Harper Court papers: Ideas, Proposals and Principles for the development of Harper Court; weighing costs and outcomes-Forums reports, full data
This page is presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Preservation-Development-Zoning Committee and its website www.hydepark.org. Contact us, share ideas. Join the Conference and help support our work.
To page index. Shortcut to Harper Court Art Council's Guiding Principles for development RFP. May 2006 special Reporter issue (in RFP) with full data and reports on 2006 forums on Harper Court Future.
Visit these additional Harper Court pages to see the progression:
Harper Court Story and history and background
Harper Court Sale and Future (HOME)- trajectory of a community issue.
Harper Court Sale I- Earlier from Nov. 2005-March 2006with much info. about players, community views. Includes timeline back to 2002.
Harper Court Sale II- Earlier from March - July 2006
HPKCC and Harper Court- communications, findings from HPKCC public forum and workshop
May 2006 special issue, Conference Reporter, all on the 2006 Harper Court forums, full data. Above in PDF
Report on the July 10 TIF meeting- HPKCC/community ideas in arts council doc. for city
Neighbors United to Save Harper Court views
Gary Ossewaarde's outline and principles for an RFP should there be redevelopment, with comment letters on process and Harper Court's principles
Visit also 53rd Street Future page. Business Climate, Development
This page shows work by HPKCC and others on an inclusive, open, community-input Harper Court RFP process, from 2005 forward.
This page will, as more concepts and position come into view, present the range of letters and positions, many intended as input to Harper Court Arts Council and the City for the draft Request for Proposals for Harper Court redevelopment, but including thoughtful context. (A draft of the RFP will be made available by Harper Court and city for a public comment period commencing perhaps from the July 53rd TIF Advisory Council meeting. Your, comments, proposals should be sent to the Arts Council at either email@example.com.)
Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference held public meetings to gather input and develop a set of principles, shared at the May 8 TIF meeting. See HPKCC and Harper Court for HPKCC position and what was garnered as "six constants" from the community, May 2006. Harper Court incorporated many of these in its guidelines to the city but in weakened form, especially re commitment to original purpose of small business and tenants, and public process.
We ask that you cc us at firstname.lastname@example.org any submissions you make to the Arts Council. Also Chuck Thurow, chair of the TIF Planning and Development Committee at email@example.com.
Residents are still invited to email comments and ideas to the Harper Court Arts Council or concerning redevelopment of Harper Court and a Request for Proposals. There is also no way ensure that community comments, such as summaries of the HPKCC forums/workgroups, will be included in an RFP. Indeed, it may be that the process will be put on hold as many wish. A new alternative (see Morsbach) is to put a new board in charge to manage and improve Harper Court. (The City Lot RFP could go forward regardless.)
Several, including the Herald, call for the Harper Court Arts Council to resign and reconstitute into a body more representative and responsible or at least responsive to the community and with a defined way to deal with proceeds from a sale-- although in what way it would be reconstituted and by whom--as a membership and tenant based organization?--are conceded to be problematic. Also problematic is development of a process to evaluate and ensure public input into an RFP and then the proposals. (The TIF development committee intends to be one evaluating party.) Again, some now say there should be a moratorium on redevelopment, recommitment to original purpose, and a new board to develop a new process and plan.
Hyde Park's current retail mix
From South East Chicago Commission
To Reporter article.
George Rumsey advised the TIF Advisory Council meeting May 8 and a large audience there that the HPKCC board voted to take a position at its May 4 Board meeting. Rumsey noted that the Conference has not to date taken a position on amount and type of physical redevelopment, considering this premature.
The position was that the Original Mission of the Harper Court Foundation must in some way be continued, to help small businesses, including small and artistic. (See complete below)
Rumsey also read, from a Reporter extra edition combined with letter to the Herald, six principles that were constants in our forums and conversations with the community (ref: "Key Points in the May Special Reporter", see also below the formulation of principles by Rantala and Davis):
- Harper Court's original mission must be continued and included in Harper Court and what's done by the managers of the assets of the sale: To support small (especially local) businesses, including those related to artists and our neighborhood's cultural life.
- Current tenants must be provided for in Harper Court, including in a transition/construction period (should there be rehabilitation or new development).
- Whether the current Harper Court stays or is replaced, it must become more of a visible, vibrant, exciting place, a destination at the neighborhood center and gateway. It must have a diverse mix of businesses, services, and cultural/entertainment uses, including such as are not currently found in the neighborhood and some that would not survive without help. The primary focus is on commercial space.
- Preferred scale is low, although certain areas offer possibilities for limited height.
- Adequate parking must be provided.
- Active open spaces are a must, including chess benches.
Letter in May 2006 Special Issue of the Conference Reporter and in May 10 Hyde Park Herald.
The Conference in Action
Actions of Board Endorse Original Harper Court Mission
On May 4, 2006, the Board of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference voted 12 to 1 (2 abstentions) to endorse the need to preserve, in some form or manner, the original mission of the Harper Court Foundation: "the civic purposes of furthering the trade and economic development of the Hyde Park-Kenwood area in the City of Chicago and is environs, and promoting and assisting the growth and development of business concerns, including small-business concerns in said area" with special emphasis for "the continuation in the community of artisans, craftsmen, and educational, recreational and other services offered on a commercial basis, but of special cultural or community significance" (paragraph 5, Harper Court Foundation Articles of Incorporation, April 17, 1963).
In its three public meetings since the TIF meeting, the Conference has heard a variety of worthwhile opinions and ideas that deserve exploring. There have also been several constants:
- The original mission should be retained.
- The current tenants should be "helped" during any construction period.
- Any development must be appropriate for Hyde Park, and should preferably be appealing to a broad spectrum of the neighborhood: a "gateway" to 53rd street.
- any new development should be kept at a height consistent with 53rd Street.
- Adequate parking must be provided.
- Public space (including chess benches) is required.
Following lengthy discussions earlier this year with the Illinois Attorney General's Office of Charitable Trusts, the Conference raised several questions it hoped would be answered by the Arts Council. Five remind unanswered:
- What is the Council's idea of appropriate development for Harper Court?
