A roundup of a hot development year

Staff Writer

Harper Court
Harper Court opened after years of planning and was sold within a week to the University of Chicago.

Top brass from the University of Chicago, Vermilion Development, the City of Chicago, Hyatt Hotels and others that helped fund it cut the ribbon on the $139 million development on Nov. 8.

The university first bought the old Harper Court development in May 2008 for $6.5 million. It announced shortly thereafter that three of the four buildings would be razed to make way for a large-scale, mixed-use development.

“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 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 150,000 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.”

But Jo Reizner, who served as co-chair of the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council when the money was granted, questioned if the board would have given approval to spend the money if they had known of the university’s plans to buy it at the outset.

“I think that, had the council and/or the community known that the university was going to buy Harper Court from Vermilion, and [Harper Court Partners], I wonder if the vote to allocate the money, or the sentiment toward allocating the money, would have been different had people known that $23.4 million would ultimately benefit the university,” Reizner said. “The university is a multibillion operation and I think that, for myself, I would have thought the university would fund that themselves. That $23.4 million could potentially have been seed money for a lot of other development and improvement in the area.”

The university said it does not plan to keep Harper Court in its real estate portfolio and will begin searching for another long-term owner.

Vue 53
A 13-story retail and residential tower was proposed for the former site of the McDonalds and Mobil station at 1330 E. 53rd St. The development, which would be significantly larger than the buildings surrounding it, was hotly debated, and a lawsuit was filed to stop it.

Nearly 100 Hyde Parkers came to Augustana Lutheran Church on March 18, many to voice concerns that the building is too tall and out of proportion for the surrounding neighborhood or to support a development that could connect the east and west ends of 53rd Street in Hyde Park.

The most vocal opponents to the building, which will have 30,000 square feet of retail space, 267 apartments and 218 parking spaces, say that it will increase traffic and parking problems in an already congested area and that its size is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

A lawsuit, filed by neighborhood residents in August, seeks to overturn the zoning decision made by the City of Chicago that allows for a project so tall on those lots.

Construction began on the former Mobil station. The ground was tested for environmental concerns and the gas tanks were removed from underneath the lot.

The demolition will include tearing down Hyde Park’s graffiti wall, a place where talented artists have been painting for nearly two decades.

The long, low wall that extends from the eastern edge of the car wash to the western edge of the building that houses the Sit Down Café, has for more than 20 years, been the site of a rotating art exhibit of sorts.

The wall that faces the alley behind the Mobil gas station between Kenwood and Kimbark avenues, changes from week to week, or even day to day.

Called a “permission wall,” graffiti artists from across the city have come to paint on this wall since the early 1990s. A permission wall is a place where graffiti artists can paint freely, without fear of being arrested, because they have permission from the owner to paint.

Hyde Park’s first new hotel in decades opened its doors to travelers on September 17, offering the most up-to-date amenities possible.

The Hyatt Place Chicago South/University Medical Center is a six-story, 131-room hotel with space for small conferences, a fitness center, hot breakfasts and room service.

The hotel hired approximately 35 employees, said John Schultzel, vice president of hotel management for The Olympia Companies. Olympia is working to operate the hotel in conjunction with Smart Hotels, which specializes in hotels on university campuses.

City Hyde Park

After years of planning and a recession that nearly killed the project entirely, demolition began on that site that will eventually be home to City Hyde Park.

Once construction is finished the site will be home to City Hyde Park, a Studio Gang Architects-designed 17-story building, with a Whole Foods, and 182 apartments.

Demolition on the Village Shopping Center is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Excavation will eventually lead to sewer upgrades at the site and two levels of underground parking. Construction is estimated to take around 18 months, during which time street parking surrounding the site will be closed.

The project slowed for months due primarily to challenges associated with lining up all the necessary funding sources, but is expected to open on schedule in the fall of 2015.

