Harper Court Phase II will create 600 permanent jobs, developers say

Wexford attorney Langdon D. Neal discusses plans for Harper Court Phase II development at the meeting of Special Service Area No. 61. 

At the monthly Downtown Hyde Park business district improvement meeting, representatives for Wexford, the developer of Harper Court Phase II, said the project will create 600 permanent jobs as well as 500 construction jobs.

The developers also said they are examining options for amenities along East Harper Court alongside the planned, 16-story tower to be built atop LA Fitness, 5224 S. Lake Park Ave., and its adjacent parking garage.

"This is Wexford's effort to be a good neighbor," said the developer’s attorney, Langdon D. Neal, of the planned amenities at the Feb. 18 Special Service Area (SSA) No. 61 meeting.

Neal said Wexford plans to create a plaza-like space and is considering amenities such as outdoor seating, enhanced landscaping, a children's play area, a community gathering space for events like movie showings in fair weather or urban gardens. Neal asked the community to send him recommendations, comments and criticisms by email to lneal@nealandleroy.com. He said he would forward them to Wexford.

"Instead of how it is now, which is vehicular (street) with occasional closures for events, it (will be) mostly closed with occasional opening," added Alyssa Berman-Cutler with the U. of C. Office of Community Engagement. She expects Phase II to house more lab space than offices, with the university having a fairly small footprint.

Wexford has hired UJAMAA Construction, 7744 S. Stony Island Ave., and Bulley & Andrews (B&A), 1755 W. Armitage Ave., to manage building Phase II. The two firms have partnered together since 2006 — a previous joint project was the Englewood Whole Foods Market, 832 W. 63rd St. — and have set the goal of 40% minority-owned business and 6% women-owned business participation for Phase II.

Mike Lemmons with B&A said the logistics plan is to be "least-impactful to retailers, neighbors and everyone involved," with construction centralized at 5201 S. Harper Ave., the former Park 52 restaurant site. Cranes may be occasionally located along Lake Park Avenue, and long-term pedestrian canopies will be installed for safety.

Seventy additional parking spots are included in construction plans, bringing the total number at Harper Court to 515. Neal added that Wexford would encourage public transit use, given the project’s proximity to Metra and CTA bus stops.

When asked whether Harper Court development would ever have a third phase, Neal said Wexford, which specializes in developing mixed-use research and entrepreneurial facilities, is excited about Phase II's potential, and referenced plans for additional research and technology infrastructure in the West Loop.

"There's a lot of competition out there for science, technology and innovation space," he said. "We're hoping the building will be successful, and I think we would hope that somewhere close we could keep going."

Construction will displace the Hyde Park Farmers Market, which runs annually on Thursdays along Harper Court from June to October. South East Chicago Commission executive director Diane Burnham said it will ideally be relocated to the parking lot south of and used by The Promontory, 5311 S. Lake Park Ave. W., which is owned by the U. of C. and operated by McCaffery, 176 N. Racine Ave.

Another option would be the courtyard at the Hyde Park Shopping Center. Burnham said there is still time to find a replacement site, though the clock is ticking: "We're just trying to make sure that everybody is accommodated and they accommodate us, because we're the community partner."

Neal also spoke about a slight architectural change in the Phase II design: a notch-like set-back will extend from the top of the current structure before extending back to the north-facing property line, due to requirement of the Chicago building code should the lot currently containing a McDonalds, 5200 S. Lake Park Ave., ever be redeveloped.

"We're building on top of an existing building platform that was built right on the property line," he explained. "The building code of Chicago requires a certain distance at a certain level from adjourning properties, if they were to be developed."

Later in the meeting, Amy Srodon with U. of C. Commercial Real Estate Operations demonstrated the free "Welcome to Hyde Park" smartphone app, which launched a year ago alongside recently redesigned paper and website editions. The online maps now contain an events listing alongside interactive maps with business and service information. Users can share events and business listings using the website and app and also download directions to listed enterprises.

Around 2,200 people have used the site over the past several months, Srodon said, adding that she has access to individual pages' analytics. Due to the constraints of the paper map, only ground-level businesses have been included.

The next SSA meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 24, at 7 p.m. at the Polsky Center for Innovation, 1452 E. 53rd St.

Staff writer Christian Belanger contributed.

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