Harper Court redevelopment potential-
cache 3, mid 2006-mid 2007

This material is presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Development Committee, and their website www.hydepark.org as a community resource and record. Preparer Gary Ossewaarde

To Harper Court Sale home, navigator and current material.
To Harper Court Beginnings and History. Harper Court Cache 1 2003-early 2006.
Cache 2
mid 2006. Cache 4 mid 2007-mid 2008. Development home and navigator. 53rd St. News/Development.
53rd TIF home.

Material on the discussion of redevelopment of Harper Court in the Hyde Park Chicago business corridor, mid 2006-early 2007.


Late 2006

Meetings, progress assessment, Arts Council financial filing vitae and property appraisal. Rep. Currie at Town Hall meeting

Major: 1

Despite the partial emptying out of Harper Court in late 2006 (see following) in mid 2007 it was clear that the redevelopment of Harper Court is of the table for now, with a cooling off to see what can be done. One approach is the kind of workshop discussed immediately above.
Meanwhile, Harper Court is leasing again, with leases as long as two years. This eases the squeeze for desirable space created by the need to find spaces for tenants leaving the soon-to-be-redeveloped Harper Theater.

Nancy Stanek and her store Toys Et Cetera moved out of Harper Court for reopening in Hyde Park Shopping Center (University of Chicago owned) February 1, 2007. This long-expected move signals any possibility that tenants or other local interests sympathetic to the original mission of or keeping at least the shell of Harper Court could buy out the Arts Center and short-circuit an RFP that will almost certainly lead to demolition and complete redevelopment with the city parking lot. The tenants, who likely had the strongest stake in the process of sale, offering, and change of mission are slowly being accommodated (and incidentally gotten out of the way). But such accommodation of present tenants was and is exactly a major goal and principle of those concerned (including HPKCC) with what will happen to Harper Court and with the whole process for this publicly-founded, special public purpose facility. (The other principles are continuing original purpose to provide for marginal, needed businesses and artisans/services and for an outstanding, but in-scale development that will fill in our retail needs and possibly serve as a destination.

Stanek leaves Harper Court, Relocates toy store to the Hyde Park Shopping Center

Hyde Park Herald, January 17, 2006. By Nykeya Woods

Toys Et Cetera has found a new home in the Hyde Park Shopping Center and is moving out of Harper Court by the end of the month. Nancy Stanek’s store is moving into the northern half of the former Cohn & Stern space. On Feb. 1, Stanek plans to open the doors of the 1,664-squasre-foot store, which is equipped with full basement storage. And for the first time in 30 years she will have her own office.

“We’re happy that we’re going to continue our business in Hyde Park because it was looking very very iffy,” Stanek told the Herald last week. “Our choice was to either close down the store altogether or take our operation out of Hyde Park.”

In a 2005 interview, Stanek, who had been on a month-to-month lease with the Harper Court Foundation for a long time, said she was toying with closing her store due to declining sales. Last spring Stanek joined local veterinarian Tom Wake and restauranteur Paul Andresen, both fellow tenants, to take over the ownership of the shopping center from the Harper Court Foundation [sic]. The death of Andresen last October changed that. [The Harper court Arts Council had rejected offers, also.]

Stanek said she could not wait to see what happens to Harper Court. She claimed that any developer who is interested in Harper Court would not find it feasible to maintain the structure. “Harper Court Foundation want to get out of the shopping center business,” Stanek said. “And they don’t feel that it is feasible to remain. Anyone who is looking at the economics of [Harper Court and] at the amount of money that they want for the space, there is no way anyone is going to be able to maintain this shopping center.”

Wake was equally skeptical. “Harper court is going to be torn down,” said Wake, who owns the Hyde Park Animal Clinic. “People can stall as long as they like. The physical plant is falling apart.” He added, “What we need to do is spend our energy getting the right locations for the business that are here and moving on.”

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Poueymirou said the downside of Stanek’s move is that Harper Court is losing a major tenant. Despite that, her move should help rejuvenate the toy store. “I think it will benefit Nancy and her clientele tremendously by being [on] 55th Street,” said Poueymirou. “It’s a new space. It has a greater traffic flow; I think more people will choose to shop there.”

Stanek manages two other locations in Chicago and one in Evanston.


Appraisal was not satisfactory to city

The January 24 Herald reports that Ald. Preckwinkle told the January 10 2007 Chamber of Commerce business to Business meeting that the Chicago Department of Planning and Development was dissatisfied with the appraisal it received for Harper Court and the City Lot. She said the department, which is deciding what to do, must have both an appraisal and an engineering study before coming to the Harper Court board or public. "The arrangement we have with the board is that we will have a fair appraisal of the property and the city-owned lot. Both parcels would be bundled together for development," Preckwinkle said. "They will take their money to the developer chosen and be a foundation if that's what they want to do."

Preckwinkle said about Harper Court, "The problem..is they put all the systems in the concrete, which makes it hard to get to and hard to update." She added that the public can express concerns through the TIF Advisory Council.

Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th) announced at the September 17 2006 Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference the city department of planning will handle the whole RFP process (that she had asked the city to do in March), sale and development process for Harper Court and the City Lot #44 (bundled together by the alderman in March). The Alderman now clearly calls the shots, and they bend toward teardown, except maybe the west building and the Checkerboard (not in the sale).

The project was explicitly taken out of the Harper Court hands--because of their intractability according to the alderman. (The process will start with a new appraisal of the properties and, if not already available, engineering studies of existing structure and infrastructure). It's not normal process for the city to do these studies for a private entity, Preckwinkle said.The Harper Court Arts Council will receive the value of the shopping center (that being its only role) and the city that of the city lot. As of mid-September, Harper Court board had not met with the city and the city had not started on the RFP but only on the appraisal.

This page has no sense whether this will be necessarily a remote process (removed from the community-- another Promontory Point (as until recently?) or whether there will still be a public process at least once a draft RFP has been prepared (and whether with separate open meetings or just with the TIF planning committee and bimonthly TIF meeting, which many in the community consider highly inadequate public process on Harper Court).

Another key indicator will be whether space is promptly found for key tenants, thus removing stakeholders who could be the strongest impediment. (Depending on how this happens, it will also reveal the real kind and level of involvement by the University.) If such buyout happens, most will insist it should be for all tenants who want it, without political, personal or financial favoritism.

The city lot part and what the city wants could now dominate the process, but it is clear that Ald. Preckwinkle will call the shots and have the development she wants. She told the HPKCC meeting that is the part she is focusing on now, not the makeup of the arts council and what it does with the money. (However, she did keep referring to the Arts Council as the Hyde Park Arts Council--which may be what she and many others would like to see it truly become.)

The city setting up the guidelines and mechanics of the development, plus the Alderman really calling the shots could result in heavy redevelopment of the site, should she want that, either or both for itself and/or the increment for the TIF (such as a garage, a Canter School addition and streetscape and cleaning enhancement or remainder funding for the Lake Park-viaducts project) while the parking problem goes away through a garage/or (note the tandem Parking Improvement District proposal) and Harper Avenue gets opened up and through. No one can say now that she has no "comprehensive" vision for 53rd/Harper. We just don't know what else is to come, yet, especially with Village Center now apparently in play.

