November 21, 2008

University and city solicit Harper Court development partners

The University moved forward with plans to bring mixed-use development to Harper Court on Tuesday, beginning the process that will allow developers to submit proposals for the site.

The University asked the city for a Request for Proposal (RFP), a city document that solicits responses from developers on how they would develop the site.

In May, the University purchased Harper Court, a shopping center on South Harper Avenue between East 53rd and East 52nd Streets that had largely fallen into disrepair. The purchase came as part of a larger University effort to revitalize Hyde Park. Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle has aided the effort to make the site more appealing to developers, adding a city-owned parking lot adjacent to the property last year.

The University and the city’s development office issued the joint RFP for the three-acre site. The RFP request is the first step in redeveloping Harper Court and the adjacent lot.

The U of C has been working closely with the community for the stated purpose of ensuring that residents’ needs are identified and incorporated into the project. The University collaborated with Preckwinkle and the city’s Department of Planning and Development to request the RFP, and plans to continue working with Preckwinkle in planning the development.

According to Associate Vice President of Civic Engagement Susan Campbell, the Hyde Park community, as well as faculty and staff, have asked the University to take a more active role in making Hyde Park a safe and lively neighborhood.

“[The site] could be redeveloped and serve as a catalyst, if you will, for redevelopment of the entire corridor,” Campbell said.

The University hopes to create a destination retail center that might include restaurants, retail, a movie theater, and a boutique hotel. According to Campbell, students have also expressed a strong desire to have a late-night diner.

There are also prospective plans to create housing on the site. Increased density on 53rd Street, Campbell said, would help support better quality uses of the space.

“I think we’re looking for both [chains and local businesses] because I think both are necessary for a successful mix that can be sustainable,” Campbell said. “What the chains provide is a sense—they anchor an area and provide a sense of community.”

However, local business would differentiate Harper Court from other retail opportunities, according to Campbell.

“Since Hyde Park is so diverse, we have great interest in strong representations by local businesses,” she said. Highlighting the unique diversity of Hyde Park through distinctive local businesses might also attract shoppers from outside the neighborhood.

In the past, Hyde Park has faced difficulties attracting businesses because of a lack of clear statistical data about Hyde Park’s population and demographics.

“I think what our challenge is, is to basically provide data and information to retailers about the spending patterns of such a diverse population,” Campbell said. “For example, students and their spending patterns don’t end up in these standard means because they don’t always list Hyde Park as their residence.”

A large working daytime population commutes to Hyde Park but does not live here, and its spending in Hyde Park has not been quantified. Additionally, Campbell said, spending patterns by the black community have been significantly underrepresented for years.

Currently, a lot of spending by Hyde Park residents occurs outside of the neighborhood. “People leave the area with their dollars and spend it, for example, down on Roosevelt Road,” Campbell said.

“From our own personal perspective, having a quality environment in which you work and live is a strong recruitment and retention tool,” Campbell said.

The University’s increased interest in the neighborhood follows a growing trend of university engagement with residents and commercial development. Other universities, such as Yale, MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania, have attracted residents and commercial activity through mixed-use projects in recent years.