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Letter to U of C President Robert J. Zimmer and Alderman Toni Preckwinkle from Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, June 30, 2008

The following letter (text) was sent expressing concerns and hopes subsequent to a meeting of the HPKCC Development Committee May 18, 2008

June 30, 2008

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle
4659 South Cottage Grove, Ste 203
Chicago, IL 60653
President Robert J. Zimmer
5801 South University
Chicago, IL 60637


Dear Alderman Preckwinkle and President Zimmer:

In recent years, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its community-based Development Committee have been actively involved discovering and representing community interests in development proposals concerning the Harper Theater and Herald buildings, Harper Court Area, and 53rd Street in general.

Our purpose has been to encourage transparency and accountability in discussions and negotiations impacting these areas of development focus. The Conference had been encouraged and supportive of recent positive accomplishments including (1) the model RFP process for the Theater buildings; (2) the series of community meetings and forums related to disclosing the nature and ramifications of negotiations to sell and redevelop Harper Court and subsequently create a model community-input RFP process for Harper Court Area, and (3) the 53rd Street Visioning Process and community surveys related to the future of 53rd Street.

However, the recent announcements that the University has now agreed to purchase Harper Court and simultaneously that it has terminated the developer for the Harper Theater and Herald buildings have raised concerns that all of these community activities may have been for naught.

The Conference and the Development Committee are concerned that these matters may be decided through separate, undisclosed planning and negotiation while the public continues to believe their interests are being ascertained and addressed in widely supported public processes. The Conference, and the community that it represents, hopes these concerns are unfounded and feel we are obligated to bring these concerns to the University’s and the Alderman’s attention.

We do strongly support speedy development and good planning based on the conclusions reached to date from the meetings, surveys, and studies: People want an increase in retail and an increase in choices that will serve real needs of a very diverse market, revive the life and gateway character of the business district, and are likely to stay. We believe that if what is brought in serves the broadest interests and reflects the character and needs of both neighborhood and University, success for everyone will be assured.
Yet, we are concerned that progress is being set back and a negative image created by owners or developers emptying buildings and creating “brown-papered” vacancies or clearing land long before planning is carried out and work can begin. A very visible example is the 53rd Harper property whose imminent development is now further delayed. The vacancies increase the uncertainty of businesses—some very valuable to the neighborhood, including businesses in Harper Court, at a time when the University has significantly increased its commercial presence on 53rd and high rents remain an obstacle to business location and retention.

We suggest new thinking on how to create more permanent and temporary options for such businesses including in buildings that do become vacant or that are underutilized. We suggest not tearing down first and developing later, which carries no guarantee of faster development and precludes adaptive reuse of buildings that may be assets and serve the character of the district.

Now that the University has an increased presence north of 55th Street and redevelopment is within reach, we ask that all recommit to doing our best to honor community process and act communicatively, truthfully and collegially.

We believe the University, the city and the community share goals and hopes for commercial development and can work to make this great community and center of learning—and applied learning—a shining model.


Gary M. Ossewaarde
Development Committee Chairman and Vice President,
Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

CC: Howard Males, Chair, 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council
George W. Rumsey, President, HPKCC