Yet, Preckwinkle told the meeting she is well aware of concerns in the community for scale and context appropriateness (presumably entailing her not having to spend a lot of her menu money on infrastructure) and for in some way carrying on the original purpose of Harper Court. (We understood previously that there is an understanding from the University and alderman for help for current tenants to at least relocate under considerate rents.) Ignored by the alderman was the tenants' group buyout option, which was made almost insurmountable by throwing in the city lot.

Has the department of planning been given Harper Court's Guiding Principles and/or the copious drafts, ideas and principles contributed by residents including at forums held last spring by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference? (The Conference sent a sizeable packet of such material with cover letter to the Department in September, as backup.) Conference board members have pointed out in public letters that the arts council's Guiding Principles (which Harper Court correctly said reflected ideas of the forums and other contributions) are much too faint on maintaining the original Harper Court public purpose of supporting and incubating small businesses and providing ways for current tenants to stay in business during development or renovation and after, and provided a weak public process--leading principles developed at the spring forums and that have been endorsed by the HPKCC board.

At the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Annual meeting, a Conference member asked Ald. Preckwinkle to ask the city to have "keeping and renovating the present Harper Court structure" one of the options in the Request for Proposals. The alderman replied that that depended on the findings in engineering surveys of the present buildings and that there are additional problems with the present structures and configuration.

Re: community engagement. Last May, the arts council said it was willing to meet with small groups, such as HPKCC's development, preservation and zoning committee, but has so far dodged such a meeting. (One would assume that with the Arts Council poised to eventually get its sizeable share from sale of what had been a public purpose enterprise, and proposing to spend it on public art etc., such meeting would still be highly desired by such organizations as HPKCC.) The focus of such small meetings with the arts council (and such public appearances as may occur at TIF meetings) would probably now focus more on the future structure of the arts council board and, once it's gotten its divorce from the shopping center, its becoming answerable-- yet with insulation against conflicts of interest, to arts groups/institutions and a membership (which would also be a source of renewable but accountable funds).

Alderman Preckwinkle told the HPKCC Annual Meeting that the above is not a matter that she is focusing on, but rather on the redevelopment process. She said she had found the Conference forum process very helpful, but that with regards to the arts council board, neither she nor the Conference had been or had prospect of being successful. Top

What neighbors said at the April 11 and 25 forums are in the HPKCC and Harper Court page and June special issue of the Conference Reporter. The Conference as well as the Arts Council will report at the TIF meeting May 8, and HPKCC will submit its own and the community viewpoints to the RFP process. Material toward the latter is in the HC Ideas and Principles page. (Anton and Rumsey were requested by the Alderman to make presentations.)


At town hall meeting State Rep. Currie (25th) backs Harper Court original purpose. The meeting was jointly with State Senator Kwame Raoul September 23 at the Neighborhood Club.

SharonJoy Jackson, Gary Ossewaarde and others explained the Harper Court facts and concerns, including the three Conference bottom lines (original purpose, tenants able to continue in business, public process beyond just vetting at the TIF) and concerns over the secret, non-answerable and uncommunicative arts council board. The diverse audience was very supportive of Harper Court (the space). Rep. Currie replied that she has talked with the Attorney General and that the arts council, as a charitable nonprofit, WILL NOT be allowed to do what it wants—take a price for the shopping center and do what it wants with the money, different from the original purpose. She said it is illegal. She supports maintaining the original purpose and will work with the community to see that the purpose is maintained and HCt continues doing what it has and that the development part be in accord with what fits with and is wanted by the neighborhood. She seemed to side with keeping the structures and was enthusiastic about providing even more incubator space, especially projects that can provide entrepreneurship training for youth and young people and help them start up businesses. (A concept was presented by a young man from Positive Vision who works with youth including on 53rd Street.) Currie asked how the city got control of the development process and sale and how this became a joint property (private and city) project and was told that Toni asked the city to do it. She said she will talk with Ald. Preckwinkle and reiterated she will work with the community to keep the purpose and what the community wants. Top

Herald, Oct. 4: Rep. Currie weighs in on Harper Court [and residents react to control by Alderman, city]. By Kathy Chaney

Hyde Park Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25), criticized the Harper Court Arts Council for not listening to what the residents and the Harper Court Shopping Center's tenants had to say.

Currie told the Herald last week, "The Community ought to have a voice in determining what things will look like in the end."

She said she was concerned with what the final outlook of the court would be. "I share the concerns with the artists who are there who would be really hard-pressed to find alternative space," Currie said. "I know the alderman is now involved with the connection between the parking lot and the facility," she said.

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) took the lead role in the Harper Court saga and the city-owned parking lot connected at the east side of the court after her displeasure with how the arts council conducted the situation and its ineffective communication with the community.

Preckwinkle said the public would still be able to chime in on the court's fate through the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing (DTIF) Advisory Council.

The city must have a completed appraisal and engineering studies conducted before a request for proposals (RFP) is created. When we have and RFP it will be presented to the TIF Advisory Council," she said.

"I think the alderwoman will be more responsive," said tenant Dr. Tom Wake, owner of the Hyde Park Animal Clinic.

Community resident and former Harper Court tenant Hans Morsbach felt that it is inappropriate for Preckwinkle to oversee the process of the shopping center and said, "Harper Court has been financed and operated by citizens."

Morsbach said it gives the perception that the alderman's idea for Harper Court is what is best. He feels that adding the parking lot with Harper Court in the RFP will "spell out the demise of Harper Court."

He added that the focus has shifted from what is best for the shopping center to redeveloping the entire area. "Harper Court is a viable part of the community and should remain as such," he said.

[See more reactions below]


Preckwinkle, city assume control of RFP, development

Harper Court sans arts council- Herald September 27 2006.

The Harper Court Arts Council's decision-making role with the Harper Shopping Center and the request for proposals process been reduced. Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) told the Herald last week that the city's Planning and Development department is handling the RFP and the development and sale of the shopping court and the adjacent city-owned lot, leaving the arts council out of the picture.

The process includes receiving an appraisal and engineering studies for the existing structure and infrastructure. "I've talked to James Wilson of the department of Planning and Development and he expects the appraisals back for Harper within the next 14 days," Preckwinkle said.

At the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference's annual meeting last week Preckwinkle expressed her frustration about the way the arts council handled business concerning Harper Court and their perceived inflexibility with dealing with the community and the shopping court's tenants to reach an amicable solution.

"Something had to be done to take it away from the arts council," said Gary Ossewaarde, secretary of the HPKCC, who was at the meeting.

With the arts council left out of the process and the city in control, Ossewaarde said it could become more difficult to keep the original focus of the court in tact.

Once the RFP is created, the city will handle the entire project. "The arts council is out of it and will receive the value of their share of the property," Preckwinkle said.

Connie Buscemi, spokeswoman for the department, told the Herald earlier this month that he city had not met with the arts council nor has an RFP been drafted.

