Comments on the original May 12 2008 Harper Court Area draft guidelines, by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

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The following was submitted to Chicago Consultant Studios, the TIF Planning Committee and other parties at the end of May 2008. It responded to the original draft introduced May 12, 2008 and updates the original HPKCC statement of principles for Harper Court issued in 2006 and is informed by the Harper Court Priorities Survey 2008. Written by George Rumsey.

George W. Rumsey
Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference
1525 East 53rd Street, Suite 907
Chicago, IL 60615
Tel (773) 955-4455

Chicago Consultants Studio
19 S. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60603

Dear Chicago Consultants Studio:

In June, 2006, the Board of Directors of HPKCC voted to endorse the following six objectives for redevelopment of Harper Court and the adjoining parking lot:

(1) The original mission of Harper Court is still needed today and should be retained.
There are many innovative ways the original mission can be carried forward, assisting local artisans and start-up businesses without hindering a new burst of retail development. How will the Harper Court Arts Council and the University of Chicago be a part of this process?

(2) The current tenants should be “helped” to stay in business during any construction period.
There is a very devoted following for many of the businesses and restaurants currently operating in Harper Court. Any development proposal should include rapid and immediate assistance to these businesses in finding alternative locations within the neighborhood.

(3) Any development must be appropriate for Hyde Park, and should preferably be appealing to a broad spectrum of the neighborhood, a plus would be a "gateway effect" for 53rd Street.

The “historic” nature and “pedestrian” character of 53rd Street should be preserved and enhanced. New development should also seek to become a “destination” for the mid-Southside, appealing to a diverse mix of customers. The recent survey of Harper Court emphasized these concerns, including accessibility (for handicapped and seniors) and diversity.

(4) Any new development should be kept at a height consistent with 53rd Street, generally no higher than 4 stories.
Although taller buildings will probably need to be included in any development mix, the placement of such buildings should not conflict with existing lower buildings in the area, nor create a canyon effect on 53rd Street itself. Height along Lake Park (a transportation corridor) is preferable to height along 53rd.

(5) More adequate parking must be provided.
Convenient parking is not enough. Off-street parking must be of a scale to meet the needs of a successful retail area, and thought should be given to creative parking fees and/or time limits to entice customers to visit and shop. Residential parking must also meet the need.

(6) Public space (such as for chess benches and the summer farmer’s market) is required.
A community or civic area should be provided, where the neighborhood can come together. Such open space should be active, well-lit at night, safe, and easily accessible to all. Welcoming landscaping throughout should be mandatory.

For this project to succeed, it needs to create activity and nightlife along 53rd Street, appeal to students as well as to the broader Southside, be universally accessible, and be built with “architectural design appropriate to the context.”

The University of Chicago is to be commended for recognizing most of these points in its Harper Court Area Redevelopment Briefing. It is also important for the University to explain the “community review process.” Such a process must certainly begin with the TIF Advisory Council, but it needs to extend beyond that group to achieve real community engagement.

At the May 12 TIF meeting, the presenting team for the University made a verbal commitment to engage the community with the Corridor Housing Initiative (building blocks) process in the planning of the Harper Court area. The Conference would certainly applaud this as real community input.


George W. Rumsey
Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

cc: Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, 4th Ward
Susan Campbell, Associate Vice President for Community Affairs, University of Chicago
Howard Males, Chair, 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council
Chuck Thurow, Planning & Development Chair, 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council
The Editor, Hyde Park Herald