- How are the Arts Council bylaws being revised to fit its new role?
- What is being done to make the Council board more representative of the community, especially the arts?
- What steps are being taken to eliminate conflicts of interests?
- What framework will be created to make decisions about the dissemination of funds from the sale?
Prepared as HPKCC Board Member Contribution for the May 8, 2006 TIF Meeting by M.L. Rantala and George Davis. May 8, 2006. Cut to the principles. They are similar to those set forth by the Conference, above, but grouped into economic, planning, and process and are in greater depth.
1. The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Remains Committed to an Open Process
In March, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference issued an open letter to the community concerning Harper Court. The most important aspect of our letter was to reiterate one of the Conference's underlying principles: openness in community affairs. Back in March we wrote:
The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference is committed to openness in community affairs. Within the past 18 months we have called for greater transparency when it was time to select a state senate replacement for Barack Obama, asked that the current meetings to choose a rehab plan for Promontory Point to be open to the press and public, and requested that board members of the Harper Court Foundation explain their recent secret actions to the public.
Before an irrevocable decision on a decades-old community asset is made, we urge those who can affect this process to ensure that it is public and guided by principles the community can understand and stand behind. This neighborhood is richly endowed with citizens ready to give their time to a good cause. It is important to the future of our community that the wisdom and experience of those who live here play some role in defining the future of Harper Court.
On March 13, at the last TIF meeting, repeated suggestions that community groups advise members of the Harper Court Foundation and the Harper Court Arts Council in devising principles for their Request for Proposals (RFP) were repeatedly rebuffed. We said then that this was a mistake and nothing has happened to change our minds. Because we believe community involvement in this community asset created by community action and investment is vital, we held forums on April 11 and April 25. It is disappointing that while we filled the room both times, on neither occasion did any member of the Harper Court Foundation board or the Harper Court Arts Council board choose to attend.
Working together at our second forum, members of the community publicly and collaboratively suggested ways that change at Harper Court might proceed. But the most important aspect of our second forum was that the entire proceeding was public. The press was present. All members of the community were welcome. No backroom decisions were taken.
At the last TIF meeting, Alderman Preckwinkle asked the Harper Court board to be ready today to present a set of principles and a draft RFP. We at the Conference said that we would do our best to prepare a set of principles, one that we gathered from the community.
2. The April 25 Forum
To that end, our forum on April 25 asked members of the community what they thought about various aspects of Harper Court. That forum was set up in the form of multiple discussions. Each participant sat at a table with as many as five other people. Each table worked collaboratively to answer a series of basic questions regarding the potential development of Harper Court. Each table was identified by a different color and each table provided three answers to each question. The answers were posted for every participant to see and review as a single group.....
3. Community Generated Principles for Harper Court Redevelopment
The various results of the group evaluations and the questionnaire clearly indicated some general principles that should guide any enhancement of the current structure or a redevelopment on the current site and parking area (referred to simply as Harper Court below).
Harper Court should continue the original mission and subsidize and encourage small and/or locally defined businesses.
Harper Court should continue the original mission and subsidize and encourage local artisan spaces.
Any new Harper Court development should be a mixed use development. The range of acceptable uses in various combinations included commercial, residential, office, entertainment, restaurants, and artisans.
Public open space should be a key element of any new development or enhancement of the existing structure. Open space should act as an inducement to bring people to Harper Court both by providing "green" elements (courtyards, green landscaping) and providing space for outdoor activities such as the Farmer's Market, or festivals.
Harper Court should act as a catalyst for all types of public community activity including entertainment, cultural events and spontaneous gatherings.
Public parking should be enhanced and increased.
Redevelopment should be designed to integrate Harper Court with 53rd Street and Lake Park Avenue with the following features:
- enhance pedestrian flow from 53rd St. and Lake Park Ave to Harper Court; and
- develop the 53rd and Lake Park frontages with storefronts and access to the remainder of the development.
A low rise development is preferred.
The Harper Court Arts Council should increase its board to provide representation of a broader group of community residents and arts groups.
A clearer plan for the distribution of funds to local arts groups needs to be defined.
[The remainder of the paper presents the raw data from the April 25 forum, presented in the HPKCC and Harper Court page. These present a host of interesting suggestions as well as strong, broadly agreed-upon statements of what is not wanted.]
Harper Court Arts Council
Guiding Principles to be incorporated into RFP
DRAFT July 10, 2006
- Recognition that 53rd Street and Harper Avenue is the center of the Hyde Park Business District, and 53rd & Lake Park Boulevard an important gateway to this area. Use the opportunity of the combination of the Harper Court and Parking Lot sites to rework the orientation of parking, shopping, street access, and public space to provide an attractive pedestrian-friendly urban "downtown" for the Hyde Park community, and a retail destination for the south side of Chicago.
- Create a mixed use development that is primarily commercial. Residential development may be included. The development should provide variety in the size and types of offerings so as to serve residents and attract customers from inside and beyond the neighborhood. A component of recreational, cultural, dining/nightlife venues is also highly desirable. Any residential component must not be of a kind, size, configuration or location as to diminish or limit types of commercial or all-hours venues.
- Development should be of a size and configuration that complements the Hyde Park business streetscape, and is pedestrian friendly, offers welcoming vistas, and offers space suitable to public street level activity including events, farmers' markets, and public gathering point.
- Development provides adequate parking consistent with both the development and the Hyde Park Business District.
- The development should carry forward in some degree the original purpose of Harper Court to encourage local artisans and small businesses including through the possibility of temporary relocation or phasing of building to allow tenants to continue to be part of the 53rd Street business district. Considerations might also be given to setting aside space for small businesses that might need start-up or ongoing subsidies to exist.
- The successful Developer will present their plans for the development for public comment and community review through the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Committee.
If you have comments or suggestions concerning these Guiding Principles, please send your comments to Artscouncilinfo@harpercourt.com.
(Hans is a long time restaurateur (Medici, Courthouse) and businessman in Hyde Park as well as an ecologically-sensitive tree farmer in Wisconsin and active with the Experimental Station in Woodlawn.)
