By Derek R.B. Douglas
On July 29, the University of Chicago announced that it had sold Harper Court. That news marks another milestone in the community partnership that sparked redevelopment efforts more than seven years ago, a partnership that has been enormously rewarding and successful.
The City of Chicago, local community leaders and the university began the Harper Court project in 2008 in an effort to bring new amenities and economic vitality to Hyde Park. Through a multi-year process, residents provided input on the kinds of businesses they wanted to see in the neighborhood, and the city and University provided land and other resources.
Harper Court opened in November 2013, and retail tenants include locally owned businesses like Porkchop, the soon-to-open Nancy Krause flower shop and Ja’ Grill restaurant alongside popular national brands like Starbucks, Chipotle and Ulta Beauty. Construction of the project and its retail spaces created 590 jobs. New retail tenants have added 154 permanent jobs, with 45 percent of those filled by mid-South Side residents.
Such benefits have spread beyond Harper Court. As the centerpiece of revitalization efforts on 53rd Street, the Harper Court redevelopment played an important role in encouraging others to invest in the area — from the Hyatt Place hotel to Harper Theater to A10 and the recently opened Promontory restaurant and concert venue. So far, sales for these new businesses have largely exceeded expectations, and many businesses report that Hyde Park outperforms their other locations throughout the city. These investments, in turn, have contributed to a growing vibrancy in the heart of Hyde Park that is complemented by the neighborhood’s longstanding cultural attractions — including institutions that are part of the recently announced Museum Campus South.
The increased economic activity in Hyde Park, along with the university’s commitment to a long-term master lease, helped make Harper Court an attractive investment for a real estate investment firm. And the university’s ongoing commitment to the area ensures benefits will accrue back to the community.
The master lease of the retail space enables the university to continue to honor its partnership with the community and bring in a mix of local, regional and national retailers and restaurants that are consistent with the vision expressed by the community — along with continuing to direct economic benefits to area residents. As the major tenant of Harper Court, the University will also continue to pay real estate taxes that will contribute to the 53rd Street TIF district, and further support the investments made by the city and local community.
The success of Harper Court so far is a tribute to the strong partnership that stands behind it; the promise of Harper Court lies in our ongoing, mutual commitment to continuing to make Hyde Park and the mid-South Side an outstanding place to live, work and visit.
Derek R.B. Douglas is the vice president for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago.