News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Celebrate the Arts…Hyde Park Style

You may have noticed some pretty cool art that has taken up temporary residence right smack dab in the middle of the 53rd St. corridor, next to Starbucks, between Harper and Blackstone avenues.

In a stretch of four unused storefronts, there are now artistic displays, an interactive video, a large–scale showroom and a 20–minute short film. Each is designed to reflect a slice of life in Hyde Park.

Through the eyes of various local artists, HyPa, the Hyde Park Alliance for Arts & Culture, and the University of Chicago teamed up to bring eye–catching visual art to 53rd Street.

Soto Artist Jillian Soto works on her installation “Echo Showroom” at the Art Here Art Now storefronts on 53rd St. (Photo by Jason Smith)

André Callot and Danielle Paz, both University of Chicago grads, and grad student Jillian Soto of the Art Institute of Chicago are some of the players in HyPa’s latest initiative—“Art Here. Art Now.

Here’s what Soto had to say as she gave me a preview of her unique work.

“There’s this sense of art and a lot of memories,” said Soto, as she put the finishing touches on her piece that will offer a perspective on the old Harper Theater. “I wanted to create a showroom atmosphere so people would want to be in the space.”

Zeigler Peter Zeigler stands in his installation for the Art Here Art Now exhibition on 53rd Street. Zeigler has preserved the space of a former barber shop where President Barack Obama would get his hair cut. (Photo by Jason Smith)

Additionally, a special exhibit by Peter Zeigler, groundskeeper of Harper Court and the former Harper Court Theater, will offer his take on President Barack Obama’s world. Zeigler incorporated a bit of history from the former Dr. Wax Records store and the spot where Obama regularly had his hair cut to create a showpiece honoring businesses that were once mainstays in the area.

And get this. There’s even talk that, potentially, one of the barber’s chairs could become an addition to the Smithsonian. Time will tell.

The official launch of Art Here. Art Now. is Oct. 1, and you’ll hear more about that later, but at least for now you can get a sneak peek of what’s in the works. So, stroll by the exhibits to really enjoy the artistic flavor brewing within the community. You definitely won’t be disappointed.

Wendy Parks
weparks's picture

53rd street to host july 25 music festival

Come check out this Sunday’s “Celebrate Hyde Park” music festival, which runs from noon until 9 p.m. on 53rd Street, between Lake Park Avenue and Blackstone Avenue.

Headlining the free, inaugural event will be legendary ’70s Afro-Cuban band “War.” You know their songs, especially “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends.”

“They are icons from the ’70s,” said Carl McKenzie, president of Artworks Chicago. “The music kind of speaks for itself.”

A number of other local artists will perform, including jazz musician Ray Silkman and Parker in the Park, the Natural Science Musical.

The celebration also will include food, family activities and art displays, including handmade jewelry from local vendors. Neighborhood food vendors will include Chant and the Hidden Pearl Café.

In order to accommodate the expected crowd, 53rd Street will be closed to vehicular traffic from Lake Park to Blackstone on both Saturday (a closing time has yet to be determined) and Sunday.

For more information, please contact Wendy Williams at the South East Chicago Commission at 773-324-6926 or Carl McKenzie of Artworks Chicago at 312-642-4907.

Community Hears the Latest Ideas for Harper Court

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:

Steve Kloehn
skloehn's picture

Meet the Harper Court Developer on Feb. 8

The City and the University have selected a developer for Harper Court: Vermilion Development, which put together the best mix of ideas, team and resources to see this ambitious project through to success. Read the official announcement here.

Now you have the chance to hear from Vermilion representatives first-hand. The 53rd St. TIF Council is holding a special meeting at 7 pm Feb. 8, in the gym of Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave. The only agenda item for the meeting is Vermilion’s presentation of the proposal the developers made to the City and the University.

