November 12, 2004

Checkerboard to open by springtime

By the time students return from winter break, construction will have begun on the future home of the Checkerboard Lounge, Hyde Park's first live all-jazz locale in 20 years.

University Director of Real Estate Development Jo Reizner said that the University expects construction to start within the next few weeks, and that the Checkerboard Lounge should be open by the spring.

Reizner would not disclose the name of the contractor, as a contract has not yet officially been signed.

"We have the permit for construction and we've selected a contractor," Reizner said. "The owner, LC Thurman, must still apply for and be granted two different licenses—a liquor license and a public place of amusement license."

When Thurman receives the licenses, he hopes to reap the benefits of the University's desire to see more cultural venues in Hyde Park. Thurman will be leasing the building from the University at a rate considerably less than market value.

Reizner said she attributes the long time period between Thurman's decision to move the Checkerboard and the approval of the building permit to a long lease negotiation process. Since the University leases the building from Harper Court, the Checkerboard's relocation required the approval of the Harper Court board as well.

"There were quite a few more steps involved than if it were a single transaction between us and a single party leasing the space," Reizner said.

The Committee to Restore Jazz to Hyde Park, a community group that advocated the relocation of the Checkerboard to Harper Court, had originally hoped for a grand opening around the holidays. Jim Wagner, committee chairman, said such a prediction might be "too optimistic."

"My understanding is that once they start working, it will not take too long to do the necessary work," Wagner said. "We are planning for an eventual grand opening that will last about a week. We just need to receive word from Mr. Thurman and Ms. Reizner to know when it can actually occur."

Thurman would not release details of the Checkerboard's current status. He said he had just received the building permit from the city and that further developments "shouldn't be long in coming."

When asked if the opening of the Checkerboard might occur in conjunction with larger commercial development in other buildings, like the Meridian Theatre, Thurman said to ask him in a couple of weeks.

While Reizner alluded to the Checkerboard developments as "ostensibly being the beginning of more of the same," she said that there are no concrete plans as of yet to make more commercial additions to Harper Court.

Reizner confirmed the future opening of a restaurant at the Checkerboard's top floor. Restauranteur Jerry Kleiner, the owner of Marche, Vivo, Cioco, Opera, and Saiki, plans to open an upscale restaurant in Harper Court.

Wagner said Kleiner first introduced his plans to build a new restaurant two months ago at a meeting of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, which was held to discuss the Checkerboard Lounge. Wagner said Mark Brooks, owner of a U.S. Cellular outlet in Hyde Park, will assist Kleiner in establishing the restaurant. Neither Brooks nor Kleiner could be reached for comment.