As the Maroon reported last week, the University’s continuing development of Harper Court is a continued point of contention for local business owners and their allies. More specifically, different local businesses surrounding Harper Court have seen varying treatments from Commercial Real Estate Operations (CREO), the arm of the University which oversees real estate transactions and development. Some, such as What the Traveler Saw and Kilwins, have been given financial assistance or help relocating, while others, such as Sahan Motherland and Spa, have seen significantly less preferential treatment. For better or worse, the University plays an integral role in the shaping of 53rd Street’s commercial landscape, and thus their actions demand some sort of explanation—for the sake of the businesses previously affected, ones that may be affected moving forward, and everyone invested in the future complexion of 53rd Street.
The University’s development of 53rd Street is and has been a welcome move for many students and community members. But the University has been opaque about why it supports certain businesses and lets others flounder. As a private entity, the University of Chicago has the legal right to keep its reasoning and financial details confidential. But if it has an overarching vision in its reshaping of 53rd Street to which existing small businesses can contribute, CREO would do well to elucidate the finer points of their goals, and how small businesses can play a role.
One possible way to do this is to model a means of communication after initiatives in which the University already engages. The University has already demonstrated an interest in supporting local businesses via the recent launch of UChicago Local, an initiative focusing on providing local business owners with increased access to training and networking resources. In addition, since 2009 the University Office of Business Diversity has hosted annual Professional Services Symposiums, where University senior leaders meet with invited firms and present “what their [the University’s] specific needs are now, and what they may be looking to in the future.” This gives participating companies the chance to rework their objectives and present them to the University in a way that is informed by the school’s vision. We encourage the University to initiate a similar conversation with all of the local businesses affected by current developments on 53rd Street.
The issue at hand is not if the University’s vision is inherently good or bad for the community, but that, as of now, it is unstated. The University’s dealings with each business are unique, but generally outlining the types of businesses and business models the school is interested in supporting, by means financial and otherwise, would not only be a fairer course of action, but also beneficial for all involved. It would give community members and students a clearer image of what the University’s vision for 53rd Street is, and local owners a better idea of how to work within this vision, should they choose to do so.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.