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October 22, 2010

Developer: Restaurants, retail coming to Harper Court

Representatives of the Harper Court redevelopment project presented plans and answered questions at a Student Goverment (SG) sponsored forum in the Reynolds Club Tribune Lounge yesterday.

Chris Dillion, a representative from Vermilion Development, and Sophie Bideck, from Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, shared a two-part vision for the redevelopment at South Harper Avenue and East 53rd Street.

Phase one, which is scheduled for completion in 2013, will include ground-level retail and restaurants, office space, a hotel, underground and second-floor parking, and likely a fitness center.

Dillion said the developers were interested in working more with students to incorporate their interests into the project. “We have a strong interest in making sure that this is a place that students view as an extension to campus,” Dillion said, adding they are looking to bring in retail and restaurants that would be appealing to students.

“It’s safe to say that all the Paneras, the Chipotles in the world are sold on Hyde Park,” he said.

However, the prospect of a 24-hour-diner—an idea that had earlier gained traction among both students and project developers—is less certain, he said. While Vermilion has reached out to diners, there has yet to be any serious discussion of a 24-hour diner.

Another earlier vision, of a movie theater in the development, is no longer on the table, due to the financial environment, Dillion said.

But Bideck said pedestrian walkways and a driving space that can be closed off by private owners, rather than requiring a permit from the city, can be programmed for events that would appeal to both neighborhood residents and University students, like outdoor movie screenings, farmer’s markets, and fairs.

Dillion said they are considering reincorporating chess tables, a community favorite at the original Harper Court, into the new design, which is arranged to increase pedestrian access.

The project is aiming for LEED platinum certification, the highest level possible, and LEED neighborhood development certification at a gold level or higher. Sustainable elements include insulating glass, a “living wall” covered in plants, and on-site showers for people commuting to work at the development by bike.

Audience members raised concerns about the impact of the development on community members, citing both the University’s mid-century urban redevelopment projects that pushed out poor black residents and local retail, and concerns about gentrification.

Dillion said the area would become more desirable and more expensive as well. “It will increase property values in and around the immediate area,” he said.

Twenty percent of the housing will be affordable housing as mandated by the city, while the rest will be market-rate. The developers project the creation of construction, retail, and hospitality jobs and an increase of $2.1 million in taxes for the city annually.

Developers are aiming for a mix of national, Chicago, and Hyde Park businesses to occupy the space.

Dillion said most of the businesspeople along East 53rd Street he had spoken with were excited about the project and hoped it would increase their business. The best way to support local businesses, he said, is to patronize their stores.

The second phase of the project, which can take place entirely independently of the first phase, does not yet have a timeline and is dependent in part on the relocation of the Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52.

The developers are looking into what Dillion described as “creative” ways of moving Checkerboard Lounge and other music venues into the new space, which will have leases more expensive than the club’s current rate. Park 52’s lease expires in 2016, but Dillion couldn’t recall if they would have the option to extend the lease or the lease agreement at Checkerboard Lounge.

While informational meetings on Harper Court development, a project funded by both the city and the University, are traditionally held at Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) meetings at Kenwood Academy, fourth-year and SG Community and Goverment Liaison Allan Linton reached out to the redevelopers to host a meeting on campus in an effort to increase student involvement in the project.

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