High-rise proposed for 53rd

Staff Writer

A 13-story building with space for 30,000 square feet of retail and 267 rental apartments could be the future along 53rd Street but residents who heard about the plan last week were more concerned about potential traffic headaches the development could exacerbate than the size of the building.

Mesa Development principal James Hanson presented the proposed development to the 53rd Street Tax Increment Advisory Council on Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Currently 218 parking spaces are planned on two floors of the building. Roughly half of those will be reserved for retail customers and another half reserved for the residents. Hansen said 120 parking spaces for bicycles will also be included in the hopes that people will use low-emission means of travel to get to and from the building.

“We’re trying to get people out and taking public transportation,” Hansen said. “What we’re not trying to do is address any other larger parking issues on 53rd Street or in the community. We want to make sure we’re not adding to any problems but we can’t solve the problems with one building.”

Hansen said an as-yet-incomplete study suggested that no more traffic would be created after the development is complete than the Mobil gas station and the Hyde Park Mobil Car Wash, 1330 E. 53rd St., currently generate. University of Chicago spokesman Calmetta Coleman said that a study of parking needs has been completed.

The ground floor will have space for one 20,000-square-foot, big-box retailer, and a second 10,000-square-foot space for a second shop. Both retailers would have access to the parking spaces. Hansen said there are currently no stores committed to open up shop in either space.

“Our traffic generation is not going to be more than what is there now,” Hansen said.

Ald. Will Burns (4th) said a proposed Special Services Area (SSA) could create revenue that can be put towards relieving congestion along 53rd Street.

“One of the things SSAs do in other parts of the city is they have circulators, you know. So people park on one end of the corridor or the other end of the corridor and they get on the circulator which takes them through the corridor so they’re not driving up and down the street,” Burns said. “A large number of people who use 53rd Street currently don’t drive to access 53rd Street. They walk or use public transportation and I suspect that will continue.”

The University of Chicago owns the property and has committed to putting 15 percent affordable housing in the property and adding another 5 percent in university-owned buildings within the neighborhood. Forty of the apartments in the building would be reserved as affordable. About half of the apartments will be two-bedrooms, another 35 percent of them will be one-bedrooms and the remaining 15 percent will be studio apartments. Because it is a new development and being constructed without any public funds, Hansen said, rents will be on the high end.

“We don’t want to be the rent leader in Hyde Park or in the city,” Hansen said. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment could be around $2,000 per month, a one-bedroom could be around $1,400 per month and a studio apartment could rent for $1,200 per month.
Work will begin demolishing the Mobil site this year, with the groundbreaking expected to take place in January 2014. Construction is expected to take around 18 months and be completed in the fall of 2015.

Coleman said the gas station and car wash will remain open until late summer.

“We hired an environmental consultant,” Hansen said. “The site doesn’t show any … serious environmental concerns. We will go in and remove the tanks and get those out of the ground before we build. When we remove them we’ll test the soil and will confirm what we think, which is there are no problems in the earth. If there are we’ll clean it up.”