University buys back Harper Court five days after ribbon cutting

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago purchased the newly-opened, retail complex and 12-story office tower Harper Court.

“The University’s contract with Harper Court Partners allowed for the University to purchase the property, including Phase II, for approximately $98 million,” said Calmetta Coleman, director of communications for Civic Engagement at the U. of C.

The university purchased the property from Vermilion Development, JFJ Development and Canyon Johnson Urban Funds.

The Hyatt Place Hotel that is part of the complex was not a part of the transaction.

The university said in a press release, “The contract with the developer included an option for the University to acquire property that is part of Phase I of the project. The deal, which includes the 150,00-square-foot office tower, more than 75,000 square feet of retail and two parking garages, as well as rights to land for Phase II, closed Nov. 14.”

Harper Court officially opened for business last Friday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by top brass from each partner company — and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“Harper Court Partners has previously expressed intentions to sell the building after construction. By taking ownership now, the University can make decisions about the conditions of a sale, help guide the future of the complex and guarantee that it continues to support a mix of amenities that complement existing businesses in the 53rd Street corridor and reflect the kinds of retail options local residents want,” Coleman said.

Coleman said those amenities include a mix of national, Chicago-based and locally owned businesses.

Vermilion Development, the Danville, Ill.-based lead developer on the project, sought and was approved for $23.4 million in tax increment financing money, a public subsidy used to spur development. The TIF money helped fund the first $114 million of the development.

In the press release announcing the sale, James Hennessy, associate vice president for Commercial Real Estate Operations, said the university does not plan to own Harper Court permanently and it will begin searching for “the most appropriate owner for the long-term.”

Coleman said the university “will seek a buyer that is committed to the long-term success of Harper Court and the Hyde Park community and to attracting and maintaining a mix of amenities that meet the needs of the community.”

The university will pay the same property taxes that a private owner would and intends to contribute money back into the 53rd Street TIF District.

The U. of C. bought the original Harper Court in 2008 to make way for the massive redevelopment plan. The site, along with an adjacent city-owned parking lot and another parcel, was then sold to the development team that built the new Harper Court.