It is being funded with $11.3 million in tax increment financing dollars, new market tax credits, tax breaks for buildings constructed in “low-income areas,” tax breaks that come as a result of building in an enterprise zone, and private loans and equity.

Dorm Demo
By October, Pierce Hall was demolished. The University of Chicago will replace it with a Jeanne Gang-designed dormitory complex that includes three buildings and lots of green space.

The university unveiled its plans to replace the aging building with three towers — five, 11 and 15 stories in height — that will occupy the lot where Pierce Tower formerly stood and also the open field behind it.

Jeremy Manier, news director at the U. of C., said work is not expected to close either 55th Street or University Avenue during the three years the site will be under construction. The tallest tower will be 165 feet tall.

The three towers will be slightly angled in the center, so as to seem less imposing from the street. The new dorm will have eight houses, each with about 100 students. Every three stories will have its own “house hub” where students can gather in a communal setting, further clustering the buildings.

Manier said the university would like to see 75 percent of its student body living on campus. Having students of varying ages living in the same space is designed to encourage creativity and build a stronger sense of community. Older students can live in the apartment-style suites while younger undergrads can live in more traditional the one- or two-bedroom dorms.

Trees will line University Avenue, in an attempt to maintain a residential feel along the block, but 55th Street will have a more active streetscape that includes retail.

The new dormitory will have space for 800 students, up from Pierce’s 250-student capacity.

Special Service Area
A Special Service Area (SSA) proposed for the area surrounding the 53rd Street business district would add to the property taxes in the area to pay for certain benefits.

The proposed 53rd Street SSA would largely overlap with the tax increment financing district, but if approved would have a huge effect on tax bills for those businesses and residences.

An SSA would initially add .65 percent to the tax base from which the property’s tax bill is calculated. But it could add as much as .95 percent to the tax base. That small percentage could create a much bigger tax bill for the business owners and residents.

If a property had a tax rate that initially charged 1.5 percent, an additional .65 percent SSA tax would raise the amount that property’s tax bill to 2.15 percent. A property valued at $500,000 would pay $7500 in taxes without the SSA and $10,750 with the additional tax.

The SSA would primarily exist on 53rd Street between Woodlawn Avenue and 5307 S. Hyde Park Blvd., and Lake Park Avenue, between 5130 S. Lake Park Ave. and 5500 S. Lake Park Ave. and along Harper Avenue, between 52nd and 53rd streets.

The proposed area covers largely commercial properties but it does include three strictly residential buildings and 17 mixed-use buildings.

“The average residential condo would (pay) about $22 a month or $270 per year,” said Dave Cocagne, president of Vermillion Development, who sits on the SSA advisory board. Residents who live within the SSA would be served by the area, including with services like snow removal and street beautification.

“I am not a business person. I’m a condo owner … It’s increasing our tax bill by almost $300. For us, as homeowners, it means nothing,” said Rene Pomerleau, a resident of a condo building at 53rd Street and Cornell Avenue. “I’m a Chicagoan. I’ve been here a long time. I’m not asking for an exception, I’m asking for creativity.”
The SSA money would be used to fund street beautification and to attract and retain businesses along the 53rd Street retail corridor.

Ingleside Hall
The University of Chicago demolished Ingleside Hall to make way for an expansion of the Quadrangle.

Ingleside Hall was not a candidate for preservation because when it was first constructed, in 1896, it served as the Quad Club and sat at the corner of 58th Street and University Avenue.

“Even at the time it was open it was considered to be too small for its use as the Quad Club,” U. of C. spokesman Calmetta Coleman said. Between July and December of 1898 the building had three separate fires that damaged the façade and the roof. An annex was added while repairing damage the following year.

In 1920 the university picked up Ingleside Hall and moved it to 956 E. 58th St., where it remained until it was demolished this fall.

To fit the building onto its new lot a 12-foot portion was cut out of the middle of the building. That left it too extensively damaged to be eligible for preservation.

