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Estelle, Rahm on Hand as Massive Harper Court Development Finally Opens

By Sam Cholke | November 8, 2013 4:56pm
 The redevelopment of Harper Court officially opened on Friday to praise from officials and neighbors.
Harper Court Ribbon Cutting
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HYDE PARK — After six years, three aldermen, $250 million and innumerable community meetings, the Harper Court development officially opened in a burst on Friday.

University of Chicago officials, developers, bankers, politicians and neighbors — nearly all of whom could claim some role in shaping the 12-story office and retail tower at 5235 S. Harper Ave. — celebrated the ribbon cutting on a new street created by the development.

“I first moved here in 1977, so I have been waiting a long time myself for this to happen,” said U. of C. President Robert Zimmer at the ceremony opening the development nestled between the new Hyatt hotel and Chipotle and in the shadow of the university’s new office tower.

The festivities were set to continue through Friday evening with a performance by Grammy Award-winning vocalist Estelle and a catered reception.

Chipotle opened in the complex redeveloped by Vermilion Development on Wednesday with lines out the door and L.A. Fitness is expected to open it’s third-floor gym in the coming weeks. Starbucks, Ulta and Villa have already opened locations in the 450,000 square-foot complex. Jamaican restaurant Ja Grill and barbecue restaurant Porkchop are expected to move in over the coming months.

Zimmer and other officials praised the project as a catalyst for growth in Hyde Park that will push the neighborhood towards becoming the economic engine of the mid-South Side.

“When you make an investment like this, then it’s a catalyst,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The city invested heavily to get the project off the ground.

The city sold a former public parking lot valued at $3.4 million where the office tower now rises to the developers for $1. The city also pledged $23.4 in public funding from the 53rd Street tax-increment financing district to complete the project.

“If you had a vote today, I bet will go the same way,” said Howard Males, the former chairman of the TIF council who presided over a years of community meetings about the project.

Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, said the project was an appropriate use of public money.

“It will help the neighborhood maintain,” said Mooney, one of the few officials who  hesitated to immediately herald the project a catalyst. “One of the criteria of the TIF is to conserve what you already have.”

TIF funding was first proposed by former Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), who shepherded the project through the community process and city approval, before stepping down in early 2011 when she was elected Cook County Board president. She handed the project off to her successor, Shirley Newsome.

“This represents progress, the future — and it’s fabulous,” Newsome said during a late morning tour as she strode down a sun-filled corridor on the 11th floor with views of the lake and downtown. “It’s called an investment.”

U. of C. workers from facilities, real estate and purchasing departments were moving into the ninth floor as curious Hyde Parkers wandered through the still empty 11th and 12th floor offices. The university is renting out 150,000 square feet of the building for $3 million a year, according to documents submitted to the city by the developers.

The university also sold to the developers a portion of the property at a discount that it purchased from the Harper Court Arts Council in 2008 for $6.5 million.

Every facet of the deal was hammered out with residents over months of community meetings with the developers.

“This is the best of urban planning and land use because it exemplifies what the community wants for itself,” said Dave Cocagne, CEO of Vermilion Development.