Vibrant Harper Court development opens with Nov. 8 celebration

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and Board of Trustees Chairman Andy Alper spoke Nov. 8 as Harper Court Partners LLC hosted a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration for the redeveloped Harper Court, a major new mixed-use development in Hyde Park.

The opening of Harper Court, at 5235 S. Harper Ave., brings a critical mass of new amenities to the main commercial district of Hyde Park, including the recently opened 131-room Hyatt Place hotel, retailers Ulta Cosmetics and Villa shoe store, and a Chipotle Mexican Grill; and soon-to-open LA Fitness center, Red Mango yogurt and smoothie shop, and new locations of locally owned restaurants Porkchop and Ja’Grill. The development also includes a 12-story office tower that will house more than 550 UChicago employees. The University recently launched a shuttle service between the commercial corridor and the main campus.

The new Harper Court is a long-awaited redevelopment of a former shopping center at the corner of East 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue with the same name. Guided by a community planning effort that began more than a decade ago, and in partnership with local officials, the University and the City of Chicago catalyzed the redevelopment, with both contributing land and other resources and selecting Harper Court Partners as the developer.

“The opening of Harper Court marks a milestone in the creation of a new commercial and economic engine on Chicago's South Side and the beginning of a new era for Hyde Park,” said Derek Douglas, Vice President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago. “As we look forward, we are committed to ensuring that Harper Court remains a long-term asset to the community, serving as a vibrant destination and a continuing model for University-community partnership.”

Dave Cocagne, CEO of Vermilion Development, said the Harper Court Partners development team, which includes JFJ Development, strived to create a project that would meet the needs of the community. “The mixture of retail uses grew out of the community process and what people said they wanted to see within the redevelopment. We tried to take what was expressed—a desire for dining, soft goods and a space for community—and combine it into a place destination,” Cocagne said.

The Hyatt Place hotel, which opened in September, is an important component of making Harper Court a destination for the neighborhood and University communities. “We are proud to bring the first, newly constructed hotel in 50 years to the Hyde Park community. We look forward to welcoming visitors to Hyde Park, the University of Chicago and UC Medical Center,” said Ed Small, President of SMART Hotels, a developer of sustainable hotels and mixed use projects at university, college and medical campuses, and the lead developer of the Hyatt Place Chicago-South.

Cocagne noted that 40,000 square feet of Harper Court is dedicated space for outdoor festivals, farmer’s markets, concerts and community events. He added that the 518,000-square-foot project has created more than 1,000 construction jobs since the December 2011 groundbreaking and is creating an estimated 280 permanent jobs through the hotel and retail tenants. Cocagne credits the partnership among the University, the city of Chicago, the local community and private investors for making the new Harper Court a reality.

“The new Harper Court redevelopment is a welcome addition to the vibrant Hyde Park neighborhood and the City of Chicago,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Harper Court will bring new jobs, restaurants, shopping and amenities to Hyde Park, while continuing to build the city's relationship with residents, visitors, and the University of Chicago.”

Harper Court is a major component of a broader partnership among the University, city, and local community to revitalize Hyde Park’s 53rd Street commercial corridor. In the past two years, more than two dozen new businesses have opened or signed leases in the corridor, including the renovated historic Harper Theater, new restaurants by award-winning chefs, and apparel retailers Akira, Independence, Sir & Madame and Comfort Me Boutique.

“The opening of Harper Court represents a major step in the efforts to revitalize the 53rd Street retail corridor, and to bring the type of amenities that residents desire. Diverse mixtures of local and national retailers have made the investment in our community, because they believe in this project,” said 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns, who played a key role in revitalization efforts. “This would not have been possible without the efforts of residents, community stakeholders, and other partners. As we continue to move forward in the development of a sustainable community, these collaborations will be important to the success of future projects.”

Longtime Hyde Park business owner Pattie Kidwell welcomes the newcomers to 53rd Street. The owner of Asian-inspired Chant restaurant at 1509 E. 53rd St. sees the additions boosting the neighborhood as a whole. New arrivals near Harper Court include award-winning chef Matthias Merges’ much-touted A10, which opened Tuesday at 1462 E. 53rd St. Named for the motorway that connects Northern Italy to Southern France, A10 features cuisine and wines from that region, with an emphasis on handcrafted breads, pastas meats, and preserves—what Merges calls “good, tasty food.”

Chipotle, expected to be a favorite among students, also opened the week of Nov. 4 in the Harper Court building with an entrance on 53rd Street.

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception, a celebration was held on the evening of Nov. 8, with a free concert featuring music from Grammy Award-winning artist Estelle, local DJ Dave Henry and the Kenwood Academy High School choir. The event featured offerings from Harper Court’s soon-to-open restaurants and other retailers.