Becker-Friedman Institute
The University of Chicago spent the year renovating the former Chicago Theological Union to the Becker-Friedman Institute, 5757 S. University Ave.

The entrance to the building will be moved to the south side, along 58th Street. Underground excavations will provide additional space for classrooms and mechanical equipment. The alley that used to divide the building is being moved.

The building will retain some of the original stained glass. Renovation on other properties on the block has been underway.

The institute is expected to open in the spring as the U. of C.’s center for student offices, housing faculty, research and instruction.

New windows with leaded glass have been installed.

A new arched entrance and surrounding glass curtain walls are being constructed, facing 58th Street. When completed, 58th Street will be closed off to traffic and turned into a pedestrian walkway.

The second phase of construction includes the addition of a research pavilion in the vacated alley behind the building.

The Reagan Apartment
An apartment building where Ronald Reagan lived, for ten months when he was 3-years-old, was torn down to make way for a parking garage.

The building, 832 E. 57th St., was constructed in the early 1900s. Reagan lived there for 10 months between the ages of 3 and 4. He wrote about his time in the home in his memoir. His family arrived in 1914 and while living there he survived a bout of pneumonia before his family left.

Shoreland Hotel
The Shoreland Hotel began accepting tenants again last August, after sitting vacant for years.

Once the $50 million renovation was completed the Shoreland, 5454 S. Shore Dr., had 330 apartments. MAC Property Management spokesman Peter Cassel hopes to rent the banquet hall on the first floor to a restaurant. The second floor ballroom, Cassel said, will be fully renovated and they hope to use it as an event space for parties.

“Our hope is we can find somebody who wants to run that restaurant, who wants to run that catering company,” Cassel said in March.

The ballroom was originally constructed in a Spanish revival style. In the 1930s it was renovated in an art deco style. Large, decorative pieces of the façade were removed and will be repurposed within the building “to provide historical continuity with modern juxtaposition,” Cassel said.

Outside of University of Chicago-owned properties there aren’t many large rooms to hold parties or events in Hyde Park, Cassel said. He hopes to partner with a catering or event management company who will manage the space.

The building is now a thoughtful mishmash of its original Spanish revival, renovated art deco and contemporary décor.

To help relieve parking congestion, the building’s original court was excavated so 40 parking spaces could be created.

The original portico will remain as a prominent feature. Literally removing the ground beneath it meant constructing scaffolding to hold it in place, floating at least 15 feet above the ground below it.

“I’ll admit two years ago it seems like a wild idea, but today it’s possible,” Cassel said.

Frank Lloyd Wright


The developer who proposed to buy and rehabilitate two decaying South Kenwood Frank Lloyd Wright homes was surprised last November when Ald. Will Burns (4th) killed the plan at the first meeting.

Tawani Enterprises had plans to buy the two adjacent houses, which are currently listed at $1.175 million and $1.15 million and in need of heavy repairs, to rehabilitate them and open a bed-and-breakfast.

Tawani, which is headed by billionaire Jennifer Pritzker, sought neighborhood approval to run a bed-and-breakfast out of the two homes at a Fourth Ward community meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, at St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave. Kenwood residents vocally opposed allowing an economic enterprise to open on the largely residential block.

“We understand that people in the neighborhood would like to keep all these single-family homes and mansions just as they were built, but the challenge is that the times have changed,” said Sean McGowan, chief operating officer at Tawani. “The maintenance and upkeep to keep these older, precious homes tends to be too much of a financial burden on an individual. We can go in, we can restore these houses to their original grandeur and repurpose them as B&Bs … and bring in the cash flow to help restore everything we put into them.”

Neighbors at the Nov. 25 meeting vehemently opposed a commercial enterprise opening on the residential street.

“I bought in this neighborhood because I wanted to live in a single-family neighborhood,” said Dr. Anita Blanchard. “It will bring transients into our neighborhood, people who are just here for a few days right across the street from a park and a school.”