We all know Harper Court is not an unmitigated success, but the proposed plans for redevelopment will almost certainly turn into a bigger boondoggle.
The backers of the new plan propose that the remedy for Harper Court's malaise is to establish more retail space while replacing the existing surface lot with a larger parking space. This is sheer folly. Such a solution fundamentally misunderstands Hyde Park's retail problems and will likely kill several of Harper Court's going concerns if it is implemented.
Anybody who's lived in the neighborhood for more than a few years will not have failed to notice the increase of retail vacancies. Hyde Park is losing its interesting shopping venues. Neighborhood residents seem less and less interested in patronizing local businesses. Old time stores are closing. Good merchants are closing up shop as Hyde Parkers shift their loyalties to stores outside the neighborhood.
The community cannot even maintain decent supermarket. The Co-op, once a symbol of Hyde Park independence, is in a death spiral and will probably be supplanted by a chain. So what are the chances for the vaunted plan to make Harper Court a flashy center of new retail commerce?
The best we can hope for is that whatever replaces the Co-op-- perhaps a Whole Foods store-- will induce shoppers to linger and shop other stores in the Co-op shopping center. It is doubtful that such shopping enthusiasm will spill over the 53rd Street or Harper Court.
Can we assume, as the backers of redevelopment do that a redone Harper Court, larger and more expensive, will somehow do a better job than the current incarnation? What effect would the development have on the congestion in the area or on the viability of the businesses that are now thriving there? I seriously doubt that the veterinarian, the restaurants and other establishments will be better served by new and presumably more expensive retail space. More importantly, I doubt that these businesses will find it easy to survive the disruption the redevelopment project imposes on them. The cost of moving a restaurant is immense, and it is not fair to expect existing restaurants to pay it.
So if, as I believe, redevelopment is a bad idea, what is to be done with Harper Court? First, we need to recognize that the management of Harper Court has been flawed from the very beginning. The problem is not that Harper Court has outlived its usefulness- it never really lived up to its mission in the first place. It was supposed to be a place for the artisans displaced when the city and the University of Chicago decided to raze the Arcades on 57th Street back in the heyday of Urban Renewal. The artisans never arrived, and the many credible merchants faded away.
These days the management of Harper court is made up of earnest citizens who try to do what's best for the neighborhood. And, indeed, they are more competent than many past management regimes. Yet their determination to demolish the court is not sound. They dangle the prospect of dispensing the proceeds of selling out (which should net some $6 million and which must be distributed to local cultural organizations). We should not take the bait. Hyde Park is not lacking in funds; it is lacking in vitality.
By way of contrast, I would like to hold up the example of a small quasi-cultural center at 61st Street and Blackstone Avenue known as the Experimental Station. It is located next to the power plant, a block south of the University Press building. Twenty years ago it was the home of the Hyde Park Recycling Center. The Experimental Station is run by Dan Peterman, an artist, and his wife, Connie Spreen. The building is in a state of reconstruction, having been all but destroyed by a fire in the Big Fish Furniture shop exactly five years ago. Even as Dan and Connie struggled to save and rebuild the building, the building has been the center of a very interesting collection of people. Folks at the Experimental Station organized a large and thriving community garden, an many of its community were central to the campaign to save Promontory Point.
When it reopens shortly, the Experimental station will be home to the revived Blackstone Bicycle Co-op, the Baffler magazine, Dan Peterman's studio and other cultural and community organizations. I urge readers to visit the Experimental Station. It's exciting and beautiful. It embodies the true Hyde Park spirit. It would be wonderful if Harper Court would develop a community spirit like the Experimental Station, but perhaps we should settle for the realm of the possible.
There is room for improvement in the management of Harper Court an I would like to offer the following suggestions:
I strongly believe the answer to Harper Court's trouble lies in doing a better management job rather than tearing the place down. The rationale put forward for the redevelopment scheme is not credible, no mater how many consultants were engaged to gussy it up.
It is the second coming of Urban Renewal, and the community should have learned the lesson about these schemes the first time around. The arcades on 57th Street were more vibrant, beautiful an artistically exciting than anything Harper Court has ever provided. It was sad to see them torn down. As disappointing as Harper Court has been, it will be sad to see it leveled to make room for a high-rise.
April 28, Charles Custer added the following amplification:
...Any redeveloper with a $6 million investment could only make out with something like a multi-story condo, grounded by one or two manor, high-auto-traffic retailers at ground. We are addressing, are we not, community betterment. It would be hard to make the case that 53d Street, which has long been almost impassible much of the time, needs less parking. In the words of a writer last week, "Get real."
53rd Street doesn't need any more vacancies. It does not, in any event, need any big box retailers. Lake Park Avenue and 47th Street has long, and sadly, held one vacancy for such a tenant. Lake Park Avenue and 55th Street may soon, for ought we know, have another.
Through the fault of no one in particular, Harper Court is not what it was intended to be. Nor is it what it ought to be . But it ought not--no, it must not--become anything like what is now contemplated.
Hyde Parkers want a new Harper Court [board]. Former tenant compiles list of those willing to sit on reformed board. By Tedd Carrison
A former tenant of the beleaguered Harper Court Shopping Center has compiled a list of willing Hyde Parkers who would sit on the board of the Harper Court Arts Council if the non-profit were to shuffle its membership later this year.
Hans Morsbach, former owner of the now-closed Court House restaurant, which opened with the rest of Harper Court in 1965, said the complex has a long history of poor management that the right arts council would end.
Last week, he contacted four other Hyde Parkers that he said, as board members, would help revitalize the moribund shopping center a Harper Avenue an 52nd Place. His recommendations include current Harper Court tenant Nancy Stanek, former Artisans 21 member Steve Carl, former Harper Court Foundation board member Billy Gerstein an Charlotte Des Jardins, who bought a share of the debenture bonds that helped found Harper Court in the 1960s.
