The 130 room hotel set to open in Spring 2013 will be just one of a multi-phase revitalization project that includes condominiums, parking, and office and retail space, said Ed Small, president of Smart Hotels LLC. The developers hope this will rekindle Harper Court as a community destination.
Standing by the fenced-in construction area along 53rd Street, long-time Hyde Park residents Yvette and Terry Pitts are looking forward to seeing the construction started.
“I’m glad to see it revitalized,” said Yvette Pitts.
When the Pitts moved in 18 years ago, Harper Court was a bustling commercial center and community gathering space. Terry Pitts fondly recalled the men who played chess in the tree-lined area: “I used to go down there to watch the guys just play.”
Though the new development will be very different than the mom-and-pop businesses that resided in Harper Court before the construction, both the Pitts and the developers hope they will draw people better.
“It’s a dynamic area that is underserved by hotels,” said Small. “It offers a rich history and a commercial district that will enhance the appeal of staying at our hotel.”
But the revitalization effort isn’t limited to Harper Court. Across the street, a movie theater is in its final stage of restoration. In the interest of making the 53rd Street District a “lively pedestrian area,” Legat Architect’s Alan Bombick reiterated the importance of extending Harper Avenue into a through-street to improve the flow of traffic.
Amidst the excitement, some people are concerned with the way the new buildings will be integrated with the existing architecture of the area.
“There needs to be some excitement and pop with the designs and there is none,” said Commissioner Kevin Slaughter after seeing sample materials at the Chicago Plan Commission Meeting.
“I would like to see more glass & metal. I want to see more imagination from the hotel standpoint.”
Bombick said the choice of primarily red and brown building materials was meant to be “an extension of the neighborhood,” and responds to concerns expressed at community meetings for building materials that look “less technical looking, more natural looking.”
Whatever materials are chosen will help the developers meet LEED environmental standards as well as being “high-quality, more interesting and visually playful,” said Bombick.
Small reports that as the project moves on, the developers will continue to seek neighborhood feedback: “We will look forward to meeting members of the Chamber of Commerce and representatives of the neighborhood’s cultural, political and religious organizations.”