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Harper Court in Hyde Park

Phase I of the Harper Court development is complete, but not everyone in Hyde Park like it.

The Harper Court Tower
The Harper Court Tower

“I think they didn’t succeed,” said longtime resident Patricia West as her sister Gwen West nodded her head in agreement.

The first phase of the $130-million-plus project included new commercial space for restaurants and retailers, including LA Fitness, an office tower for the University of Chicago, a parking garage and the Hyatt Place Hotel.

“It’s unclear what Phase II will include, but it will likely feature a residential tower,” said Gary Ossewaarde, a board member of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.

Ossewaarde said he doesn’t believe Hyde Park residents will be able to afford the units once they are built because prices are generally rising.

The West sisters, who have lived in the neighborhood for almost 50 years, said they oppose the development because it doesn’t meet the needs of the community.

Ossewaarde partly agrees, saying people mostly need affordable housing and basic services. Public schools are overcrowded – when they are not closed – and seniors don’t have an affordable place to live when they retire, so a new hotel, fitness center and parking garage doesn’t help them, he said.

Although he doesn’t oppose or support the project, Ossewaarde acknowledges the Hyde Park community has different needs.

The neighborhood has become pricey for many and people have started to move out, he and Patricia West said.

“A lot of people are leaving because they can’t afford to stay here anymore,” she said.

The main target of Harper Court is the University of Chicago community.

The university owns the land on which the tower and LA Fitness stand, and it also purchased buildings in the surrounding area – including the location of the now-closed Borders bookstore.

Landscape of 53rd Street
Landscape of 53rd Street

And the Hyatt Hotel is designed for the university students, with special focus on those staying at the medical center.

The community is split on the role of the university in the neighborhood changes. The West sisters say the issue comes down to money, saying the university can do what it wants because it has the financial resources.

Ossewaarde doesn’t dislike the institution, but he underscores how the Harper Court project won’t benefit residents and it won’t solve the social problems of Hyde Park.

“People are running around making politics, not solutions,” he said.

But some- like the store manager of the boutique Comfort Me at 5241 S. Harper Ave – say the Harper project has been goof for the community.

Store manager Bethany Thomas said the university asked her to open a location in Hyde Park after officials visited her store in Lincoln Park.

Thomas said bringing niche stores like Thomas’ to the neighborhood is the strategy used to attract students, who otherwise wouldn’t venture to 53rd Street.

Thomas, who opened the boutique in August, said her survival will depend on how she does there first six months. If her store is well received, she will stay.

She said the university is engaging in a revitalization process that’s critical to the and she “really wanted to be a part of it.”

But some residents have complained to her about the prices, saying they’re too high.

Patricia and Gwen West said what the area lacks is family-size stores and restaurants, not a Whole Foods store. They said their friends aren’t happy with the development because shopping – even for basic goods like food- has become expensive.

Small businesses have a hard time opening because of city regulations, said Ossewaarde, so big chains like Starbucks are favored.

“The buy-from- moms-and-pops culture isn’t trendy anymore,” he said.

But residents like the West sisters love that simple lifestyle and want their neighborhood to go back to it. They said they miss the old Hyde Park.

Thomas loves the work-in-progress neighborhood and she doesn’t want to leave it.

“Hyde Park has a community feeling, where everyone knows everyone,” she said as her black labrador Harley barked in agreement.

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