Harper Court moving foward - three contenders remain

The short list of developers has been further narrowed to three, city and University folks said at this week’s 53rd Street TIF Council Meeting. The three finalists are:

  • McCaffery/Interests/Taxman Corp Partnership
  • Mesa/Walsh Partnership
  • Vermilion Development/JFJ Development Partnership

Each of these developers has proposed a plan for Harper Court that is consistent with the feedback community members gave at three visioning workshops earlier this year. All of the proposals include a mix of retail, entertainment and restaurant space from both local and national companies. Think fitness centers, movie theaters, restaurants and live entertainment venues.

Here is more of what all of the proposals include:

  • A condo or apartment complex with up to 200 new units
  • On-site parking
  • Some kind of gathering space like a park
  • A boutique hotel with at least 150 rooms
  • New University of Chicago office space.

Susan Campbell, associate vice president of Civic Engagement at the University, explained that the office space and hotel ensures that these new businesses can thrive during both daytime and evening hours. In the meantime, a few more steps need to be taken, like selecting the best proposal and presenting at the November TIF Council meeting for feedback. If all goes well, the city folks said design work could begin as soon as early next year.

And here’s the big question one of the TIF members insisted on getting an answer to – When?

The answer: We’re hoping by 2012-ish.

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce on the move

Looks like the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce is all settled in to its new ground floor office at 5501 South Everett Ave. Well, actually it’s not so new. The Chamber relocated in December, but postponed its open house until last month so that it could accommodate the 70 guests both inside and outdoors. This successful event celebrated the work the Chamber does on behalf of businesses and residents in the 4th and 5th wards.

One of the projects the Chamber of Commerce is watching closely is the effort to redevelop Harper Court and 53rd Street. Though businesses can be found throughout the neighborhood, “53rd Street is still considered downtown Hyde Park,” said Executive Director Lenora Austin. “We want to see a very viable mix of businesses.”

The Chamber has had an ongoing dialogue with University officials since early last year, and is just as eager as residents to see what the new 53rd Street will be like, Austin said.

Visit the Chamber’s website:

Feel free to contact the office if you have questions about city services or local businesses. Also, don’t forget to download or pick up a copy of the Chamber’s Hyde Park Business Directory.

What’s TIF got to do with it?

You know that Borders on Lake Park, or the McDonald’s across the way? Well, before those establishments were built, the owners and company representatives came before the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council to make sure their development plans made sense.

The 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing Advisory Council is a group of 13 people who live, work or operate a business in Kenwood or Hyde Park.  The council members are volunteers appointed by Ald. Toni Preckwinckle, who started the council in 2001.

Offering recommendations to the alderman and interested business operators is just one of the council’s functions, along with sharing local announcements and discussing results from community studies. TIF, or Tax Increment Financing, refers to the added value new development projects bring to an area that result in increased real estate taxes. Chairman Howard Males, explained the council’s other important function like this: “When you build something, it brings in new money. So if something values X, but a development improvement increases its [real estate tax] value to X plus 10, that $10 becomes money the TIF Council can recommend for use,” – with a small portion subtracted for the council’s administrative costs.

After hearing public concerns and taking a vote, Council members take their recommendations to Alderman Preckwinkle, who decides whether to formally request that the city release the funds. The Council has over $3,700,000 to recommend for projects like CleanSlate, the job training program, or renovations at Canton Middle School. Representatives for each of these initiatives presented their ideas to the council. It can also recommend that the money be used for infrastructure projects like repairing a street or putting in a street light.

Though council members are appointed to initial terms of three years, anyone can participate in one of the three committees: The R&R Committee is most concerned with the aesthetic appeal of new developments; the Access and Accessibility Committee wants people to be able to walk, bike, drive, or take public transportation down 53rd Street without any problems; and the Planning and Development Committee are the folks you want to talk to before tearing something down, building something up or reconstructing an existing building for a new use.

Inclusive deliberation like this is how a community develops into a place that everyone can enjoy. “We’re setting up a place for people to come to a consensus,” said Males, who has lived in Hyde Park since 1976. “All stakeholders understand what it takes to get something from dirt to development – that is listening and discussing things in a civil environment where there’s protection in the fact that we’re all neighbors.”

