News about 53rd St. in Hyde Park, Chicago

Art Here Art Now...Round 2

With the popularity of the inaugural Art Here Art Now event launched back in October, a new set of artists will unveil their creative work this Saturday from 5 – 7 p.m.

The free, opening reception for Art Here Art Now Round 2 will follow the Celebrate Hyde Park Festival of Lights event, which kicks off earlier in the day. The entire community is invited to come out and view the new art installations at 5225 S. Harper Ave., located in University–owned storefronts between Starbucks and Boston Market.

The project gives artists, who are often in need of exhibition space, a fabulous opportunity to highlight their passion, right here in Hyde Park—all at no cost to participants.

But just in case you can’t make it, several artists will have their work featured through January 2011. Pedestrians will be able look through the windows and check out the installations 24/7.

Art Here Art Now

Wendy Parks
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Save the Date…This Saturday!

Come on out this Saturday for “Brunch with Santa,” from 10 a.m. to noon at Pizza Capri, 1501 E. 53rd St. Kids and parents are invited to hang out with Mr. Claus himself during the brunch, which is part of the new Celebrate Hyde Park Festival of Lights event.

Merchants along 53rd Street will display holiday lights in their windows as part of the festivities. From noon – 5 p.m. the fun continues in Nichols Park, with face painting, story telling, arts and crafts—including an opportunity to create get-well and holiday cards for young patients at Comer Children’s Hospital and La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

If you love to sing, around 4:30 p.m. you can join carolers who will make their way from Nichols Park to 1530 E. 53rd St. (the former site of Hollywood Video). Caroling also will take place throughout the day. Call (773) 324-6929 if you or your choir would like to sing.

Last but not least, around 5:30 p.m. hot cocoa, coffee and cookies will be served following the sing-a-long, for a small donation or a non-perishable food item to benefit the Hyde Park Union Church food pantry.

Hope to see you there!

Harper Court Moves Ahead

The redevelopment of Harper Court passed two major milestones recently, as the structure of the project begins to take shape.

Last week, the redevelopment agreement for Harper Court was unanimously approved by the City Council, providing $23.4 million TIF funds along with $85 million in Recovery Zone Facility Bonds.

So, how do Recovery Zone Facility Bonds work? The Federal Government authorized the City to issue $200 million in bonds to qualifying projects. Since Harper Court qualifies, the city will issue $85 million in bonds to Harper Court Partners, who will in turn sell the bonds and become fully responsible for repayment.

This is not a grant, but simply first-mortgage financing with lower tax-exempt interest rates.

A few weeks earlier, by unanimous vote, the City’s Chicago Plan Commission approved an amendment in zoning for Harper Court to allow an increase in density to accommodate a mix of uses including:

  • 150,000 square feet of office space
  • 100,000 square feet of retail commercial space
  • 435 parking spaces
  • 150 hotel rooms and
  • 395 residential dwelling units, which is a part of the project’s second phase

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, who addressed the Commission prior to the vote, said, “We have been in a community process for more than a decade. We are hoping to have this wonderful development on 53rd Street. I would ask for support of this body.”

Business Owner & Operator Yolanda Travis of McDonald’s, 5220 S. Lake Park Ave., who attended the meeting, said Harper Court would help to revitalize the community.

“Basically, we’re very supportive,” said attorney Donna J. Pugh, partner of Foley & Lardner LLP, who attended the meeting with Travis and represents the Hyde Park McDonald’s. “We’re very happy with the results.”

Next steps?

The planned development application by developers Vermilion has to go to the Zoning Committee on Nov. 23 and then to the City Council in December for final approval.

Wendy Parks
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The Wait is Over...

No need to stare down the street looking for the next bus — riders who use CTA Routes 171 and 172, as well as University shuttles, can now get real–time bus locations for these Hyde Park routes on their smart phones, iPads, the Internet — and coming soon, video screens in select locations.

The GPS based bus–tracking system, called TransLoc, was announced earlier this month and you can also find more information here:

TransLoc on the iPhone

Wendy Parks
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And the People Came Out

We hoped for the best and received much more than expected.

At the first–ever Celebrate Hyde Park Oktoberfest, more than 20,000 people poured into 53rd Street.

Dance? No problem. The German group D’Lustigen Holzhacker Baum kicked off the festivities followed by a wide variety of talent from R&B to blues to reggae and even a little bit of neo–soul.

The food drew crowds, too. I had a chance to enjoy tasty eggrolls from Chant restaurant, which were made fresh on the spot, and a tart–sweet–flavored soda named Ting that’s popular in the Caribbean.

Nichols Park was packed with kids taking their turns in the mini–petting zoo as others waited in line to have their face painted. There was definitely something for everyone to enjoy.

Take a look at what else I captured on video that took place throughout the day.

Wendy Parks
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Party at Oktoberfest this Saturday

Oktoberfest Schedule

If you want to kick back outdoors and have fun this weekend, join us Saturday at the first–ever Celebrate Hyde Park Oktoberfest. You can dance with the German group D’Lustigen Holzhacker Baum or soak in the vibe from local artists and bands such as Akasha, L.V. Banks, Dayna Lynn, Koku, Bernard Crump & the MECCA Band and Full Circle.

Need more reasons? It’s free and supposed to warm up to 70 degrees. Your favorite restaurants and businesses will be there. Pumpkin patch. Pony rides. Face painting. Games, and arts and crafts. It all happens from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. along 53rd Street, starting at Dorchester Avenue through Nichols Park.

“The Celebrate Hyde Park series of events has provided the perfect opportunity for collaboration between the South East Chicago Commission, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement,” said Wendy Williams, Executive Director of the South East Chicago Commission. “Together, we have spent the last several months planning out this year’s festivals as a way to showcase what we have, right here, within our viable Hyde Park community.”

This year’s final fest will take place in December — Stay tuned!

Wendy Parks
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You are Cordially Invited

DJ Photo courtesy of Marc Monaghan

Last week, I told you to get ready to experience the inaugural Art Here Art Now month-long event, and it did not disappoint. The weather was absolutely perfect Friday evening. Hyde Parkers were hanging out, along with visitors from the North Side and Downtown, who came to see diverse artistic displays.

D.J. Tyson Sanchez, who spun records old-school style, got the crowd going, and the appetizers helped to keep people in good spirits. It was a 53rd Street takeover — people spilled into the road as they moved from one storefront to the next.

And that was only the beginning. You will have a chance to strike up a dialogue with the in-studio participants each Saturday in October, from 1-5 p.m., as part of Chicago Artists Month.

As a new Senior Communications Officer for the University, I’d like to invite you to stop back at this blog regularly, and join me on this interesting journey along 53rd St. Send your questions, thoughts and comments my way at, as I give you updates on development in the area, events and other upcoming projects. I want to hear from you!

Wendy Parks
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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
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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
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