While it is unknown whether future public meetings regarding the fate of Harper Court are planned, Preckwinkle said she is aware of concerns from residents and the shopping center's tenants. Top

More reactions and letters re alderman and city taking control of proposal process for Harper Court redevelopment

Hans Morsbach: Bulldozing Harper Court? October 4, 2006 Herald

The suggested request for proposals assumes that Harper Court best be shuffled into the big scheme to revamp the whole area. The first step to the combination of the Harper Court Foundation has been realized for the scheme. The city's suggestion to have Harper Court appraised and evaluated and then to be included in a RFP spells out the demise of Harper Court. Certainly any appraisal and engineering study will show whatever is desired by the folks who arrange for the study and cannot be relied upon to represent the desires of citizens.

There are others in Hyde Park, ordinary citizens, who like to go to the farmers market on Thursdays, or who just like Harper Court as it has been. What are their rights? What about all the folks who originally financed the venture? What about tenants of Harper Court? What about the folks who do not like high rises? What about a democratic process to let Hyde Parkers decide what they want? What about local citizens (knowledgeable and well-financed) interested in buying and operating Harper Court? What about folks who believe that there is nothing wrong with Harper Court that cannot be taken care of with sensible management? What about the chess players?

Urban Renewal has demonstrated the power of bulldozers. The result was mixed, I trust there will a few Hyde Parkers who will stand in the way of Harper Court being bulldozed. But once the process has begun, can it be stopped? The alderman has made it clear that she favors the development of the Harper Court area. With the aid of the city's Department of Planning and Development involvement, the bulldozer is gaining momentum...

I favor the reconstitution of the Harper Court Foundation with some representation of citizens who believe that harper Court can be operated in a manner that meets the wishes of the community without the aid of bulldozers. Abandoning the Harper Court Foundation to the will of the alderman is an unfortunate step. It is not how a democratic process is supposed to work.


Gabriel Piemonte, Jack Spicer say (Oct. 11) We still don't have a transparent process.

So we've traded the Harper Court Arts Council for the 4th Ward alderman and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

Hmmm.... looks like we still don't have an open, transparent process that ensures the full participation of the tenants and the community (and independent planning professionals) in the decisions that will shape Hyde Park's commercial center for the rest of most of our lives.

So we should just be quiet and wait for the "powers" to tell us what's best for us at the next TIF meeting.

Hmmm... looks like our political leadership will say farewell to the existing businesses in Harper Court, not to mention any public space in this publicly funded development.

So we're likely to end up with a large parking "structure" in the middle of a bland, boring, suburban, car-oriented, and largely unsuccessful development not unlike what we've already seen on 47th Street and at the Co-op shopping center.

Sharonjoy A. Jackson says HCAC being rewarded for doing wrong under the alderman/city assumption. October 11.

This week's article concerning the elimination of the Harper Court Arts council appears to be rather benign. I, too, attended the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference annual meeting held two weeks ago. Between the information shared by Ald. Toni Preckwinkle at this meeting, and further information garnered from an extremely reliable source, I have a much different spin on the efforts to remove the Harper Court Arts Council from the picture.

Granted Ald. Preckwinkle attempted to advise these friends and neighbors of hers who sit on this council to make their plans (and machinations) open to the public, but they refused to do so, which, to me, does not speak highly of them or their intentions.

Again, at the same meeting, the alderman stated she believed it was best to get them out of the picture, by paying them or giving them money, because they have certainly muddied up the waters (my words but her sentiment).

So, in essence, if you do wrong or act against the community's best interest and intent, you are rewarded. I have been informed these individuals stand to gain $6.2 million--their investment. Am I naive? What investment? And for what? For the outstanding job they have done managing this court, maintaining it, negotiating and acting in secret?

I have brought this fiasco to the attention of state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie and state Sen. Kwame Raoul at their recent town hall meeting. We were told such actions are illegal.

Once again, something that is truly a long-standing institution, Harper Court, is in grave danger of being turned into something else--all for the sake of so-called progress and the almighty buck. Everything unique to Hyde Park is in danger of being destroyed, whether it be murals, an entity, and os on.

The community does care, but who really listens to us?


Charlotte Des Jardins

Preckwinkle's decision on Harper Court just a camouflage

I am gratified that our state representative, Barbary Flynn Currie, is expressing concerns about the status of Harper Court. Harper Court has been a community center and asset, finance to provide subsidized space to community artisans and small businesses for more than 40 years.

The plan to demolish Harper Court, promoted by the Harper Court Arts Council (HCAC), is unfortunately still alive in spite of 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's announcement, in the Hyde Park Herald on Sept. 27, that the HCAC would not be involved in the RFP (request for proposal) process.

The RFP process continuously touted by Ald. Preckwinkle is in fact only a camouflaged plan to make the Harper Court demolition appear to be community driven. The fact that the preservation of Harper Court has never been mentioned as a possible alternative by Preckwinkle is a clear indication of what her plans are.

Community residents who want to preserve Harper Court should not be deterred by all the double talk coming out of Preckwinkle's mouth. They need to understand that the site cannot be redeveloped without a zoning change, and to achieve that zoning change, Preckwinkle needs to demonstrate community support to the city's Planning and Development department.

We need to communicate our concerns to members of the department, as we have communicated them at TIF (Tax Increment Financing) meetings to let them know that Preckwinkle does not represent the community in the demolition of Harper Court.

Jane Comiskey Oct. 25.

Comiskey is a board member of HPKCC as well as of the TIF Advisory Council.

I think Ald. Toni Preckwinkle moved the Harper Court Arts Council out o the equation for Harper Court because it was evident the community neither trusted the council nor believed they had the community's best interests at heart. As to further plans, let's wait and see what the city's Planning Department advises before we start "hmmming."

As a member of the Tax Increment Financing Advisory Council and a long-time resident of Hyde Park, I too want a community-centered Harper Court. I think we can all work together to see that this happens.

Margaret Poznak Mine Oct. 25

I like Harper Court. Since it opened, I have traipsed up and down its stairs and ramps; eaten in every restaurant, past and present; and visited almost every business that has come and gone, dropping a good chunk of change in many.

However, Harper Court has fallen into disrepair, and it has several vacancies, both making it and showing it to be less attractive both to sellers and buyers. I live within easy walking distance of five neighborhood shopping malls. It seems to me that we have too many shopping malls, and to few local mall shoppers. As a community, we must ask ourselves: (1) Is Harper Court necessary? and (2) Is Harper Court desirable?

These questions will determine whether it should be renovated or sold, and, if the latter, to whom and for what purpose. And it goes without saying that no one who has not invested in its establishment should profit by its sale.

Harper Court was conceived with the best of intention: As a refuge for Hyde Park artist, artisans and small businessmen who depended on leasing low-rental storefronts in order to survive, and who were evicted from these often dilapidated properties during urban renewal. Upon is opening, a small portion of Harper Court's original tenants were evicted from other neighborhood locations. But even if all of Harper Court had been occupied by those for whom it was originally built, by now most of them are relocated, retired or dead--it's been over 40 years. In the meantime, there are now other low-rental storefronts available in the community or other local malls, where adjacent parking is free. The paved central court with the surrounding grassy angular berm, suitable for spectators, has never been fully taken advantage of I do not believe Harper Court is necessary.

