According to community groups given private previews of the project, the University of Chicago has hired Mesa Development to build a tower with rental apartments and ground-floor retail to replace a gas station at 1330 E. 53rd St.
“I don’t hate it. It’s a very sleek and modern design,” said George Rumsey, president of the board of the Coalition for Equitable Community Development, who saw renderings at a meeting of the coalition. But, “14 stories strikes me as a couple stories too high.”
The developers did not return repeated calls for comment.
University officials also wouldn't comment, but referred a reporter to a university blog post about the development.
"The proposed mixed-use project would enhance the vibrancy of the corridor by linking new development at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue with existing retail near Kimbark Plaza, creating a continual retail presence that will encourage a positive and interactive pedestrian experience," the blog stated.
The university will officially present the plans to the neighborhood on Wednesday at a meeting of the 53rd Street Tax Increment Advisory Council.
“Part of the tower is on the back of the lot, part is on the front, in a sort of zig-zag — all white and very modern, clean lines,” Rumsey said.
Hyde Parkers at other meetings where the plans were presented confirmed the tower will have two commercial spaces on the ground floor, one large enough to accommodate a national retailer, and parking for more than 200 cars on the second and third floors.
At 14 stories, the tower would be the largest on the commercial strip of East 53rd Street.
The university has spent five years trying to build a case for increased density along the business corridor, hosting three weekend workshops on urban planning with the TIF council on the benefits of higher density and development close to public transportation.
Rumsey and others who have seen the plans were involved in those workshops and participated in a debate about the university building a 12-story office tower on East 53rd Street and South Lake Park Avenue. That building is currently under construction.
The university has also called a Monday meeting to unveil a new two-story building for 5200 S. Cottage Grove Ave. The details of that project remain unknown.