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Whole Foods, Second City May Come To Hyde Park

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53rd Street

53rd Street in Hyde Park. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - A Whole Foods and an outpost of the Second City comedy club are among the options being considered for a soaring new complex just off busy 53rd Street.

The new development would replace the old Harper Court shopping center, 5211 S. Harper Ave., which is set to be demolished.

Vermilion Development Inc., the developer selected for the project, plans to have the shopping center replaced with a 12-story building with 150,000 square feet of office space, about 100,000 square feet of retail space, and 435 parking spaces, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Sun-Times columnist David Roeder said the University of Chicago, which has owned the land since 2008, will lease all the office space in the new complex. The university is also in “advanced talks” with Whole Foods to anchor the retail space, and are considering other users such as an outpost of Second City, Roeder wrote, citing a city report.

The Whole Foods would enter a neighborhood that has long had limited options for groceries. For decades, the independent Hyde Park Co-Op store dominated the grocery market in the neighborhood with a sprawling main location on 55th Street and outposts on 47th and 53rd streets. The Co-Op went out of business in 2008, and its 55th Street location was taken over by Treasure Island.

But the city’s major grocery chains, Jewel and Dominick’s, do not have locations in Hyde Park.

And while Second City has headquartered on Wells Street in the Old Town neighborhood for more than 50 years, its roots can be traced back to Hyde Park and the U of C. The founders of the Second City – Bernard Sahlins, Paul Sills and Howard Alk – all got their start as part of the Compass Players cabaret group, a U of C student effort, in the 1950s.

The new development at Harper Court will also involve redevelopment of the city-owned 24-hour metered parking lot on Lake Park Avenue just to the east of the shopping center. Later phases of the development will include a 150-room hotel and as many as three residential buildings with up to 395 units in total, Roeder reported.

Architectural firm Hartshorne Plunkard says affordable and market-rate housing will be part of the development. Green design elements are also planned, including a rainwater collection system, low-level LED canopy lighting in public areas, and green outdoor space.

The plan also calls for giving exclusive access of an open space in the development to festivals, community events, and the Hyde Park Farmers Market, according to Hartshorne Plunkard.

The University of Chicago purchased Harper Court for $6.5 million in 2008, in hopes that the purchase would help revitalize the commercial strip in Hyde Park on 53rd Street. A decade ago, a new Tax Increment Financing District was created for the strip, and $20 million in tax-increment financing subsidies will go toward the project, Roeder reported.

By last year, most of the tenants in Harper Court had moved out or planned to do so.

One of the shopping center’s major tenants, the southern and Creole restaurant Dixie Kitchen & Bait Shop, closed in May 2009. The restaurant was a favorite of President Barack Obama, who famously recommended it in 2001 on the WTTW-Channel 11 restaurant review show “Check Please.”

Calypso Café, which shares an owner with Dixie Kitchen, remains open in the shopping center, but will have to leave for demolition.

When it opened in 1965, Harper Court was largely made up of arts and music-related businesses. As recently as a few years ago, it had 23 stores, including Dr. Wax Records, Maravilla’s Mexican Restaurant, the Toys Et Cetera toy store, and the Hyde Park Animal Clinic.

The redevelopment project is expected to preserve one building in the complex at 5201 S. Harper Ave., which houses the upscale Park 52 restaurant and the Checkerboard Lounge blues club.

The Chicago Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on the Harper Court redevelopment deal on Oct. 21, Roeder reported. No timetable was specified for when demolition or construction would go ahead.

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