Is Harper Court desirable? I don't know. How many of those who are agitating for its retention shop there even occasionally? If it were cleaned up, if it were renovated, if it had attractive merchandise available nowhere else in the community, there might be hope. It is up to community residents and potential tenants. Meanwhile, why don't we lend more support to the renovation and re-establishment for the Harper (movie) Theater, one of the last remaining originally-built movie houses?


Herald says too many bank branches, too little of Harper Court's mission to support needed small businesses. December 6, 13, 2006.

Herald asks, December 16 2006, Where is Harper Court's plan to continue their mission in Hyde Park?

There is huge competition among banks for the retail business. This competition has led to a remarkable shift in store space in Hyde Park. This competition as noted in last week's Herald has resulted in seven branch banks in prime retail space in our community.

We've become short of awnings for convenience stores, restaurants, and gift shops. Seven locally-owned businesses including a popular clothing store lost their storefront spaces. One relocated in Hyde Park, but six of them left.

If anything is needed to demonstrate why Harper court could play a role in our community, this is it. Its mission was to pay attention to the needs of the community. Its original group of tenants were and continue to be good businesses. Harper Court has restaurants, services we need like the veterinarian, and businesses we wanted to attract like Artisans 21.

Commercial landlords are going to look for the best economic deal. And banks demonstrate that. But this was not the intent of Harper Court when it opened in 1965.

Where is Harper Court's plan to continue their mission in Hyde Park?

March 7 2007 Herald calls for dissolution of Foundation, new advisory board to tend to original mission.

Ask the Illinois attorney general to dissolve the current Harper Court Foundation (Arts Council) board. Members of the board have proven by their actions that they do not represent the interests of the community as they relate to the fate of Harper Court or the process of community involvement that brought about its creation in the 1960s.

You said recently that you favor the request for proposals (RFP) process that the University of Chicago undertook for the Harper Theater. True, that process invited input from residents and community leaders, and the university gave regular updates at the 53rd Street Taxing Increment Finance (TIF) Advisory Council meetings. But an RFO alone is not good enough. The bar must be placed higher in regards to Harper Court. Unlike the theater, which the university owns privately, Harper Court was created through the public sale of bonds and to this day has an obligation to the public.

The Harper Court Foundation board should be dissolved and replaced with an advisory body of community leaders that still care about the center's mission to provide space in our community for small and independent businesses and services the community needs and wants. Whatever happens to t he present land of Harper Court, the substantial funds that could come from a land sale should be devote to the foundation's original purpose.


Veterinarian Tom Wake, tenant, suggests giving Harper t o the University for art, arts education. February 14, 2007 Herald. Tom Wake, The Hyde Park Animal Clinic

Jonathan Swift once wrote an essay entitled "A Modest Proposal..." which was a pretty vicious satire proposing to eat the children of the poor in England as a solution to the population problem. While I hesitate to seem satirical in that vein, I do have a modest proposal to end the dilemma that is Harper Court.

The Harper Court Foundation, or should I say the Hyde Park Arts Council, should give the Harper Court property to the University of Chicago as a restricted gift. Whatever profit which happens to be secondary to the operation, sale or building of this planned unit development would be used for the advancement of art of art education by the university.

My reasoning for this is based upon several observations. The University of Chicago in the person of the president's wife was responsible for the idea of Harper Court and of the foundation that has operated it. It was through the efforts of the university that federal funds, bonds and a mortgage built the court. The university held half the bonds and like some other bondholders, forgave the debt.

The university as a much better record of promoting the arts in Hyde Park than anyone else. Those people who decided that this was the mission of the Harper Court Foundation have tried but not made much of an impact. The university has made a big commitment to improving local education through ongoing efforts. Adding arts education would not be a big jump for them.

To those who have expressed concern about the status of the veterinary clinic, I want to point out that there will be a solution to this problem no matter what happens to Harper Court. The longer this situation stays undecided the less chance I have to arrange a timely transfer [of] ownership to a new individual or group. My personal plan is to remain in Hyde Park until my retirement some years from now.

What my friends in the neighborhood need to do is find the young women or men who will come to work here and in 10 years be the main providers of care for this wonderful community. This search will be a difficult [one], but would be a much more positive use of energy than attempting to "Save Harper Court," which sadly is in such bad shape that other is no way for it to continue under any of its original purposes.





More basic and intractable facts

RFP, other work not yet started as of Labor Day

Dept. spokesperson Connie Buscemi for the city said some preliminary research has been done and an appraisal of the property is among the next tasks-- without which not much else can be done. (Harper Court appraisals were in the 4-5 million range back in 2003 and 6.2 in 2005).

Meanwhile, Toys Et Cetera has gone and the Vet says it Harper Court can't be saved, but it's better that either its income or its sale and redevelopment proceeds be under control of the University for arts and arts ed. purposes than under the Arts Council.


Below: Statement of Principles for city and RFP, presented by HCAC at July 10 TIF, incorporating in some degree at least many HPKCC and community standards.

However, many feel the Arts Council's restatement of the community and residents' ideas and principles is not faithful to the original, especially re commitment to original purpose--if possible through keeping and refurbishing Harper Court--, commitment to enabling the current tenants to stay in business during and after development, and public process through the TIF (not suitable to that purpose). The remarks of Mr. Grant of HCAC in March and July also offended many. Grant and other spokespersons made it clear they feel no obligation to the community for this public-purpose asset or communication about it, and have serious misconceptions such as that the city will run the RFP process. They also misled the TIF concerning meeting with HPKCC and other community organizations. Meanwhile, continually stalled HPKCC about a meeting.

Media coverage in mid July was largely of the offerings and negotiations over more than 3 years and unbeknownst to the public) by Harper Court with various buyers, as shown in the Foundation's minutes. The University, Thrush, and Joseph Fried and Associates offered various amounts from c $4 million to $5.9. Harper Court's initial estimate of its value was 4-5, but was revised upward, especially after appraisal by Patrick Murphy and Associates, and consistently held out for for 6.2 to 6.5, rejecting all bids, until they finally were reportedly offered what they asked from JDI--but at the cost that by that time the news leaked out and JDI walked away from the ensuing uproar, succeeded by the RFP process.

Several, including the Herald, call for the Harper Court Arts Council to resign and reconstitute into a body more representative and responsible or at least responsive to the community and with a defined way to deal with proceeds from a sale-- although in what way it would or could be reconstituted and by whom are conceded to be problematic. Also problematic is development of a process to evaluate and ensure public input into an RFP then proposals. (The TIF development committee intends to be one evaluating party.) Indeed, some now say there should be a moratorium on redevelopment, recommitment to original purpose, and a new board to develop a new process and plan.

A new twist, representing a second option, is a proposal by Hans Morsbach and others to appoint a vigorous new board (recruits unveiled) and run the center right, respecting both original purpose and profitability. This sidesteps need for a friendly buyout altogether, although it would be tricky to work out legally. (They do not mention the city lot, which would be free to be redeveloped with the needed parking on its own.) More on the tenants' bid option.


