University of Chicago purchases Harper Court, partners with City to revitalize 53rd Street

The University of Chicago has purchased Harper Court from the Harper Court Arts Council for $6.5 million as part of a community planning process to revitalize the retail environment on 53rd Street.

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward) announced the joint project between the University and the City of Chicago at the May 12 meeting of the Advisory Council for the 53rd Street TIF (Tax-Increment Financing) District. It is the result of agreements between the City, Harper Court Arts Council and the University. The University of Chicago will lead the City-mandated development process, which will be designed to attract good ideas, high-quality developers and ongoing community input.

The first step of the development process will be to seek qualified development teams, who will submit detailed proposals for the best mix of uses for Harper Court and the City Parking Lot.

“I have brought together the parties—the City, the Harper Court Arts Council and the University—to facilitate this purchase and partnership. The project is part of an ongoing effort to explore redevelopment in the TIF district, which has already had much success, including bringing high-quality retail and entertainment businesses to the area,” Preckwinkle said.

University President Robert Zimmer described the University’s goals in the project: “The University has interest in fostering a lively and positive environment for residents and businesses in Hyde Park and beyond. Redeveloping 53rd Street is a priority identified by both campus and neighborhood communities. This project is representative of the University’s continuing efforts—in education, employment, health care and safety—to contribute to a vibrant and livable community.

“Ideally, this project will be reflective of the distinctive nature of Hyde Park and represent  the best of Chicago’s mid-South Side.”

The Harper Court Arts Council will use funds from the purchase to continue its efforts in support of the arts and business development in Hyde Park and neighboring communities. The Harper Court Arts Council is the successor organization to the Harper Court Foundation, which opened the first shops in Harper Court in 1965. At the time, music and arts-related businesses dominated the commercial space, but a different mix of retailers gradually became tenants.

The shopping center now has 23 stores and restaurants, as well as a veterinary clinic.  Current renters have received notification, and discussions have been held about timeline and available resources to help with relocation. Most Harper Court shops have month-to-month leases; these tenants have been assured that their leases will extend at least through 2008.

The University and the City have agreed that a comprehensive plan for developing Harper Court and the adjacent City Parking Lot represents a positive step toward creating the commercial corridor for Hyde Park, which has been the subject of ongoing community discussions and surveys. 

Susan Campbell, the University’s Associate Vice President for Community and Government Affairs, described recent community efforts to re-imagine 53rd Street:  “There has been a lot of good work done by a number of organizations. The 53rd Street Vision Workshop, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, the TIF Council, the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference and others have all made valuable contributions. Surveys and discussions have helped to build a shared vision.

“Going forward, we seek a productive dialogue that helps to anticipate and address outstanding issues and potential community priorities and needs.”

The public will be engaged through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council. Prior to selection of a developer, the University and the City would present the preferred proposals to the public through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council.

“Community discussions and surveys have generated a set of broad guidelines for 53rd Street development,” said University Chief Financial Officer Nimalan Chinniah. “We want to encourage more outdoor activity, greater diversity in dining and retail, and an environment that has more trees and landscaping. Parking and easy access will also be important considerations, and the development should carry forward, in some manner, the original purpose of Harper Court.”

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Jann Ingmire
News Officer for Social Sciences and the School of Social Service Administration
News Office, University Communications
jingmire@uchicago.edu
773.702.2772

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