University officials, city politicians, and business leaders descended on Hyde Park to officially open the Harper Court development at a ribbon-cutting ceremony this morning. Officials touted the development as a model of University–community partnership and as a catalyst for community growth.
Harper Court is a mixed-use retail and office space located between South Harper and South Lake Park Avenues on East 53rd Street. It currently holds restaurants and shops such as Chipotle and Akira. Several restaurants in the area have been in business for some time, but others just recently opened. In addition, a handful of University administrative divisions are beginning to move their staff into the office space located within the building.
Speaking at the ceremony, President Zimmer stressed the collaboration with the community that went into this project. “We are particularly grateful…to the many members of this community who contributed through your ideas, your time, your effort, and your passion,” Zimmer said. “You helped make possible what you see around you today.”
Several longtime Hyde Park residents said that the project was the fruition of years of requests for more retail in Hyde Park.
“I was running for alderman, and people were saying…‘Why is it that we don’t have restaurants in our neighborhood? Why is it that we don’t have apparel stores in our neighborhood?,’” said Fourth Ward Alderman Will Burns (A.B. '95, A.M. '98). “I said to those people when I was running, ‘If I’m elected alderman, I’m going to work hard to bring those kinds of amenities here…. I need your support, but I’m committed to it.”
Zimmer said the development was intended to serve three purposes: provide amenities to the community, make the University a more attractive destination for students, and provide an economic boost to the area.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel stressed the importance of this third goal. “You make an investment like this, it’s a catalyst. We have an innovation center, it’s a catalyst for capital. You start to see a ripple effect,” he said, referring to the recently announced innovation hub, which will reside in Harper Court.
Emanuel said that the opening of Harper Court represents a new start for Hyde Park. “While we’re cutting a ribbon, we’re opening a new chapter in the city of Chicago and in Hyde Park.”
Pop singer Estelle also performed at 7:30 p.m. today to celebrate the grand opening.