Statement of Principals for city and RFP by HCAC at the July 10, 2006 TIF meeting, incorporating many of the principles and guidelines from HPKCC although in much weakened form (5 and 6 particularly), Gary Ossewaarde's RFP draft, and the community

Harper Court Arts Council
Guiding Principles to be incorporated into RFP
DRAFT July 10, 2006

  1. Recognition that 53rd Street and Harper Avenue is the center of the Hyde Park Business District, and 53rd & Lake Park Boulevard an important gateway to this area. Use the opportunity of the combination of the Harper Court and Parking Lot sites to rework the orientation of parking, shopping, street access, and public space to provide an attractive pedestrian-friendly urban "downtown" for the Hyde Park community, and a retail destination for the south side of Chicago.
  2. Create a mixed use development that is primarily commercial. Residential development may be included. The development should provide variety in the size and types of offerings so as to serve residents and attract customers from inside and beyond the neighborhood. A component of recreational, cultural, dining/nightlife venues is also highly desirable. Any residential component must not be of a kind, size, configuration or location as to diminish or limit types of commercial or all-hours venues.
  3. Development should be of a size and configuration that complements the Hyde Park business streetscape, and is pedestrian friendly, offers welcoming vistas, and offers space suitable to public street level activity including events, farmers' markets, and public gathering point.
  4. Development provides adequate parking consistent with both the development and the Hyde Park Business District.
  5. The development should carry forward in some degree the original purpose of Harper Court to encourage local artisans and small businesses including through the possibility of temporary relocation or phasing of building to allow tenants to continue to be part of the 53rd Street business district. Considerations might also be given to setting aside space for small businesses that might need start-up or ongoing subsidies to exist.
  6. The successful Developer will present their plans for the development for public comment and community review through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Committee.

If you have comments or suggestions concerning these Guiding Principles, please send your comments to Artscouncilinfo@harpercourt.com.


On the tenant front

See follow up report with summary of background following

Dr. Wake, veterinarian and tenant at Harper Court, reports on negotiation with the Arts Council, seeks tenant representation on HCAC and appeals to residents to refrain from lawsuits

Letter to Hyde Park Herald, July 12, 2006

Three partners submitted a letter of intention to buy Harper Court. We had a meeting with most of the Harper Court Arts Council board where they ascertained our intent to try to preserve the court as it is, venue for small businesses to provide goods and services to the neighborhood.

At the end of this meeting they needed to meet to draft their response. Their response was that they had been encouraged to publish a request for proposal (RFP) and use this as a guide to whom they will eventually sell.

While we are in sympathy with the board, which has tried to please several different pressure groups, we would remind them that they agreed with the Illinois Attorney General that the board needed wider community representation, and I hope that this is going forward speedily.

In addition, we would also remind the board that the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference has made a good faith effort to get a community view on what would be in a request for proposal.

It is our profound wish that the board appreciate that the conference's suggestions at the last TIF meeting were arrived at with some effort and represent a good cross-section of the community's view.

It has never been the style or intent of the three partners to organize community protests or other potentially negative actions. We have been approached by a variety of people who would like to instigate legal action on several legal questions.

Our position is that while one party in the suit might be served pro bono by attorneys in the community, the Harper Court Foundation would have to pay from the operation or sale of Harper Court. We would prefer not to be part of such negative action.

That being said, we sincerely hope that he foundation will expand to include a number of community representatives with different perspectives. I would suggest that Nancy Stanek would be an ideal person to represent both the community as a long-time resident, as well as those stable tenants who have invested significant sums of money and years of their lives providing goods and services to this community.

Dr. Thomas Wake, Owner of Hyde Park Animal Clinic, a Harper Court tenant.


Follow up report September 20: Herald says stalled (or is it shut out?) Note- this preceded announcement by Ald. Preckwinkle that the city Dept. of Planning will now handle the entire development process, from appraisal (and engineering study?) through draft RFP through sale. This in practice means the alderman will get the development as she wants? She was not enthusiastic about keeping any present structures.

By Kathy Chaney

An attempt by a trio of Harper Court tenants to buy the shopping center was put on hold indefinitely by the lack of a request for proposals (RFP) and the recent death of Paul Andresen. Andressen, owner of Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop and Calypso Cafe, died in late August after a bout with pancreatic cancer.

At the March Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Council meeting, the Harper Court Arts Council welcomed ideas as it announced an RFP process to develop the court.

Nancy Stanek, owner of Toys Et Cetera in the court, responded to the council that she would put a bid in once the RFP was together. Stanek, part of a three-tenant group including Andressen and Dr. Tom Wake, owner of the Hyde Park Animal Clinic, wanted to preserve the court in its current state.

"We met with the Harper Court Foundation a few months ago, before Paul suddenly fell it. At that time they told us they were going to get a proposal together and we were invited to come back and respond to the RFP." Wake told the Herald Monday.

The city's Planning and Development spokeswoman, Connie Buscemi, recently said no RFP had been created.

"Our goal for the court was to keep it as it is. Fix it up, clean it up and get some people in," Wake said.

With the sudden loss of a long-time tenant, and friend, Wake said the issue is no longer a priority at this time. "It is a very big long-shop. We are still, as with the rest of the community, digesting the fact that Paul got sick very quickly and has passed away. I think we have to get over this before we think about anything else. He added that when, and if the time came, turing the duo back to a trio will not be hard, and said, We've had plenty of people interested. Lack of investors is not the problem."

Wake said Andresen's death left a void personally and professionally."He was a very nice man who was very fun to pursue this with, and a lot of fun gets taken out of it when you lose a partner and there were three of you."



Concerns, frustration at Arts Council stonewalling continue at HPKCC and many other sectors of the community

As organizations hold regular and special meetings around the neighborhood, the thing they want to talk about is Harper Court. At a recent Older Women's League meeting attended by Ald. Hairston and Preckwinkle and at which various organizations including HPKCC made reports on what they are doing, the one thing people wanted to know about is Harper Court. There was clear frustration that the Arts Council continues to not not honor their pledge to meet with small groups and commit to changing/expanding their board, or act as if they have any accountability to the community for the public-purpose asset over which they have stewardship. They want the original purpose of subsidized arts and services small businesses. Brought up again and again were the Farmer's Market and chess benches.

People continue to insist on HCT's keeping the original purpose, are angry at lack of real public process. Many wonder about the practical effects if Harper Court is lost, such as a venue for the highly popular Farmer's Market.

HPKCC continues to seek to meet with the Arts Council despite being put off again and again, is calling for return to the original purpose and having true public process and input, as well as being highly concerned about the HCAC board.

Hyde Park Herald of August 2 reported on comments asked of customers at the Farmer's Market, now in its 27th year. There is no obvious, suitable replacement venue available. Both vendors and customers fear they will have to go outside the neighborhood. Veronica Resa of The Mayor's Office of Special Events, which arranges for and oversees the various markets, said they look for places that are highly visible, accessible to transportation, and able to serve more than one community.


Charlotte Des Jardins writes Aug. 2 Herald about "deep lack of trust in Harper Court's caretakers" and lack of an impartial review process.

As documented by the continual, in-depth coverage of Harper Court in the Herald, and from many comments of attendees at TIF council meetings, there is a deep lack of trust in the Harper Court Arts Council, those caretakers who secretly negotiated to sell Harper Court for the past three years.

