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Hyde Park Getting Closer to Redevelopment of Harper Court

The Chicago Plan Commission approved a proposal last week to expand the property boundaries for a $114-million redevelopment of the Harper Court shopping center in Hyde Park.

The development plan calls for tearing down existing buildings, including three of the four structures in the 40-year-old shopping complex at 5211 S. Harper Ave. and East 53rd Street, replacing them with a 12-story, 150,000-square-foot office building, 100,00 square feet for retailers and parking for 435.

The University of Chicago purchased the complex from the Harper Court Arts Council in 2008 for $6.5 million as part of a community planning process to revitalize the area on 53rd Street, and will partner with the city in the plan. The city owns an adjacent parking lot on South Lake Park Avenue, just east of Harper, and the university owns the current retail properties.

“This is a magnificent project that’s been 10 years in the making,” said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th). “This will bring in hundreds of people, increase daytime traffic and be a real boost for the neighborhood.”

The first phase of the project, which is set to begin in early 2011 and end by 2013, will add 15 to 25 retail businesses to the three-acre site, including restaurants and apparel retail, as well as the office building, underground and second-floor parking and a fitness center.

The city is in talks with a few gourmet grocers to anchor the retail space, said Christopher Dillion, managing director of Vermillion Development, the Danville, Ill.-based company planning the project. Dillion declined to name possible tenants, but the Sun-Times reported that a Whole Foods may anchor the complex.

The second phase will consist of residential properties, including apartments and a condominium tower, with the hope of completion by 2015, depending on funding and the economy.

“The turn-around in the housing market will be our biggest challenge,” Preckwinkle said.

The proposal was met without opposition from South Side residents at last Thursday’s meeting and has the support of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve been meeting for the past two years in the neighborhood, so everyone could get the chance to express themselves,” Preckwinkle said.

But some neighborhood groups worry that the project might hinder any future developments beyond the boundaries of Harper Court.

“Most of the tax increment funding money is for Harper Court and not for anything else,” said Gary Ossewaarde, former vice president of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Neighborhood Association and current board member on the Preservation-Development-Zoning Committee for Hyde Park. “The funding is tight, and we are concerned that it’s taking money away from other projects in Hyde Park.”

Ossewaarde said the association also had some concerns about the viability of small start-up business getting a space in a shopping center with an expensive overhead, and said a wide variety of retail options would best serve the community.

Yolanda Travis, who manages the McDonalds that sits next to the Harper Court property, says despite initial fears of her business being dwarfed by the construction, she’s looking forward to the development being finished.

“This plan is going to build up my business,” Travis said. “I’m always worried about competition in the area, but how can you beat McDonalds? We will be fine.”

In September, the Community Development Commission approved $20 million in tax increment financing from the 53rd Street Fund for the project, Dillion said.

Part of the funding mix for the project is stimulus dollars and bonds, which require all planning for the project to be completed by the end of the year, Dillion said.

The City Council’s Committee on Finance is expected to vote on the plan in November, followed by a vote from the full council.

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