"The people who I am suggesting believe there is nothing wrong with Harper Court that better, enlightened management couldn't solve," said Morsbach, He said all five are unanimous in their desire to preserve the center's structure and purpose. "We think that Harper Court is nice the way it is and we don't want to lose the venue for the Farmers' Market," he said.
He said he will propose the names to the current arts council board, although th decision to swap member is ultimately their own. The arts council announced last month that they would make changes to their board following recommendations by th Illinois Attorney General's Office.
Gerstein, who sat on the Harper Court Foundation Board for five years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said the managing body became secretive in their dealings shortly after he left. He called the board members "nice people" but said their secrecy hurt Harper Court's effectiveness as a community institution. He said opening the arts council board, which now manages the center and comprises many foundation board members, would garner more trust and hopefully patronage from the community. "It's like a government that doesn't tell the public stuff," said Gerstein. "It ends up looking worse than it really is. If Hans is trying to open up the discussion, ten I am happy to help with that."
Toys Et Cetera owner Nancy Stanek proposed buying the center with two other tenants earlier this year. At that time, she said she would strive to make the center profitable while keeping the current businesses and purpose intact. The relevance of Harper Court's 43-year-old purpose in modern-day Hyde Park has been denied by the Harper Court Arts Council and argued over by community residents. [A history section follows--see this take in Harper Court Story-Herald-June142006. ]...
Des Jardins said there are many examples of non-profit centers like Harper court that are thriving in other parts of the country and the complex's purpose should not be compromised because business is currently stagnant. "You want to have something unique and that's what Harper Court is all about," she said.
Caitlin Devitt in exhibit review says we already have "it" in Harper Court
Hyde Park Herald, June 14, 2006, by Caitlin Devitt. Exhibit through June 30, 2006 is at 1 Space Gallery, 230 W. Superior. 312 587-9976.
Hyde Park is not one of the socially diverse neighborhoods cited in the fine exhibit on Chicago urban planning organized by the University of Illinois at Champaign. Lincoln Park, however, is. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's all been scientifically computed with the Simpson Diversity Index (A+[N) N-1)/[sigmai nsubj (nsubi-1)]). So Hyde Park is less diverse than Lincoln Park, as well as Uptown, Edgewater or the Lower West Side. Well, anyway, one need not always gaze in the mirror to have a good time. There's another reason to visit this show: to gather evidence for the argument that it would benefit Hyde Park if Harper Court remained an incubator for small, independently-owned businesses.
The exhibit suggests three requirements for neighborhood diversity:
When it comes to businesses, the exhibit, which thankfully avoids a preoccupation with gentrification, notes that small and neighborhood-based businesses are good; a local veterinarian, art gallery, plant and toy stores would likely be pleasing to these urban designers. They suggest that physical space should be preserved for such business, a group of cottage buildings built around a courtyard, maybe? The planners suggest wrapping small businesses around a big box retailer, supplying plentiful retail without flattening the horizon. This is best achieved in an area that features a mix in building sizes; one could imagine something like a large corner retail building, a theater building, narrow storefronts and two-story buildings. Collective space to connect the whole thing is ideal, perhaps grassy courtyards where residents can gather for farmers markets or chess playing.
It's always nice to see shows like this in Chicago, where it seems that urban design follows the cash dollars, and retail streets are becoming parades of Walgreen's, Subways and bank branches. Those interested in urban policy or who followed the Urban Renewal debates probably won't find many surprises here, except for the diversity of Lincoln Park. If we can figure out a way to plug Harper Court into the Diversity Equation, Hyde Park might score higher next time.Top
Herald says (May 3) Same future, different vision for Harper Court Arts Council's course and that of U of C with the Hyde Park Art Center building--points to a win-win based on the original mission of Harper Court and without greed rather than abandoning its mission and destroying the enhancement under their care
The Harper Court Foundation could take a cue from the University of Chicago. In 2002, the university wondered what to do with its old printing warehouse in the 5000 block of Cornell Avenue. It wasn't feasible as an academic building or a residents for students due to its distance from the campus.
A lucrative decision would have been to sell the building and the land for high-end residential use. Another high rise would have fit snugly in dense east Hyde Park. And the first floor could have housed a deli or coffee shop or a small grocer--businesses welcomed and probably well patronized in a corner of the neighborhood not served by retail.
Instead, the university gambled on the vision of a community arts center and agreed to lease its building for a dollar a year for the next 25 years. Now the Hyde Park Art Center is opening in its first free-standing building in 67 years. The university walks away from a potential economic gain to create a community betterment. The Hyde Park Art Center took over the responsibility of maintaining the building from the university by raising more than $6 million to renovate the building.
If anything is gained by the University it is good will and a more interesting neighborhood. The neighborhood can enjoy an expanded art center and the art center can attract more visitors to Hyde Park, which benefits everyone. A housing resurgence is on in Chicago and Hyde Park is on fire. But the university stood up to market pressure and said an art center is what the neighborhood needs, not another high rise on Cornell Avenue.
That kind of generosity never goes out of style. In 1965 the Harper Court Foundation took a gamble on ensuring a place for small business in Hyde Park by creating the Harper Court Shopping Center. Set up as a non-profit organization, the Harper Court Foundation never stood to benefit financially from the complex. A veterinary, a toy store, a record place and numerous studios and shops have had a place to thrive for years.
Now the foundation says the Harper Court Shopping Center has outlived its purpose. It wants to sell the center to an outside, for-profit developer to build another high rise. Both the foundation and the University understand that the neighborhood is ripe for high-end real estate. Any property in play could very well go in that direction.
Until now, Hyde Park has been an example of how community intervention can ensure that the little guy still has a place in here. Has the foundation forgotten its purpose? Its specific, founding purpose was to help small business in Hyde Park. The foundation directors now think they can discard that purpose, sell the land for a high price and take the money for unspecified arts projects.
The university and the foundation were staring at the same future. The university envisioned a specific enhancement to the community. The Harper Court foundation envisioned destroying the enhancement under their care.