The Harper Court Arts Council recently distributed a list of "guiding principles" to be incorporated into a request for proposals for the development of Harper Court. In it the arts council states, "The development should carry forward in some degree the original purpose of Harper Court to encourage local artisans and small businesses and ...services."

However, none of the guiding principles acknowledge the possibility of retaining and restoring Harper Court for this purpose. The sixth guideline principle announces that "the successful developer will present their plan for the development for public comment and community review through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Committee."

The arts council's guiding principles and the behavior of its members makes it obvious that it plans to retain control of Harper Court and the RFP process.

The guiding principles do not even mention how the proposal review, which chronologically comes after the RFP process, will be conducted to assure impartiality and an absence of conflict of interest.

As a proposal reviewer for a federal agency for many years, I know the critical decision-making powers delegated to proposal reviewers, and the painstaking requirements federal agencies have, to assure a fair and impartial process. Part of this impartial review process includes recruiting reviewers who are not involved in activities which might pose a conflict of interest and who are not potential beneficiaries in the competition being reviewed.

This means that arts council members, and any organization, agency or company who has ever been involved in the sale of Harper Court must completely abstain from the review process in order to avoid a possible conflict of interest.

The guiding principles appear to be designed to make the community believe that the arts council and the TIF advisory council are writing a new chapter and deserve the community's trust. But a new chapter will not get rid of the worms that are devouring the book itself.

The trust that the arts council threw away when it secretly negotiated to sell, without community input, can probably never be regained . The only way trust can be rebuilt is to implement the recommendation first made by the Herald in its May 24 editorial: to dissolve the Harper Court Arts Council.

The arts council has demonstrated over and over again that it does not consider itself accountable to the community who built and financed Harper Court from scratch, to provide economical space for community artisans and small businesses displaced by Urban Renewal.

A new community organization must be set up to revitalize and market Harper Court. Several well thought out plans have been proposed by community members, in letters to the Herald and through organizations. These plans should be considered, either as part of the RFP process, or separately.

Above all, the community itself should decide how Harper Court is to be revitalized, over the arts council, who has announced its plans to dispose of Harper Court.



From Gary Ossewaarde
June 25, 2006 (as published in the July 6, 2006 in Hyde Park Herald)

Time is approaching for a needed decision on Harper Court and the City Lot. The community is unclear as to whether a draft request for proposal will be presented at the July 10 TIF Advisory Council meeting and go forward, or whether that process will be pulled back, at least for a while. A halt for the Harper Court part could be used to consider other approaches while the arts council does homework it needs to do concerning its board and bylaws and the community takes another look at business district parking and retail needs while preparing to go forward with development of at least the City Lot part.

One alternate approach, an extension of the proposal of former tenants for a new board to revitalize Harper Court without a sale (Herald, June 14), could proceed as follows:

The most vexing issues with development of the lot are how much parking is needed, and what to do about parking during construction (also problems should both sites be redeveloped.) Nevertheless, redevelopment of the city lot would be good in itself, would “two-for” a right amount of parking, help fund the TIF, and continue desperately-needed revitalization of the central business district and its gateway.

In any case, the initial choice, whether to continue with the sale and RFP process for Harper Court itself, needs to be made soon. Three observations:

First, the original purpose of Harper Court and Foundation is needed and desirable. If you haven’t seen it, I commend Caitlin Devitt’s review of an exhibit by planners on ways to create and keep vital, socially-mixed neighborhoods by, inter alia, growing a sustainable business mix that includes starter and small home-grown businesses (Herald, June 14).

Second, the Arts Council is too small and inappropriate to either run the shopping center with its above public purpose, or to sell its newly acquired asset and use the proceeds for its own, very different arts purpose. I highly commend Harper Court Arts Council for several recent arts support projects. But six million new dollars seems too much money, period, or without at least a new managing vehicle and blueprint for arts grants. The arts needs and best vehicle have not been studied, in concert with the experienced art institutions and providers that increasingly work together in Hyde Park/Kenwood and elsewhere in the Mid-South Side.

Third and most important, there are good, business-experienced people in this community who have come forward to say they are willing to take over, revitalize and run Harper Court. They would put forth their money or just their time and experience, either way. They should be given a chance to make their case, and without being used as stalking horses by any party.

In any case (speaking as a person who spent much time preparing and submitting guidelines and draft RFP for the Harper/City Lot site), for the sake of Harper Court tenants and the business district, prompt decision to proceed with the sale or else to halt and separate out the Harper Court portion must be made. We’re all listening.

Gary M. Ossewaarde
Secretary, Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference [used with consent of HPKCC president]


Herald reiterates Aug. 16 2006 that Harper Court is still relevant after 41 years

Two weeks ago, the Herald asked: If there is no Harper Court, where will the farmer's market go? That kind of question has been asked before concerning the possible demise of the Harper Court shopping center.

Where will Dr. Wake's veterinarian practice go? Or Nancy Stanek's toy store? Or Artisan's 21? Or Dr. Wax, Baby Ph.D. and PHLI just to name a few? What will become of popular restaurants like Dixie Kitchen and Calypso Cafe? And what about the new restaurant opening next to the Checkerboard? And yes, what about the Checkerboard?

Can the community assume there will be a place in any new development, whatever that may be, for these businesses? And what about the courtyard that has provided a venue over the years for concerts, poetry slams, chess players and customers looking for just the right place to sit? Can we assume public space will be a priority in a new structure?

According to minutes from 2003 to 2005 Harper Court Foundation board of directors meetings, made public in the July 19 and 26 issues of the Herald, there were three possible buyers for Harper Court before JDI Realty's failed attempt this year.

Until June 2005, the University of Chicago was actively trying to negotiate a sale with the foundation. While the university's offering price is unknown, it was reported that neither side could agree on a price and talks ceased.

That year, two other commercial developers, Thrush Realty and Joseph Freed and Associates, had also made bids on the center. Thrush proposed $5.9 million for the 41-year-0ld center and Joseph Freed and Associates proposed $5 million.

Of course these prices were never real numbers as the developers had not done their analysis of the project.

Prices of that type, we have been told by other developers in Chicago, could only be justified by the demolition of the present center and the right to build a large residential development in excess of the present zoning. A developer says, "I will pay you that amount if I find I could build what I want."

And what they will want is not a group of small merchants paying under market rents because of their economic circumstance.

The Hyde Park community became upset when it learned of the court's possible demise after disclosure of the foundation's secret efforts to sell the center. After disclosure by the Herald of the efforts to sell the center, the foundation announced at a community meeting in March that Harper Court has outlived its purpose. That purpose was in response to the massive overhaul of affordable commercial land in Hyde Park under Urban Renewal. It was to provide relief for small and independent businesses. The non-profit Harper Court Foundation was established for that purpose and the center built in 1965. It has survived ever since with its initial purpose in mind. To say that purpose has no place today is ludicrous and unfounded.

The board of the foundation must have pondered Harper Court's purpose when it conducted its own study released in October 1992 called "Public attitudes toward Harper Court." Customers were asked their views of Harper Court's stores and their attitudes toward the shopping center in general. Here's what the board found: 72 percent of respondents thought Harper Court has improved over the years, 84 percent thought it had a good mix of shops, 91 percent find the courtyard a nice place to sit and relax, 91 percent feel safe in Harper Court, 93 percent who visit Harper Court also patronize 53rd street stores and almost 95 percent find the center attractive.

