Plans call for Harper Court’s Phase 2 to focus on science, research

Wexford Vice President Dennis Miller explains that the light blue areas on the schematic represent laboratory use; the dark blue, office use; and the mustard color, the “super floor.” (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Contributing writer

On Wednesday evening, Ald. Sophia King (4th) hosted a community meeting in Kenwood to present plans for the second phase of development of the Harper Court project. Around 20 people showed up to the meeting, which included representatives from Baltimore-based developer Wexford Science + Technology and the University of Chicago’s real estate operations arm. 

The proposed building will be erected at the site of the four-story parking and retail structure on South Lake Park Avenue, immediately north of the 12-story office building, completed in 2013, that anchors the first phase of the Harper Court development.

“What we are going to do, is, we are actually going to construct on top of a podium which is LA Fitness as well as parking,” said Dennis Miller, vice president development for Wexford.

Wexford will add another 13 stories to the existing property, which will be 249 feet tall when completed. The planned building originally unveiled in late 2017 was to be about 28 stories tall — King said the height was brought down several times after considering it in the context of the surrounding neighborhood. (For context, the Harper Court office building is 150 feet tall, while City Hyde Park, two blocks north, is 172 feet.) 

The only tenant thus far confirmed for the building is the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, according to Miller. The Polsky Center will expand from its current spot a block west along 53rd Street, adding a 25,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor of the new development. Miller described this as a “superfloor” — a space where the researchers, scientists, and other tenants working in the building can come together and collaborate. 

“Frequently scientists on the life science side, scientists on the data science side, they don’t always communicate in the way we’d like them to. We find a way to find a floor which is dominated for programmatic events to bring together different people in the building. In this case, that’s the superfloor,” he said. 

Miller did not announce any other tenants but said that Wexford is currently in conversation with big research institutions, including several universities and national labs, about moving into the finished building. In 2017, the U. of C., together with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, announced that the new Harper Court development would contain a research and technology partnership among the three groups and the Polsky Center. Asked about the partnership by residents at the meeting, Miller said he could not confirm that the project would be part of the development. 

Both Miller and King touted various community engagement initiatives that will be part of the final development. The Polsky Center’s “superfloor” will contain dedicated spaces for local students, where they can use the building’s resources. “There’s going to be a program director that will facilitate between students and the life scientists in the building,” King said. “I don’t know the details yet, but it had to be a budget line.” The development will also have an annual $140,000 community engagement fund whose uses will include paying for programs with local schools, and subsidizing local businesses, which will be able to rent space about 20 percent below the building’s list price.