About possible tenant/local bid:
Tom Wake, speaking also for Nancy Stanek, told the late March meeting mentioned above that they are interested in buying and redeveloping Harper Court but this would only be with the present buildings--not to tear down and redevelop or hold-and-sell. Their making a bid depends in large part on a full engineering, viability and marketing study and on what's in the RFP. And do not think that either of their businesses' future depends on whether Harper Court is "saved."
From Herald coverage of contemplated bid April 12. By Tedd Carrison and Anthony Bishop
Three tenants seek an engineering study to see if the center's sound enough to restore, in which case they may bid on it. Nancy Stanek (Toys Et Cetera) and veterinarian Tom Wake are well known. We do not know the third--maybe Ms. Bradford of C'est Si Bon! or Paul Andressen of Calypso and Dixie Kitchen? Stanek told the Herald, "My desire to purchase Harper Court has less to do with me being a tenant and more to do with me being a resident." She emphasized the community's need for a shopping center that is "wholly and solely devoted to small business." Wake said he would like to restore the economic vibrancy of Harper Court while keeping its current setup and purpose intact. "We are not interested in buying Harper Court to sell it. We believe we can bring the property back up to snuff," he said.
Stanek added that the addition of the parking lot will not deter their interest. "The parking lot is going to have an impact and while our interest is primarily in retaining a place that would harbor and nurture small independent business, we are well aware that it is fully dependent on the parking lot," she said.
Stanek met with Alderman Preckwinkle to set forth their idea and project, and said the Alderman was supportive.
Piemonte is former
associate editor of the Herald and active in development and preservation issues.
HPKCC is looking at some of these principles, but not necessarily all, and more
as it develops its own principles for Harper Court and cannot necessarily endorse
statements in this or any other letter or essay it reproduces.
I applaud the HPKCC for their efforts at increasing civic participation in the planning process for Harper Court. It is sad--but not surprising--that the foundation established to ensure perpetuation of the community's interests at Harper Court has been doing the opposite. For years, they have behaved as if they had their own agenda and were unconcerned with the community's wishes. Remember the chess benches? Great work, Herald, of holding the Harper Court Foundation accountable and keeping the neighborhood informed.
After talking to many fellow Hyde Parkers, some of whom favor redevelopment and some of whom prefer preservation, I believe the following principles should be incorporated into any future planning or Harper Court, regardless of whether it is redeveloped or not.
I believe the abuse of public trust demonstrated by the Harper Court Foundation is criminal.
Furthermore, this plan is eerily reminiscent of the 47th Street Co-op project, which has left us with a crippled community institution and a vast, vacant retail space, with the only benefits being substantial profits for a faceless developer.
Let's hold Ald. Toni Preckwinkle's feet to the fire and demand a transparent community process!
(Judy is, inter alia,
a long time community activist who at various times directed the Conference
and has been very active with programs at the Blue Gargoyle, Hyde Park Neighborhood
Club, and Older Women's League. This statement was distributed at the April
11, 2006 HPKCC Forum on the Future of Harper Court and was been discussed with
This is a proposal to create a mixed use planned development at the 53rd Street gateway to Hyde Park-Kenwood that embodies our moral vision and our social commitments and that serves our material and practical needs as well. It would recognize Hyde Park-Kenwood's status as a world class community not only because of our Nobel Prize winners and Mac Arthur fellows but also because of the courageous stands we have taken in the face of potentially disruptive social changes.
Over fifty years ago, we took a stand for racial integration. Not long thereafter, we took another strong stand, this time against the homogenization that could have resulted from urban renewal. We are now at a new crossroads that calls for similar courage and innovation. Our new status as Chicago's South Side Gold Coast has put us at serious risk of fracturing the diversity that has made our community such a meaningful and textured place in which to live and work. No single development can fully counter this threat to the essential character of our community. But an appropriately designed and executed mixed use development, constructed at the major entrance to our community, and combining commercial and professional facilities with moderate cost residential apartments, will serve as a visible and powerful statement that we intend to stand by our values, and are not willing to sacrifice our community soul on the altar of its success.
From its inception, Hyde Park-Kenwood has followed Burnham's dictum to make no small plans. Jackson Park, Washington Park, the World's Fair, the Museum of Science and Industry, the University of Chicago and, within the living memory of many of us, Urban Renewal, the Kenwood Open House project, the more recent miracle of North Kenwood, and our ongoing commitment to racial integration and demographic diversity all show that we do not shun big goals and challenges.
Our current community conversation about our Harper Court dreams, hopes and disappointments could end in blame and "might have beens". But it could also, if we have the stamina and courage, present us with an opportunity to create a new gateway to Hyde Park-Kenwood, at the corners of 53rd and Lake Park, with the bank building and bookstore on one side, and on the other side, a mixed-use planned development that incorporates the moral vision and social commitments of this community, and provides for its practical and material needs as well.
The vision that inspired Harper Court was based on the idea of a community as a place for inclusion rather than exclusion. Urban Renewal brought radical change to this neighborhood; old crumbling apartment buildings were torn down, and some sturdy and livable homes were removed as well. Stores were demolished, a movie theater bit the dust, an old ice cream parlor and apothecary was removed and painstakingly restored in another location. Many families, who could not afford the new housing, were forced to move elsewhere. They were essentially evicted from the neighborhood.
But at a given point, some good and idealistic people said that one group of residents, our artists and craftsmen, were so important to the soul of the community that they should not be evicted. Many of our neighbors had been urban renewed out, but for this special group, the principle of inclusion would apply.
Harper Court was the solution for including them. With all due respect to the Court's initiators and subsequent caretakers, there was something a bit quaint - and ultimately unworkable - about that solution and its execution. How many shopkeepers, let alone artists and artisans, could survive in an isolated courtyard, without nearby parking and street level access? We know the answer.
There is, however, a workable solution at hand, not only for artists and craftsmen, but also for other local residents who are now threatened with expulsion from our neighborhood. A planned development, based on sound commercial principles, with well-placed parking and space for shops, professional offices, residential apartments, restaurants, and recreational facilities could include some subsidized space for the artists and artisans we want to keep in our community. It could not only offer space for their small shops, but could include modest apartments which were part of the initial Harper Court plan.