Has it outlived its purpose in just 14 years? It sounds like people then displayed a good deal of affection for Harper Court. The study found that the biggest problem was lack of parking, which any Hyde Parker could argue is a problem anywhere in the neighborhood.

Calling Harper Court unnecessary and outdated is a tough sell in this community, which is why the foundation had tried to keep the sale a secret.

The Herald quoted the minutes of a March 2003 foundation board meeting, in which the board "discussed the importance of keeping the sale of the court "under wraps." And the University of Chicago, Thrush Realty, and who knows who else, were kept part of this secret to sell off Harper Court to a for-profit developer. That is, until the Herald first reported of the sale in its Dec. 14, 2005 issue.

In response to the newspaper's coverage, the foundation, under the name of the Harper Court Arts council, told the community in an open letter in the Feb.22 Herald, "It has never been our board's intention to be secretive about this process." In fact, the foundation tried to keep the sale of Harper Court a secret.

It seems that the current foundation/arts council is just tired of running this important shopping center. So maybe its board members should retire their posts and let others from the community take over.

Selling it out from under the community is irresponsible. Grace Wolf, manager of Harper Court from 1977 to 79, said in a letter to the Herald in January, "I think it's shameful for the Harper Court Foundation to slough off its responsibilities by selling Harper Court to a for-profit realtor." She's right.

To the foundation board: You could have saved a lot of time and not sacrificed your own credibility if in 2003 or before you would have just told this community that you did not want to continue running a shopping center for small and independent businesses. It's not too late to give up, and let other people who still believe in Harper Court's purpose take over.


In her Herald letter of August 30, Charlotte Des Jardins agrees with Herald call Aug. 16 for Harper Court board to step down. (See letter by James Withrow, following.)

We have not been told who is to benefit, against the will of the community, and why they are more important than those who care for keeping Harper Court and or/are willing to take it over.... " Let the people in the community who care about the court design a plan. And let them select their own representatives to implement this plan."

The Hyde Park Herald editorial on Aug. 16 made a common sense suggestion which the Harper Court Arts Council should follow, when it stated: It's not too late to give up and let other people who still believe in Harper Court's purpose take over."

I cannot understand why people who have made it abundantly clear, by their comments and their actions, that their sole purpose regarding Harper Court is to abolish it, are so adamant about carrying out their abolition plan in the face of strong opposition by those who really care about Harper Court.

It is a puzzle to me what Harper Court Arts Council (HCAC) members stand to gain by destroying an asset that the community has demonstrated it wants to preserve.

The HCAC's plans to sell Harper Court were carried out in secret, over two and a half years, obviously believing the community would not approve, as documented in the Harper Court Foundation and Harper Court Arts Council minutes during this period.

If the plan to sell Harper Court was not done on behalf of the community and for the community, on whose behalf and for who[m] was this planned sale made? Who stood to benefit financially from the estimated $6 million proceeds from the sale of Harper Court?

We have been told that the Harper Court sale proceeds would be distributed to the community and to the other organizations in the arts. But we were not told who these organizations are, and how they will be selected to be the beneficiaries of the proceeds. Neither have we been told why these unknown beneficiaries are more important than community members who have demonstrated their caring for Harper Court over and over again.

There has been strong, consistent community opposition to the proposed sale of the court, ever since it was first announced last December. Strong community opposition has been expressed at he TIF (Tax Increment Financing) community meetings and Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference forums that followed the announcements, and also in letters to the Herald. HCAC members were criticized, and sometimes berated for their behavior. Still they persist in their plan.

Why are they hanging on? Do they actually believe that their actions are for the benefit of the community even though the community had not been consulted? And will their persistence, in some way, benefit the community? How? Or, is it that they are convinced, as HCAC members have announced at TIF meetings, that the sale will go through no matter what?

Again, who will benefit from the sale of Harper Court? If not the community, then who? This is a question that has never been properly answered.

For all of the above reasons, it is time for Harper Court Arts Council to return control of Harper Court to the community. Let the people in the community who care about the court design a plan. And let them select their own representatives to implement this plan.


James Withrow takes arts council to task for lack of transparency and community interest, dumping original purpose/care of tenants. Herald, Aug. 23.

I’d like to thank the board of the Harper Arts Council for making my duties much easier. I was elected to the board of directors of the Coop Grocery Store two years ago. Of course, my first priority has been to work to make the Coop a much better place to shop, but I’ve also tried to improve our processes so that our members and the community would someday view the Coop as a model of openness in the business world. Thanks to the Harper Arts Council, the inner workings of the Coop look positively transparent.

I was quoted in a Herald article a couple weeks ago as saying that improving transparency at the Coop was essential and that’s an accurate quote. Still, a longer and more accurate comment would describe the Coop’s openness problems as falling into three categories.

First, much of the board’s work of late has revolved around real estate dealings which,by their nature, tend to include a certain level of secrecy. Once we get the subleasing of our former 47th Street location finished—and please, God, hopefully soon—more of our work can happen out in the open.

Second, people forget how transparent we are. Any member, for instance, can attend the Finance Committee meeting each month and look over our financial statements, even ask questions of our General Manager. The Operations Committee meetings give members a chance to talk to a Department Manager as well as our GM. Monthly board meetings begin with an open session and allow members to comment. The names of our board of directors is published in our newsletter, the Evergreen, every month. I urge members to attend these meetings and bring us your toughest questions.

Third, we’re definitely deficient in some areas. We could publish a summary of our board meetings that’s both timely and accurate. Sometimes, it’s easier to discuss controversial items in executive session, but we should make a greater effort to talk in open session. I’d like to see us publish a summary of our executive sessions, even if that summary is vague. Thing is, the committee structure we’ve adopted in the last year allows members to influence the board to be more transparent, to remedy those deficiencies, but few members have taken part. That’s a shame because I think the board has gradually grown more and more comfortable with greater transparency and would act on thoughtful plans that come before it, even though some thorny issues make great demands on our time.

By comparison, the Harper Arts Council conducts itself with all the charm of Vice-President Cheney. At the July TIF meeting, the representative from the Council refused to divulge the names of the board members. The Council’s board meetings are apparently conducted completely in private, with no opportunity for neighborhood input. I’m inclined to sympathize with the Council’s need to be quiet about real estate matters, but the secret abandonment of the Harper Court Foundation’s original mission was just plain wrong. And the Council has consistently eschewed talking with the neighborhood in a meaningful and respectful way.

Another board I’m on, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC), has followed this issue closely. Much like the neighborhood, we disagree about the ideal amount of development for Harper Court and the adjacent city parking lot. Some of us would prefer no new construction. Others want new structures of modest size. I’m personally on the pro-density end of this range and envision a tall building on these parcels.

But the HPKCC agrees wholeheartedly on three main points. The neighborhood wants, first and foremost, to make sure the current tenants of Harper Court can continue doing business during and after any improvements. The development process needs to be as public as possible. And, lastly, it’s imperative that the Harper Arts Council revert to the Foundation’s original mission of incubating commercial activity.

