some thoughts on Harper Court

by kateagarwal

Harper Court rendering by Vermilion Developers

since we are now back to talking with the developers for the Harper Court project, i’ve been immersing myself in details, blog posts, newspaper stories, and many public comments about that venture.

the developers call it “South Side’s newest destination” and have very lofty ideas for its success. they are also very choosy about the tenants they accept for the new commercial spaces, both alongside 53rd Street and inside the courtyard they are creating.

we first talked to the UofC real estate guys back in september 2011 where we learned about this huge project. and it is HUGE, especially by Hyde Park standards, as our humble neighborhood is where not much happens: “12-story, 150,000-square-foot office building, about 100,000 square feet for retailers and parking for 435.” and the proposed buildings, all 12 plus stories of them (more with potential future housing units), seem way out of character, architecturally speaking, for the neighborhood.

proposed Harper Court project map

back when we first started taking serious steps toward our business ideas and our meetings with commercial real estate agents, back in early fall of 2011, we were not looking into new construction. we wanted an older building, with character and history, something that embodied the soul of old Hyde Park. unfortunately, as we learned through this process, that’s not easy to find. and even if one finds it, one runs into the issues of zoning and venting and permits, which can nix the whole thing and break one’s heart.

since that initial conversation with the UofC real estate guys, we have talked a lot about the Harper Court project and the future of 53rd Street after it’s completed. and we listened to friends and neighbors and neighborhood bloggers. things are definitely changing in our old, a bit grungy ‘hood. :-) shiny new buildings, new fancy parking options, a remodeled movie theater (wow, we will soon be able to watch movies in our own neighborhood again!!!!), new places to eat… Harper Court holds a lot of promise. of things getting better, of the image of Hyde Park moving toward more upscale and hip, of change and new beginnings.

old Harper Court sign

not everyone is tickled pink about Harper Court, however.

many neighbors and community folks have issues with the University of Chicago’s real estate activities of past and present. many people feel that UofC is eating up historic parts of Hyde Park and converting them to character-lacking glass houses. many feel UofC is destroying the character and soul of Hyde Park in favor of larger profits. the UofC has a bad reputation of evicting local small businesses in favor of large national chains without any regard for the neighborhood opinion.

i really loved (and miss) the old Harper Court. i miss the days of delicious fried green tomatoes at Dixie Kitchen and the relaxing Caribbean vibe of Calypso Cafe, and i especially miss the really old days of the Medici on Harper (which is too old for links, apparently) where Penne Funghi stole my heart and to this day has no equal (it’s been like 18 years now).

but times change. even in Hyde Park. and the lofty ideas of the new Harper Court do have some potential. potential for growth, potential for change for the better, potential for creating new community spaces that will enrich this amazing neighborhood and once again cater to its diverse needs.

so maybe it’s fitting that we pursue this option again. we’re all about new beginnings and community building. :-) maybe we can be that rare local small business that will make it within the not-so-friendly landscape of UofC real estate developments. we’ll see.

rendered view of the main UofC office building on the corner of 53rd and Lake Park Ave, from the Harper Court project website