The Council meets on the second Monday of every other month. Stay tuned for the next meeting in September.

For more information, explore the fact sheets on the city’s community development website.

Kadesha Thomas
Kadesha Thomas's picture

what's up with harper theater...

In addition to Harper Court, there is another University-owned property that is awaiting a makeover. The old Harper Theater building on the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue has been vacant since the movie theater closed due to financial and management issues. Residents at the last TIF Advisory Council Meeting expressed concern that development is not moving faster.

The University purchased the building in 2002 and would also love to see it put to use, said Susan Campbell from the university’s Office of Civic Engagement, who is responsible for making sure that development strategies will boost the quality of life in the surrounding communities – i.e. make sure we will be able to shop, eat out and have fun, without leaving our neighborhoods.

Residents and potential developers recognize that the building has an important location and could really make 53rd street shine once it’s redeveloped. University folks recognize that as well.

“I want everyone to know that we feel the same way,” Campbell said at the meeting. “The developers of Harper Court feel the same way, and some of the people making proposals about that building’s development feel the same way, so we are all of like mind regarding the Harper Theater property.”

Campbell also mentioned that the slow economy has complicated efforts to find the right plan. Residents have offered a wide variety of ideas about what should be done with the building; some want it renovated, while others want it demolished.

“What we have heard is a mixture of thought,” she said. “We are not hearing a consensus, so we are considering all things at this point.”


the beloved Hyde Park Animal Clinic stays

Did you see this letter in yesterday's Hyde Park Herald...

Dear Editors:

On behalf of the Hyde Park Animal Clinic and the University of Chicago, we are taking the unusual step of writing a joint letter to update the community about ongoing relocation efforts for the clinic.

The University recognizes the need for veterinary services for the neighborhood and has always been anxious to support Drs. Wake and Hutchings as the providers of these services. Hyde Park Animal Clinic is a valuable resource, having served Hyde Park and near South Side communities for over 28 years.

For the last nine months, The University and Dr. Wake have been working together to find a new neighborhood home for Hyde Park Animal Clinic. Dozens of potential locations have been explored by the University and Hyde Park Animal Clinic, but none were suitable for the needs of a veterinary hospital. After reviewing all options, Hyde Park Animal Clinic has come up with a solution which will be very exciting for the community. A clinic office will be opened at 1365 East 53rd Street to provide out-patient services for dogs, cats, surgery, dental procedures and boarding for cats.

A second location is being negotiated on 71st Street near Stony Island where we hope to establish a state of the art veterinary hospital with boarding and daycare services.

The university and clinic are pleased that all the hard work has paid off and that Dr. Wake will continue to care for our pets for many years to come. We see this progress as part of the ongoing efforts to create a new, more vital 53rd Street.

Dr. Thomas Wake, DVM

Nim Chinniah, Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, University of Chicago

And then there were four

The City and the University have narrowed the field of candidates to four in their search for the right development team for Harper Court, James Wilson of the Department of Community Development said at Monday's meeting with the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, an independent advisory panel serving the community and the Alderman.  

Five finalists had submitted proposals earlier this month, and four of those met the terms of the request for proposals ( Wilson said all four had creative ideas and all included plans for hotel, retail, entertainment, office, residential and parking spaces.

City and University representatives will interview the remaining teams this week and next, and examine their plans to make sure the proposals are viable.

Those proposals that make the next cut will be presented to the TIF Council this fall, possibly as early as the regularly scheduled September 14 meeting.

“We don’t want to bring anything to you that’s not doable,” Wilson told the TIF Council Monday. “We need to go through this process and make sure the ones we bring you are truly good ones.”

That could be all four, or it could be just one or two, Wilson said.

Members of the Council and the public said they are anxious for the project to move forward, and glad to see signs of progress. TIF Council Chair Howard Males underscored the urge to move forward, promising to schedule a special meeting in October if the presentation was not ready for the September meeting.