No one is against arts funding, but in public meetings to discuss what Hyde Parkers think the neighborhood lacks, we’ve gotten the same answer over and over. We need more commercial activity. It’s not like the Harper Court Foundation solved their original mission and should now move on.

The board members of the Harper Arts Council do not own Harper Court, but instead have a moral obligation to act as stewards on behalf the original foundation’s mission—even if their personal agendas differ. A board member who disagrees with the essential mission of the organization is wrong for that board.

The HPKCC has repeatedly asked for meetings with representatives of the Harper Arts Council, but all we’ve gotten is stalling. Our requests in May were answered with a letter of June 26th promising that the Council would “initiate contact” with us “in July to plan such a meeting”. Sadly, we were not surprised when July came and went without a word from the Council. So, HPKCC President George Rumsey contacted the Council and we received a letter in reply.

The reply increased my respect for the board members of the Harper Arts Council greatly. Apparently, each and every one of them has been able to exact European-style vacation time from their employers. The letter states, “Through Labor Day, many of my board members are on vacation. There is no time prior to that where even one or two members are in town at the same time.” (So, if you happen to see one of them in Hyde Park any time in August, there must be something wrong with your eyes.)

The worst thing that could happen to Harper Court would be a poorly designed blight on our community that destroys what precious little retail activity we have. The second worse scenario is a long, drawn-out fight with a steadily deteriorating Harper Court. Ideally, improving these parcels will happen thoughtfully and quickly, with plenty of money for the Arts Council to lavish on incubating commercial activity (with an emphasis on the arts). The HPKCC would like to help this process along.

Letter by Gary Ossewaarde as published in the Hyde Park Herald Sept. 6 2006

(See other versions submitted, covering more, in Ossewaarde letters and RFP alt. draft. Note that the author did not ask to have an organization attribution added.)

Time for new Harper Court leadership

To the Editor:

I commend the Herald's Aug. 17 editorial and James Withrow's Aug. 23 letter, re: continuing need for Harper Court and its original mission and the shortcomings of Harper Court Arts Council. Both articles ask the hard questions that should be answered before proceeding on a redevelopment process.

The Herald points out that we should not have illusions about the kind of proposals we are likely to see if the Harper Court Arts Council board makes its selection based on the "highest price" principle it has used for the past four years-- developers that will want to clear the site and build what they want to the height they want. And they will have little interest in modern planning advice that a strong business district needs a small business and incubator base, modern advice that catches up with the "original purpose" Harper Court hit upon right here in Hyde Park over 40 years ago.

The causes of retail slippage may have been different then, but the reality of slippage today is clear for anyone to see. And if Harper Court goes, along with its valuable businesses and incubator space, there many be irreparable harm to the remaining thin business district.

That's why I argue that the request for proposals (RFP) process should be halted at least for the shopping center and for a short time, for reconsideration, redirection and a change in managing parties.

The Harper Court Arts Council, as nonprofit stewards, did not have a right to just unilaterally abandon the original purpose, no matter how wonderful another purpose might have seemed, and proceed without consulting with the whole community. A few stakeholders were naturally expected to keep the secret.

The Harper Court Arts Council appears to have learned no lesson except to disengage. This is plain from its reluctance to consult or listen to advice from a wide variety of sources. At the July 10 TIF (Tax Increment Financing) council meeting in which guiding principles were introduced, I was singled out as one person from whose suggested RFP draft the Harper Court Arts Council drew its guiding principles.

Actually, most of my items were drawn primarily from ideas presented by citizens at public forums convened by the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and secondarily from the university's exemplary RFP for the Harper Theater.

I reiterate that if this guiding principles document is even to be presented or considered any more, the reference to continuing the original purpose is so far down and so weak as to invite being overlooked or considered a minor or throw-away point.

Carrying forward the original purpose of supporting small and startup businesses is the first order of business. That original purpose should be placed at the top of the list and without qualifiers such as "in some degree" or "considerations might be given."

Finally, I am disturbed and sorry that the arts council, judging from what its spokespersons say, continues to not believe it has any responsibility to the community despite Harper Court's founding public condition and purpose, and instead believes it belongs to them (rather than their being its stewards). It is time for new Harper Court leadership, led by a consortium of tenants or some other new structure.


Ossewaarde in letter submitted to Herald in September says Harper Court RFP principles too weak on original purpose, present tenants during development, and public process, calls for divestiture of center to a more suited org. and that the Arts Council become membership-based.

Members of this community have over and over expressed great displeasure with the Harper Court Art Council’s manner of sale of Harper Court, its weak commitment to the original, business-nurturing purpose of the shopping center and to keeping the current tenants in business during a redevelopment, and with the process for deciding the future of Harper Court.

The art council’s Guiding Principles document does not close that gap and may mislead the city’s planning department. The result may be a request for proposals (RFP) that does not express what the community wants to see there, does not serve the best use of Harper Court or business district growth, and harms very valuable tenant businesses.

The city will be guided in its oversight and RFP draft by what Harper Court and our alderman tell them matters. This RFP appears now to be at least a complex process. We would not want the process (or its entanglement with the city lot) to distort the result. Have all paths to a best future for Harper Court been sufficiently explored?

For community process, the arts council’s Guiding Principles errs in not going beyond having the developer present to the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) council. (In reality the TIF’s planning committee would do much or most of the review.)

While I highly respect the TIF advisory council, it has much business and cannot devote sufficient meeting time to the Harper questions, and its committees are necessarily small bodies. Also, the interested neighborhood extends far beyond the TIF’s boundaries. And, impartial as its members may be, the council has its own responsibilities, including promotion of development so as to increase the tax increment for the TIF’s purposes.

With or without an RFP process, the arts council, alderman, and TIF should call a series of public meetings devoted to Harper Court topics, starting with input meetings now and on through concepts by a selected developer. (An expectation of such public meetings for the chosen developer should be stated in the Principles and RFP.)

Regardless of what process goes forth for the property, it is clear that many of the problems stem from the attitude and the makeup of the arts council/foundation. Its small, self-selected board answers to no one. They are not investors, but inherited a public stewardship from a public purpose project that used public and community funds. I recommend that Harper Court follow this scenario:

Devolve or sell the center back to Harper Court foundation (or a new one) having its own board, largely made up of tenants.

Change the arts council organization to a membership-based one, hold annual meetings that elect the board, and sell broadly based memberships in the arts council. Many residents have asked how they can buy a membership in HCAC or join the Board. If HCAC is determined to secure millions for public projects, then it should become broadly based—and there are many of us willing to add to the pot or serve.


Michael W. Hoke asks four questions about the Harper Court board, org. membership. Herald September 13

I have been following all of the articles in the Hyde Park Herald regarding the future of Harper Court and have the following questions:

  1. How does one become a member of the Harper Court Arts Council?
  2. Who decides who is on the board of directors of the Harper Court Arts Council?
  3. If they elect the directors of the Harper Court Arts Council what is the nominating process, and when is the election?
  4. Who decides who should be paid by the Harper Court Arts Council and who decides how much they are to be compensated?