Hyde Parkers discuss area development

By Ella Christoph

Community leaders and University administrators gathered Tuesday to discuss plans for bringing appealing retail options to Hyde Park at a panel discussion entitled “Making Hyde Park: Development in Our Community,” hosted by the Southside Solidarity Network.

Wallace Goode, associate dean of students and head of the University Community Service Center, moderated the event, which was well-attended by a diverse audience of over 100 longtime residents of the neighborhood as well as University students. The seven panelists represented the University, the Hyde Park Historical Society, the Community Counsel, the Romero Cook Design Studio, the Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference, the Hyde Park Coalition for Equitable Community Development, and the 53rd Street Tax Investment Financing Board.

Most panelists endorsed increasing Hyde Park’s population density and improving basic retail options while continuing to develop the neighborhood’s sense of community.

Aaron Cook, owner of local urban planning firm Romero Cook Design Studio, suggested a catalyst for foot traffic such as an Apple Store or a Gap.

However, one University graduate student said that the Gap is a nationwide chain that would not contribute to the Hyde Park’s community-oriented environment.

George Rumsey, president of the Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference, echoed the student’s concerns.

“We try to make it so chichi and so upscale and neat, it loses all character,” he said.

Students and Hyde Park residents are looking for a mixture of high- and low-end retail, said Susan Campbell, associate vice president of the Office of Community and Government Affairs at the University, citing polls conducted by the University through telephone and e-mail interviews.

One attendee complained about the University’s tendency to provide resources for students on campus, deterring them from exploring the neighborhood.

“I think the University does a really lousy job of promoting Hyde Park at the University,” Rumsey said. “There’s no entertainment in this place besides browsing the bookstores,” he said.

The crowd laughed as Campbell added that students often cite the basement of the Reg as their favorite place to hang out.

Irene Sherr, a member of the Community Counsel and a landscape and urban planner, said it is often difficult to convince retailers that there is retail potential in Hyde Park.

Rumsey was more optimistic about the future of business diversification in the neighborhood.

“The businesses that succeed in Hyde Park appeal across the races,” Rumsey said.

Panelist Pamela Wilcoxen, a board member of the Hyde Park Coalition for Equitable Community Development, expressed concern that increasing retail options would drive up housing prices for current residents.

She also voiced concerns about senior housing and said that many seniors may no longer be able to afford rent if Hyde Park undergoes significant development.

“I’m not afraid of us losing our racial diversity. I am afraid of us losing our economic diversity,” Rumsey said.

In order to counter rising residential rates, Sherr said, developers could use TIF fund incentives, which require keeping at least 20 percent of housing affordable to low-income residents.

More concerns about housing for low-income residents will be addressed at a University-sponsored panel discussion on Progressive Urban Financing on Thursday at 5 p.m. in Stuart 101.