University administrators met with about 20 students on Tuesday night to discuss Hyde Park commerce in general and what businesses students would like to see considered for former Meridian site. The Meridian Theater, located at the corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue, closed its doors permanently last April.
In May, the University purchased the defunct movie theater, as well as an adjacent commercial building housing several small retail operations, for $2.275 million. While the future of the site remains uncertain, administrators Bill Michel, deputy dean of students in the University; Jo Reizner, director of real estate operations; and Hank Weber, vice president for community affairs, made it clear on Tuesday night that the University would act as a landlord for the property, leasing the space to outside firms.
Tuesday night's meeting was part of an ongoing effort by the University to determine what businesses will best meet the demands of the Hyde Park community. "We're doing what any responsible landlord would do: we're gauging the market," Webber explained.
There were many disagreements at the meeting about what businesses would best serve the Hyde Park community. In general, the opinions of students tended to differ along age lines.
Most graduate students reacted favorably to the idea of a movie theater and to other suggestions that would generate more nightlife in Hyde Park. "I think of Hyde Park as my home, and I would love to have more reasons to stay here when I go out in the evenings," third-year medical student Susan Merel said.
Many undergraduates, however, did not feel a new movie theater would be a worthwhile use of the space. Several students in the college argued that movie-going is an activity that is best served by downtown and North Side theatres, saying that a trip to the movies is most enjoyable when supplemented with other activities unavailable in Hyde Park.
"Because downtown and the North Side have so many movie theaters, I know I am going to be able to find a movie I want to see at a time that is convenient for me and the person or persons that I am going with," said Scott Grabarski, a fourth-year in the College.
"Plus, I can combine the movie going with shopping, eating out and going to a club," Grabarski said.
One business idea supported by undergraduates and graduate students alike was an all-hours eating establishment, similar to some North Side diners.
The site of the former Meridian theater presents several restrictions on the range of potential businesses. For example, the proximity of the site to a nearby church precludes the possibility of a liquor license for the building. In addition, any business that opens on the site will have to appeal not only to students in the area, but to the community at large.
"Very few businesses can do well purely on student solicitation," Webber explained.