Such a mixed use planned development could also provide moderate rent housing for other residents whom we want to keep in our community, but who are now in danger of being excluded. I'm thinking particularly of retirees, who are unable to keep up with the rising taxes on their homes or the rising rents on their apartments. Younger people of moderate income - school teachers, social workers, and many other professionals and working people - are also being out-priced.
The recent changes in Hyde Park are even more radical - and potentially more disruptive of our current demographic diversity - than those brought about by Urban Renewal. These changes are not being created by a government initiated program like Urban Renewal. Rather they are the product of our success - our energy, our cultural and architectural richness, and our physical proximity to the lakefront and the loop. Even more importantly, in this age of bowling alone and social isolation, Hyde Park-Kenwood is one of the few true communities left. This is an enormously attractive feature of our neighborhood, and it is well-known and envied by people who live in areas that lack the social intimacy and community engagement that we take for granted. The real tragedy will be if our success leads to the loss of community. And that loss will certainly take place if certain groups who are essential to being a community are out-priced and forced to leave.
Hyde Park-Kenwood's rise to the status of the South Side Gold Coast started slowly, but the pace is quickening. About fifteen years ago, new townhouses were built across the street from my home, on the site of the old Osteopathic School. The builder told me he was bringing Lincoln Park to Hyde Park. He was talking about the design of his houses, and they do indeed have something of a Lincoln Park look.
But the look of those houses is not the relevant point. Hyde Park-Kenwood has always had the most gorgeous housing stock in Chicago, and it still does. What's important is that people who formerly would have chosen to live in Lincoln Park, are now choosing to live here, and people who could easily afford North State Parkway and other elegant, tree-lined north side stress are now choosing to live here too.
One can only be pleased that Hyde Park is now a destination of choice, a place where people who appreciate a good neighborhood want to live. That's all to the good: it adds to our diversity, and makes for a more varied and hence more interesting mix of people, interest, and occupations. It's also all to the good that houses that once sold at fire-sale prices are now being priced at levels closer to their real value. Time was when a house that would have cost $5 million or more in Kenilworth could be purchased for $30,000 or less here . Well, we're not up to Kenilworth, but we're getting there.
Our problem is not that affluent people who could live anywhere are choosing to live here, or that homes are priced closer to the true value, or that these residents can afford the maintenance that our historical homes require. These are all plusses. The problem - and the real danger - is that we are at real risk of excluding from our community the very people who are essential to it being a community, to it being this particular community, with diversity of income, occupation, race, creed, age and interests. We are at serious risk of losing our community's soul.
Of course, we could find spaces in various parts of our neighborhood for the artists and artisans whom we want to include, or the retirees who are being out priced, or the working people and professionals who can't afford the high taxes and high rents. We could tuck these groups in various spots, and they'd still be in the neighborhood.
But to do so would, in my judgment, be missing an opportunity to make an important statement about who we are. We cannot and should not hide these groups away in less desirable nooks and crannies. Rather we should find a place for a significant number of them at the very entrance to our neighborhood, at one of its major gateways.
We should give our artists and artisans a place in an important commercial center, where there will be a variety of stores and restaurants, including those that are part of our local history and lore. And we should place our middle income retirees at a location that is within convenient walking distance of transportation, shopping, and entertainment, so they won't be condemned to lonely, isolated lives in their apartments, dependent on meals on wheels or shopping services to bring them food, a van to bring them to the doctor, and the TV as their only source of entertainment. Locating retirees at this site is not only important to their well-being, it is a statement of the profound respect that the community must feel toward those who embody its past and were actively involved in creating its present. We also need to make a statement of our respect for the mid-level working people and professionals, many of whom work in our local schools, offices, shops and other institutions.
The last thing Hyde Park-Kenwood needs at this gateway is a local version of Olympia Towers or some similar symbol of exclusivity and exclusion. It's no lack of respect to its founders to say that Harper Court was a kind of tokenism: it was a small statement of inclusion about a tiny group of artists and craftsmen.
Full demographic diversity has not been attained in Hyde Park, and it may not be attainable anywhere. But to reduce the demographic diversity that we have achieved would be a travesty, and a rebuke to everything we have worked so hard to achieve. It would make that great Elaine May and Mike Nichols line all too true. Whenever I heard it, I would think of their writing it in the safe exclusivity of a doorman-protected, high-end apartment. But our neighborhood is on the way to becoming equally exclusive and high-end, and we could easily find ourselves talking diversity but not living it. We've already begun to ship our our elderly, except for the most affluent, as soon as they reach retirement age. And we're close to excluding from our neighborhood the school teachers, social workers, shopkeepers, bank tellers and other middle income professionals who can't afford our Gold Coast prices.
The site at the gateway to Hyde Park can't possibly include all those who have been or will be excluded. But location is everything when it comes to making a statement of who we are as a community. Do we really want to say Gold Coast and bland affluence? Or do we want the portals of our neighborhood to say that we proudly embrace our diversity, our bookstores and our banks, our academics and our trades people, that we honor our elderly and value the people who teach our children, nurse our sick, provide our social services, run our shops, paint pictures, and dip candles?
I have lived in HP for over 40 years, and the most lamentable loss are the old movie theaters that used to be available. Not the recent Meridian Theater, because they showed films that neither I or anyone I know in the area were interested in. I have reached consensus with a number of friends that the most desirable way to spark up HP life would be a really good, big, Cineplex with a wide assortment of film choices. Several people have said that the Cineplex built in downtown Evanston about 5-6 years ago, has completely revitalized downtown Evanston. People are on the streets, and interested in restaurants and coffee shops. Wouldn't HP make wonderful use of such a complex in one of the now defunct retail spaces on 53rd. Or better yet, the retailers in Harper Court could be ensconced in the available retail spaces on 53rd. St. and Harper Court and adjoining parking lot could be a Cineplex with a good size parking garage. I am absolutely sure that Hype Parkers would love to have a film venue to which they could walk, and near which restaurants could flourish. At present, we always leave HP on weekends---for what is there to do here? Well, you asked for thoughts, and I think given the students and the population this would be a terrific boost. Monica Schwartz.
