Do we want an innovation district in Harper Court?

To the Editor:

I attended the Community Meeting on Harper Court Phase 2 last Wednesday, June 14 at Kenwood Academy High School. Harper Court Phase 2 is part of the original Harper Court Redevelopment Agreement from October 2011. Section 8.23 (Affordable Housing Covenant) of that agreement reads: “Harper Court covenants and agrees that the Residential Tower, Multi-Family Building I and Multi-Family Building II shall be subject to the Affordable Housing Requirements, notwithstanding the date the Developer, its successors or assigns, applies for a building permit to construct such buildings.¬† The covenants set forth in this Section 8.23 shall run with the land and be binding upon any transferee.” (from https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/dcd/tif/T_105_HarperCourtRDA.pdf)

In lieu of the Residential Tower and Multi-Family Buildings I and II, the University of Chicago is now proposing to build an “innovation district”. I suspect that most people aren’t really sure what an innovation district is. However, I think it was pretty clear at Wednesday’s meeting that no one was asking the community whether we want Harper Court to house an innovation district at all, nor were they asking whether we prefer an innovation district to the original plan which was the basis of the $23.4 million TIF subsidy to the university. (So it doesn’t matter that they aren’t asking for additional TIF funds – the whole site is still subject to the original TIF agreement, for which we will be paying for many more years.)

Whether this change to the original agreement is legal is not obvious. Whether this change is a good one is likewise not obvious. What is obvious is that the big, important decision has been made without community input, and that the promised community meetings over the next few months will not allow us any meaningful input into the important question: do we want an innovation district in Harper Court?

Michael Scott