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August 19, 2014

Weekly Review August 19

Weekly Review  is a summer new blog, updated once a week, for the second half of the summer until the actual presses resume.

Electrical fire at 58th Street & Dorchester Avenue creates plumes of smoke

An electrical fire drew sixty emergency response vehicles, including at least one helicopter from the Chicago Fire Department, to 58th street and Dorchester Avenue last Monday. Crews worked for about an hour in the apartment building, which houses many University faculty and staff.

“The smell of smoke was noticeable as far away as the main quad, and three helicopters were hovering in the air. As I walked closer to the site of the fire, I saw upward of 20 emergency vehicles, including the most fire trucks and ambulances I have ever seen in gathered in one place,” Leandra Trudeau, a rising third-year who was walking back to her apartment from Rosenwald Hall Monday afternoon. “Police blockaded off the street to keep back a large crowd of onlookers. When I left, smoke ejectors were being used to clear smoke out of the building.”

The fire started in the basement of the building, located at 5825 South Dorchester Avenue, in the transformers of an electrical vault around 4 p.m. Firefighters recommended that residents of the 35-unit building remain in their apartments while they worked to vent the black smoke caused by the flames. Clouds of smoke could be seen emerging from the bottom of the 12-story building. The fire was contained within approximately an hour of the crews’ arrivals on the scene, though they continued to work on removing the smoke.

Some residents re-entered the building after the fire was extinguished, including economics professor Allen Sanderson, who lives on the second floor. “The smoke isn’t bad,” he said.

Eight people were hospitalized for injuries related to the incident: Several firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, and a child from inside the building was also hospitalized. About 260 nearby residents lost power for some time on Monday as a result of the fire, a ComEd spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Mara McCollom

After sale of Harper Court, University will continue to lease space and recruit tenants

The University of Chicago officially sold the 12-story Harper Court building and parking garages late last month, a move that the administration had been planning since at least the development’s completion in November 2013.

Clal Insurance, an Israeli insurance corporation, purchased the development for $112 million after the University bought the same property from its developers for $98 million about a week after Harper Court opened to the public last year.

The University has spent about $30 million to build out office space in Harper Court in addition to investing in other parts of the development since the project was conceived in 2008. The sale to Clal includes a long-term lease that allows the University to remain in the building. The University houses departments on eight floors, including Facilities Services, the Commercial Real Estate Office, IT Services, and Alumni Relations and Development. The Chicago Innovation Exchange, a tech incubator developed by the University, also has space on the 11th floor of the building.

The lease arrangement also allows the University to continue its role in recruiting businesses to set up shop in the Harper Court development. It has already brought in restaurants such as Chipotle, Red Mango, and Native Foods and stores such as Akira, Sir & Madame, and Sephora.

According to a University statement, Clal is a good fit as the owner of the development because the corporation “offers stability and experience in mixed-use commercial developments.”

“The University has invested substantially in Harper Court and complementary projects along 53rd Street, as well as in the vitality of other parts of Hyde Park and surrounding neighborhoods, and is committed to continuing those efforts to promote economic opportunity and community amenities in the mid–South Side,” the statement reads.

After the city approved the deal, the transaction was finalized on July 25. The Hyatt Place Hotel is not included in the sale.

Community group appeals Vue53 ruling, tries to halt construction once more

Further west on 53rd Street, Vue53—slated to bring 13 stories of retail and residential development to Hyde Park in fall 2015—may be stalled again as community members bring their fight against the University project back to court.

In 2013, the community group Save 53rd Street filed a lawsuit attempting to halt construction, alleging that a city zoning ordinance regarding the maximum height of nearby buildings was arbitrarily changed to allow construction of the project, thus rendering the planned 135-foot-tall building illegal. In February, a judge dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds, agreeing with lawyers from a firm representing the University that the plaintiffs did not give sufficient notice of their challenge to the zoning ordinance to property owners within 250 feet of the site, located at 1330 East 53rd Street.

Save 53rd Street has since appealed the ruling, meaning the University has until August 21 to respond.

In a recent press release, lead plaintiff Michael Scott explained the reasoning for the appeal. “The company we hired to send notices notified 125 property owners and inadvertently missed seven,” he says in the release. “There is no precedent in case law for the dismissal of a zoning suit by a party making a good-faith effort to give notice, and this matter is far too important to Hyde Park for it to be dismissed on a technicality.”

The University defended Vue53 in a statement. “The zoning change for the project came after years of discussion about development along 53rd Street, including public meetings where many local residents provided input and voiced their support for the project, which will benefit the community and require no taxpayer dollars to build,” it read.

In May, Calmetta Coleman, director of Communications for Civic Engagement, said the project is expected to be completed by fall 2015, and that University students will be “welcome to apply” for apartments in the building. It is unclear how the appeal will affect the construction progress of Vue53.

In May, when there were indications that Mesa Development, the developers of the site owned by the University, would forge ahead with construction, lead plaintiff Michael Scott called the development “significantly out of scale for this area of the neighborhood.” He added, “It is our contention that the zoning change which needed to be put through the city council was not legal under Illinois law.”

Additional reporting William Rhee.

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