Herald, May 3, 2006. Originally cc'd to HPKCC.
I have been thinking that t he Hyde Park community would definitely benefit from a small theater, something like a black box theater. A black-box theater consists of a simple, somewhat unadorned performance space, usually a large square room with black walls and a flat floor. such spaces are easily built and maintained and are usually home to plays or other performances with very basic technical arrangements--limited sets, simple lighting effects, and an intimate focus on the story, writing and performances rather than technical elements. The seating si typically loose chairs on platforms, which can be easily moved or removed to allow the entire space to be adapted to the artistic elements of a production.
I believe that a black box theater would b appealing to Hyde Parkers, not-for-profit organizations, low-income artists and students. The black box is also considered by many to be a place where more "pure" theater can be explored, with the most human and least technical elements being in focus. This would b a fresh and creative addition to our community. Local actors, poets , dancers, musicians and comedians could use the Hyde Park Black Box as a practice space for a small fee and later use as a performance space.
A space like this in Hyde Park would encourage artistic innovation and public engagement. I would definitely be willing to volunteer and find other people and organizations to help get a project like this going.
I am a new resident to Hyde Park, moving here from the north side a year ago. We chose this neighborhood due to its diversity, many cultural outlets, immediate access to the best parks in the city, the fact that you can get more for your money and be in an established neighborhood, as well as the close proximity to independent shops.
In regard to the last reason, I feel Harper Court is a lovely, quaint, and unique shopping/entertainment destination in the neighborhood. Yes, it needs a little T.L.C., and management that cares about its successes. Were this the case I truly believe it would regain its status, my neighbors tell me it enjoyed in the 60's and 70's.
Since the Alderman
has included 53rd and Lake Park's parking lot in the r.f.p., may I make a suggestion
that I believe could be an answer to satisfy and benefit the community. A developer
could be found to develop a mixed use
building where the parking lot is currently located (including the same amount or more parking than is available on the site). The parking lot is an eye sore and, this corner is prime retail space. Developing a site of its size would surely be profitable enough to leave Harper Court standing with a face lift!?!
How nice it would
be to shop along 53rd and Cornell continuing on to 53rd and Lake Park on the
way to Dr. Wake (the vet), Pick up a gift for some one at Artisans 21, and then
stop to have an afternoon snack and coffee outside
in Harper Court (great place for an outdoor cafe or restaurant don't you think)!?! I also feel making Harper a thru street is a mistake that would have a negative effect on the peaceful feel of Harper Court.
This is just a
suggestion from a newcomer who is as passionate about this
neighborhood as those who have been here for generations!
Thanks for the time, Douglas
To revised and expanded version (in separate page)
Version 2, May 8 2006
I. Type of development preferred
II. General Guidelines for all proposals
III. Guidelines applicable to a completely new development
Guidelines must encourage but regulate all responsible options, from proposals for minimal upgrade to the existing structures to proposals that start over completely. But guidelines must not encourage high or dense development. Further, conformity with the needs, character and quality of the commercial district and neighborhood must come ahead of realizing top dollar.
The following is based upon what I took to be the most commonly expressed goals or principles from the forums on the Future of Harper Court, held by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference April 11 and especially April 25 and some other ideas given to the Conference, as well as some ideas from the Harper Theater RFF and the 2000 Vision for Hyde Park Retail Study. Some ideas may appear to clash with others, but I believe they can be reconciled.
Following the proposed type of development are RFP guidelines. I have included a section on special guidelines for proposals with complete or major development, even though smaller-scale development is preferred.
I Vision and parameters for the new Harper Court
A. Care must be
taken for current tenants, including by temporary or permanent
relocations and a set aside provision in the new Harper Court, particularly
for those businesses that make the arts or our cultural and civic life flourish
or provide needed services that without subsidy could not exist in the neighborhood.
Doing this carries on the original mission of the Foundation
--publicly established by this neighborhood--, to encourage and support
small businesses and cultural diversity, expresses in action our community’s
values and character, and meets tenants vested interest and needs.
B. Harper Court must be made an attractive and attracting magnet at the gateway center, a destination for local and distant shoppers as elaborated below. It must bring in customers while contributing to and revitalizing the overall 53rd Street business district.
C. The easiest way to do this would be to revitalize the existing structures and have some new development with or separate from a garage near Lake Park in the current city lot. However, the best and most responsible way to realize a vision for what Harper Court can be and do may require substantial redevelopment of the whole site. In that case, preference is to keep a low scale, density, and height through at least most of the site. (Note: The city’s pedestrian street standard is a maximum of four stories.)
D. Harper Court must be a truly varied, mixed development that does not disrupt the scale, character and infrastructure capacity of the shopping district and neighborhood. Harper Court should include:
a. Small, some of them subsidized, shops, services, arts-type businesses, and essential services including some that otherwise could not exist here. Configuration should allow for a varied and changing mix of shops, generally small, but that could include mid-sized that provide goods and needs not found locally now or where a competitor might be sustainable. A major purpose of developing Harper Court is to increase the variety and depth of goods and services available locally, in a way that attracts more customers and serves the neighborhood well.
b. The preferred model is a continuous or sectioned arcade, pedestrian-friendly and pedestrian-accessible, and visible rather than tucked away. Internal scale is to be small and low, overall scale low-rise.
c. The development could use all, some, or none of existing structures. (The “Scan” building is not in the RFP.) Models strongly suggested for comparison include arcades such as The Torpedo Factory in Virginia. To be encouraged in addition to shops are entertainment, nightlife or community use space, including a small arts movie theater and black box live theater if not provided in the adjacent Harper Theater project. An emphasis on arts suppliers or providers would fit goals, needs, and values in the community and fit with the current mission of the Arts Council.
d. Preference is to avoid or minimize a residential component so as to not dilute the purposes of the RFP and Harper Court mission or increase density in an adverse way. However, 1) Many surmise that residential may be needed to reduce and cover costs of the garage and subsidized space and 2) Desire has been expressed for a mid rise residential structure, a gateway anchor that could include reduced cost living space for the arts or other subsidized spaces, including affordable set aside, for persons being financially pressured out of the neighborhood. Such options, including some live-in space as subsidy for shop owners, should also be considered.
must be made for parking, preferably in a garage (exact location
open) that will not only provide, in accord with modern parking planning principles,
as well as city standards, for the needs generated by Harper Court but also
provide the right amount of public parking, not less than existing, and provide
F. Open space is to be included that will be convenient, visible, accessible, and that will reflect and strengthen the gateway location. Such open space should accommodate both active programming and uses like farmers’ market and arts programs and gatherings but passive uses, for example chess.
