Harper leased — with no locals

Staff Writer

Harper Court’s retail element is almost entirely rented out, nearly 100 percent full including the space at the building being constructed, as well as in the associated projects at the former Borders building and the Harper Theater.

The retail presence at the new Harper Court will be almost entirely one of national chains and businesses with little connection to the neighborhood, unlike the makeup of the tenants at the original Harper Court, which was demolished to make way for the new development.

The most recent tenant to sign a lease on the space is Core Power Yoga, which will operate a yoga studio on the second floor of the former Borders building, above Akira. Its lease was announced at the end of November.

The largest retailers include an LA Fitness, which will occupy nearly 33,000 square feet of space, mostly on the third floor. Ulta Beauty will occupy nearly 9,000 square feet of space, selling beauty and personal care supplies, and have space for a salon.

The University of Chicago will occupy the most space in the overall Harper Court development, with 150,000 square feet of offices in the high-rise at the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue. Hyatt Place Hotel, which will have 131 rooms, is scheduled to open in 2013 and will contain underground parking, a restaurant, wine bar, pool and fitness center.

Smaller retailers include Ja’Grill and Park Tavern, a Jamaican and gastropub restaurant respectively. National chains Chipotle, Starbucks and Five Guys have all opened up or will open up shop in the coming months. A Kilwin’s confectionary store opened in the past year in an adjacent retail space.

Construction of Harper Court is projected to be completed in 2013. Retailers should begin operating in the summer.

The Harper Theater opened in January. The owners of the theater operate a similar movie house on the far North Side. The remaining businesses are all based nationally or in other parts of the city. U. of C. spokesman Calmetta Coleman said the university is happy to work with local retailers in leasing space.

The array of businesses to be opened in and around Harper Court is in stark contrast to the local feel of the original Harper Court tenants, almost all of which were locally owned. Some of the businesses there closed up altogether, while others, including a computer repair shop and a Mexican restaurant, moved to other Hyde Park locations. Some relocated outside of the neighborhood.
Artisans 21 spent about 43 years at Harper Court before they were moved out to allow for the current development on the space. It moved to another storefront at 53rd Street and Dorchester Avenue, spokesman Rob Borja said, but the rent was prohibitive.
“It was much too much for us,” Borja said. “We tried to tough it out for a year there … and the only way we did that was by donations.”

Artisans 21 opened up shop at 5503 S. Hyde Park Blvd. last fall.

The original Harper Court was built in the 1960s as part of Urban Renewal, an effort to remake Hyde Park and other urban communities nationwide with the aid of federal funding in the face of blight and disinvestment. The economic scheme of the retail complex allowed for a sliding scale of rents and encouraged local entrepreneurs and artists to get their start there. Eventually, tenants complained about flooding and other problems in the buildings, which were designed and constructed on a meager budget.