U. of C. proposes 415-spot parking garage and recreation center at 61st and Kimbark Ave

A rendering of proposed U. of C. parking and recreation structure. (Drawing courtesy of University of Chicago)

By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Staff writer

The University of Chicago maintains that its proposed south campus parking garage and recreation center will fulfill the needs of community members and visitors at the David M. Rubenstein Forum and the Study Hotel, which are currently under construction along 60th Street.

On Dec. 5, the U. of C.’s Office of Civic Engagement presented plans to a small group of community members and Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) about the new development on the southern part of campus near the Harris School of Public Policy, 1307 E. 60th St.

The proposed parking garage and recreation center will be located at 61st Street and Kimbark Ave. — currently a vacant site owned by the university. The development will create 415 parking spaces and three floors of recreational space that can be used by members of the public who become members. According to the presentation, the project will happen in two phases.

Construction of the first phase of the development will start in May 2020 and will take around 10 months to complete pending permit approval. It will have 315 parking spaces on four floors and at least 18 spaces of bike parking. The main vehicular entrance to the parking garage will be accessed via Kimbark Avenue to minimize traffic on 61st Street. Pedestrian access to the garage will be located on the northwest and southwest corners of the building. A new curb cut on 61st Street is proposed to allow vehicular access from that street. Parking will be available to the public, and weekend and evening discounts that will be available.

In addition to the parking garage, Phase 1 will have a community room on the first floor. The free space will be dedicated for community use between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and reservations will be coordinated through the Office of Civic Engagement. The space is expected to be complete in March of 2021.

Phase 2 is currently under internal review, the university will decide in March of 2021 when to start construction. There will be a community alert once a decision is made. The second part of the development will include 100 parking spaces, which will bring the total parking spaces to 415, with three floors for recreational space. The plan includes four rooms for fitness classes, an indoor track, basketball courts and fitness equipment. Similar to the U. of C.’s Ratner Athletics Center, 5530 S. Ellis Ave., community members will be able to access the facility through a membership.

The contractor on the project is Clark Construction, in partnership with Powers and Sons. The university expects the project to create 10 new full-time and part-time jobs to operate the facility when completed. Phase 1 is expected to generate an average of 40 temporary construction jobs per month over the 10 month-period while Phase 2 will average 60 temporary construction jobs over an 18 month-period.

After the presentation, community members raised concerns about how the proposed garage might impact residents near 61st Street. Many comments focused on traffic along 61st Street.

One community member said: “The corner of 61st in Kenwood is very dangerous. There is no stop sign there. I tried to complain to the alderman’s office. People fly down that street. I was just hoping that they could put a stop sign or a stoplight or something there. Having this parking lot, it’s going to create more traffic and it’s going to be even more dangerous than what it is now.”

“I will ask for a street study, but I can’t say that I want a stop sign or I want a speed bump,” Ald. Taylor said. “Right now, as it stands, I got my new menu money and I couldn’t even pay for it to be there. They actually have to (perform) a street study.” She also asked constituents to send their complaints or experiences about what happened at the corner to 311 and her office to help strengthen the case for a stop sign. She will submit complaints to the city’s Department of Transportation.

s.smylie@hpherald.com