.”

In addition to AWB and a return performance by Roy Ayers, the schedule of musical acts includes the Dee Alexander Jazz Band and R&B performers Chicago Catz. Dozens of local vendors and shop owners will offer food and merchandise along 53rd.

“Celebrate Hyde Park’s Summer Festival is intended to offer an opportunity for families and individuals to have a fun weekend while also exploring what the shops and vendors in the neighborhood’s historic shopping district have to offer,” said Wendy Williams, executive director of the Southeast Chicago Commission. “Each year, we look for more ways to make the event more enjoyable.”

The main festival will be held on 53rd Street between Harper and Kimbark Avenues, with activities for children in Nichols Park. Festival hours will be 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days, with face painting and other children’s activities from noon to 4 p.m.

Admission is open to the public, and a $5 donation is requested.

Text for a chance to win 2 VIP seats

New to this year’s festival: a VIP seating area close to the main stage, with easy “in and out” access. Festival fans can get two of the reserved seats and two Celebrate Hyde Park t-shirts with a $100 donation to Friends of Celebrate Hyde Park.

For a chance to win free VIP seats, anyone can text “CHP VIP SEATS” to 72727. One winner will be selected for each festival day. The drawing for the free seats will be held on June 28.

Celebrate Hyde Park festivals are sponsored by the Hyde Park Vitality Committee, which includes the SECC, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, among others. Other sponsors of the 2012 Celebrate Hyde Park Summer Festival include Art Works Chicago, Chicago Park District, Direct Effect Newmedia, Fifth Third Bancorp, Heart & Soul, Hyatt Regency, Hyde Park Herald, Quadrangle, and WBEZ and WCPT radio.

For more information, visit

Hotel project getting off the ground

Two recent developments brought plans for the new Hyatt Place Hotel on 53rd Street closer to being fulfilled.

First, construction work at the Harper Court redevelopment site included completion of the pad on which the hotel will be built. That step means the site is ready to be turned over to hotel developers—Smart Hotels LLC and the Olympia Companies—to begin construction.

Second, the Chicago City Council earlier this week approved a tax-increment-financing request from Smart Hotels, and the hotel project is now fully funded. Smart Hotels, which develops hotels near college campuses, will operate the hotel under a franchise agreement with Hyatt Place.

The six-story, 131-room, select-service hotel is scheduled to open in fall 2013 and will be the first new hotel in Hyde Park in more than 50 years. It will be built on the southwest end of the Harper Court redevelopment site and will have an address on Harper Avenue.

Harper Court Partners LLC, the developers for Harper Court selected the hotel developers in March 2011. For more information about the hotel, visit Harper Court Partners’ website:

In Case You Missed it … Shop Local

An ad in the Hyde Park Herald’s May 30 edition reminds community residents to visit businesses on East 53rd Street during construction. The South East Chicago Commission, Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Chicago teamed up to sponsor the ad as a way to support existing retailers along the street.

The two-sided, full-page insert features alphabetical listings of about 80 local businesses offering consumer products and services. The listings include phone numbers and addresses. The advertisement was inserted in subscription and newsstand copies of the Herald and also will be inside copies of the newspaper handed out at this weekend’s 57th Street Art Fair.

“East 53rd Street is home to a variety of vibrant businesses that have been serving the needs of the local community for years—from specialty food shops and technology stores to dry cleaners and hair salons,” said Wallace Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. “They are all open for business during development construction and will be an important part of the revitalized 53rd Street.”

The Shop Local ad followed a similar Eat Local ad that appeared in the newspaper in March. If you missed the inserts in the Herald, click here to download the flyers.


Renovation work begins for Akira site

“Coming Soon” signs recently went up at the building that once housed Borders Books and Music, announcing that the flagship store for fashion retailer Akira is on its way to 53rd Street.

Scaffolding and fencing are currently being installed around the building at 1539 E. 53rd St., and demolition of the existing façade will begin later this week. The renovation work will give a new look to the exterior of the building. Construction is expected to begin at the site in mid-June.

Chicago-based Akira will occupy much of the first floor of the building and is expected to open this fall. UChicago, which purchased the former Borders building last summer as part of its broader effort to bring new businesses and amenities to Hyde Park, is talking with other potential tenants about remaining space in the building.

Signs at 1539 E. 53rd Street flag the coming of Akira.

An artist’s rendering of the completed Akira flagship store.

Calmetta Coleman
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53rd Street Bicycle Center to Celebrate Grand Opening

Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns will join representatives from UChicago, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and bike commuter center operator Bike and Park for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to kick off the grand opening of the 53rd Street Bicycle Center tomorrow, Thursday, May 24, at 1 p.m.

The bike center is located at 1558 E. 53rd Street, next door to the Metra station at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue. It opened quietly last Thursday and already has been serving cyclists and other customers. Bike and Park, which also operates a bike commuter center in Millennium Park, offers bike rentals, storage, tours and other amenities at the location.

The 53rd Street Bicycle Center is the latest new business to open on 53rd Street since UChicago partnered with the City of Chicago to help revitalize the area. The space now occupied by the bike center was previously vacant for about 10 years. UChicago recently leased the space from Metra.

James Hennessy and Jonathan Dennis from UChicago’s Commercial Real Estate Office are expected to attend the grand opening, along with the Executive Director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, Wallace Goode. For more information about Bike and Park and services that will be offered at the new center, visit

Photos by Beth Rooney