New 53rd Street Apartment Building Approved, Despite Community Objection

The development joins a procession of projects that have popped up on 53rd Street over the past several years.

By Greg Ross

The Chicago Plan Commission approved a new residential building proposed for 1600 E. 53rd Street yesterday. The project will consist of a 295-foot-tall, 250-unit apartment tower atop a podium with ground-floor retail and 173 parking spaces.

Designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz and developed by Mac Properties, the glassy tower will rise 28 stories above the northwest corner of East 53rd and S. Cornell Avenue. The site is currently a parking lot.

The project was given the green light despite opposition from community members. On April 13, about 40 community members attended a meeting to voice concerns about parking, density, and rising rents, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

“It’s a major change for the community,” said Robin Kaufman (A.B. ‘65), a Hyde Park resident of 56 years. She added that city officials and Mac did not seek enough community input on the project. “There were no hearings to find out what the community wanted. The [April 13] meeting was only to present their plan, not to listen to community members.”

In addition to populating the area with more residents, the development will add 10,000 square feet of retail space to 53rd Street. “It will stretch the 53rd Street retail corridor from Woodlawn Avenue all the way to Hyde Park Boulevard,” Peter Cassel, Director of Community Development for Mac, told The Maroon.

The development joins a procession of projects that have popped up on 53rd Street over the past several years. It began with Harper Court, a complex with office space, stores, and a hotel, which was completed in 2013. The University invested $30 million in Harper Court in an effort to jumpstart nearby development. Next door, the University also reopened the shuttered Harper Theater in 2013 and launched the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2014.

More recently, developers like Mac have been busy. In late 2015, the 180-unit City Hyde Park was completed just north of Harper Court. Vue53, a 267-unit complex at 1330 E. 53rd St., opened to residents last fall. Solstice on the Park, a 250-unit tower at 1616 E. 56th St., is currently under construction. A 19-unit condo building is proposed for 1400 E. Hyde Park Boulevard.

Kaufman objects to the rapid community growth. “Developers build to make money,” she said. “Residents don’t have a voice anymore. I don’t know where it’s going to end. We’re concerned they’re going to yuppify this place.”

Before the current crop of new construction, Hyde Park saw no major development for nearly thirty years. But after the new 53rd St. tower is complete, nearly 1,000 units—about 2 percent of Hyde Park’s total housing units—will have been added to the neighborhood over a span of just four years.

“Today we see continued, strong demand from people who want high-quality apartments in Hyde Park. The [53rd St.] building will help cater to this market,” said Cassel. He also referred to rising rents: “Part of the reason why Hyde Park’s rental market has been so tight is the lack of new supply, and we think this building will help relieve some of this pressure.”

While the exact allotment of the building’s units is subject to change, approximately 40 percent of the units will have one bedroom, 40 percent will be two-bed units, and the remaining 20 percent will be three-bed units and studios. According to Mac, rents will be “competitive with similar Chicago and Hyde Park properties.”

Mac aims to break ground on the building by the end of the year, with occupancy beginning in the summer of 2019.