University Releases Memorandum of Understanding with City

The University plans to spend over $750 million in surrounding South Side communities.

By Sonia Schlesinger

Last Saturday, an agreement was released that defines the relationship between the University and the City of Chicago, as the University anticipates spending $750 million on the Mid–South Side over the next three years.

This non-binding agreement, signed alongside memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between the city and seven other Chicago-area universities, renews a 2011 version of a similar agreement that expired in 2015.

According to Calmetta Coleman, the University’s director of communications for civic engagement, the 2011 MOU has proved successful and much of the 2015 MOU aims to expand on its initiatives.

“The local community has welcomed the job, retail amenities, and neighborhood improvements resulting from projects outlined in [the 2011] agreement,” she said. “The University has met nearly all of the commitments made.”

Timika Hoffman-Zoller, president of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference, which organizes committees to work on local issues, agrees that the 2011 plan has proved beneficial for the area and is glad to see the new plan taking shape outside of the immediate university neighborhoods. “To me it’s been a very positive move,” she said. “Especially the fact that they’re committed to the mid–South Side…not just Hyde Park and Kenwood and Woodlawn.”

The 2011 MOU included provisions for development on 53rd Street, including street and park improvements and community planning in the area that has taken place in the last five years. The new MOU plans for the continued development of 53rd Street and for similar initiatives in the Washington Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods.

Members of the Hyde Park community have indicated concern regarding the plans for Nichols Park on 53rd street. The new MOU includes development of a framework plan for the park with the help of the Park Advisory Council. Nichols Park Advisory Council President, Stephanie Franklin, explained that the Advisory Council has already developed such a plan.

“The talk about developing a new plan filled [the advisory council] with trepidation,” she said. “If they want to spend money in Nichols Park the first thing they should do is talk to the advisory council. I had not been informed of the MOU and there’s no way we’re inclined to start over. We’ve done too much work to reinvent the wheel.”

Franklin said that the University’s surrounding community has expressed frustration for similar reasons in the past.

“The community has been noted for its activism and its protests because the University doesn’t announce these things until after they’re done, and that’s not honest,” she said.

The new plan also expands on the 2011 commitment to working with the University’s Office for Business Diversity to assist women and minority business owners, and refers to plans for business forums and workshops to promote local business development. Hoffman-Zoller believes that promotion of women- and minority-owned businesses is particularly important for the neighborhood.

“I’m really hopeful that we will get more employment of the minorities in the community…because one of the reasons Hyde Parkers live here is economic and racial diversity,” Hoffman-Zoller said. 

Further plans in the new MOU include expansion of educational initiatives, especially through the University’s Urban Education Institute, and improvements to Metra in the neighborhood. While the 2011 plan included funding to improve the 59th street Metra platform and to construct a 60th street station, the State of Illinois has yet to release the necessary funds to Metra. The 2015 MOU commits to “making a good faith effort to move this project forward” once such funds are obtained.

In addition to plans for Hyde Park, this MOU includes new provisions for the development of Garfield Boulevard. The University now plans to invest in an “arts and culture corridor” on Garfield in collaboration with the city’s arts community, similar to the Logan Center on campus and the Arts Incubator in Washington Park. It will also work with the city to develop “key mid–South Side corridors” such as the Bronzeville South Lakefront area with the help of local community leaders.

Overall, Hoffman-Zoller is satisfied with the new MOU’s commitment to smaller projects. “It’s just so good that these new developments aren’t just about things like the [Obama] Library,” she said. “It’s about economic development in the community, people getting jobs, wanting to eat and go to the parks and enjoy themselves in the communities where they live.”