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Developers Planning 16-Story Office Tower To Capitalize On Polsky Center

By Sam Cholke | June 15, 2017 5:44am
 The second phase of Harper Court would add 280,000 square feet of office and lab space.
The second phase of Harper Court would add 280,000 square feet of office and lab space.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — Developers Wednesday night unveiled plans for 280,000 square feet of new office and lab space to capitalize on the businesses being started at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center.

Wexford Science and Development announced at a meeting at Kenwood Academy it had struck a deal to develop new lab space and an office tower to be built onto the existing Harper Court development at 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue.

Thomas Osha, senior vice president of innovation and economic development for the Baltimore-based firm, said the planning process is only just beginning and the developer would be holding meetings over the next three months in the community to determine what mix of office, lab and retail would work.

 Doug Woodruff points out where lab space would replace the former home of the Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52.
Doug Woodruff points out where lab space would replace the former home of the Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

“The reason we do this is to create ecosystems where companies can grow,” Osha said.

The deal hammered out over the past two weeks tasks Wexford with creating a place that will keep the businesses being started at the university’s Polsky Center in the neighborhood and hiring locally after they outgrow the business incubator.

“We need more space,” said John Flavin, associate vice president for entrepreneurship and innovation at the university.

The university is expected to take 50,000 square feet of the office space, but will likely be cut off from expanding to take too much more.

Doug Woodford of Wexford said the developers considered a failure in past projects when they couldn’t find the right mix of tenants and their university partner took over the project and will be working to keep that from happening in Hyde Park.

If the developer sticks to that 50,000-square-foot threshold, the university would take up a little less than a third of the office tower, which is expected to be 261 feet tall and 16 stories. The tower would be built on top of the existing four-story parking garage and retail space, so would rise 20 stories above the street once complete. The smaller lab building would be approximately three stories and would expand the current footprint of the development to include the former homes of the Checkerboard Lounge and Park 52.

Woodford said they are zoned to go bigger, up to 400 feet, or 44 stories, but developers don’t think it will be appropriate to go that tall and said Ald. Sophia King (4th) has already encouraged them to limit the height of the building.

When the project was first conceived in 2010, it included a second phase that was to be a 44-story condominium tower built on top of the existing parking garage. The zoning changes necessary to make that happen were made at the time.

Unlike the initial phase, the developers said the second phase will not seek tax subsidies.

Woodruff said that if things go according to plan, construction will start in spring 2018 and will wrap up in spring 2020.