The guidelines for RFP Principles are in two sections: General guidelines that would apply to all proposals and those specific to complete redevelopment.
II General Guidelines for all proposals
A. Primary interest
is in a primarily commercial development or mixed-use development perhaps with
professional and or residential—not a residential development, although
a residential component is not excluded. The primary purpose is to enrich the
commercial district and its variety and offerings (including interesting and
needed shops and services that may need subsidy) so as to attract customers
from inside and beyond the neighborhood and serve residents. A component of
recreational, cultural, dining/nightlife venues is also highly desirable.
B. The proposal must be financially responsible, and the developer must be fully capable of financing and doing the job and shall guarantee to finish the job. City and neighborhood standards including for MWB enterprises shall be followed.
C. The development must adhere to commercial district and neighborhood character and be designed to globally enhance the commercial district without substantially altering character. It should consider applicable the “pedestrian street” guidelines for 53rd Street.
D. Materials used must be of high quality and the configuration and looks shall make any retained or new structures substantial, utile and attractive. Any new structures and their configuration must contribute to the attracting ability of the commercial district and enhance, make special the gateway location, and fit with adjacent structures such as the Harper Theater development, other structures in the 5200 Harper block, and adjacent 53rd Street. The developer is urged to coordinate plans and stage work with nearby developments. Structures shall conform to city streetscape and storefront standards.
E. The development must be such that infrastructure, including but not limited to streets, can bear the impact and traffic of the project. Consider having character and features that will make the development and site environmentally and socially sustainable.
F. The encouragement of new, small or fragile businesses in a varied and diverse complex is as important as or more so than bringing in large or upscale businesses.
G. Access to the commercial buildings shall to the extent possible be better than at present, encouraging lines of visibility to the commercial buildings, encouraging of pedestrian traffic, give a sense that the spaces are safe, and have recognizable convenience to those who drive and park to shop.
H. Musts include not less public parking spaces than now provided plus provision for any increased parking load from the development, and provision of quality, easily accessible, program-capable public space.
I. Construction and repairs must conform to city and neighborhood standards for utilization of MWB enterprises and workers. Any residential shall include 15% affordable units.
III Additional Guidelines specific to proposals with substantial redevelopment
A. Primary interest
is in a primarily commercial development or mixed-use development perhaps with
professional and or residential, not a residential-heavy development, although
a residential component is not excluded. The primary purpose is to enrich the
commercial district and its variety and offerings (including interesting and
needed shops and services that may need subsidy) so as to attract customers
from inside and beyond the neighborhood and serve residents. A component of
recreational, cultural, dining/nightlife venues is also highly desirable. Any
residential component must not be of a kind, size, configuration or location
as to diminish or limit types of commercial or all-hours venues.
B. Consider setting aside a section that can practically subsidize current or new tenants or services and cultural amenities needed in the neighborhood but that cannot pay market rent. Encouraged are creative ways to make this work, balancing financial responsibility and community values, and perhaps including a housing provision for shop owners. See also guideline section on transition that follows.
C. Provide a transition period of x years in which the developer or owner will not demolish the west building and not reduce access to that building. Consider using the west building and other nearby structures for displaced responsible tenants during construction, or work with owners and institutions to provide viable alternative nearby spaces.
D. Consider in a residential component affordable units (rental and or owner) with reduced cost for middle income and disabled residents in danger of being priced out of the neighborhood as well as others living below the affordable threshold. Affordable units shall be not less than 15 percent.
E. Substantially improve well-signed and convenient access and automobile and pedestrian traffic through the entire site, not limited to considering opening Harper Avenue with preservation of some open space on the east side, good access into the new parking area and to the best approach streets. Enhance the pedestrian-friendly character of the area.
F. The development is to increase and absolutely not diminish publicly used parking spaces, while providing for any new needs arising from the development, all in an improved configuration, preferably a garage. If the proposal calls for removal of present Harper Court buildings, the parking may be on any appropriate section of the development that makes sense for access and the rest of a superior development.
G. Include replacement or increased program-capable open space and a gateway feature (particularly at 53rd and Lake Park). This could necessitate removal of the Hollywood Video.
H. Development along 53rd and along Lake Park shall not exceed 4 stories up to x feet from the sidewalk line, with first choice being for development to avoid interfering with current sight lines to visible parts of the Bank.
I. Any increase in height or density would require change to the Planned Unit Development. Proposals that exceed x stories in any section, or exceed the practical height of a parking garage component must show fiscal necessity and superior contribution to the commercial district and the general standards in section II and shall not predominate or throw out of balance the complete project. No project with a component higher than the accepted proposal for the Harper Theater, or in default the Hyde Park Bank, will be accepted.
I Needs Assessment
The applicant describes the need for a restored and fully renovated Harper Court, including specific information on how a revitalized Harper Court will help in revitalizing the community.
II Goals and Objectives
1) The applicant describes how the proposed program for a revitalized Harper Court will impact on the needs described in the Needs Assessment.
2) The applicant states the Program's long-term goal for a revitalized Harper Court, and delineates measurable short-term objectives which will move the Program towards its long-term goal.
III Program Design
1) The applicant provides a detailed Plan which describes the steps the applicant will take to achieve the long-term goal of a revitalized Harper Court, with timelines, linking each step to the stated measurable objectives in the Goals and Objectives Section.
2) The applicant describes the Personnel and their qualifications, who will be hired for the Program - and how the qualifications of the Program Personnel will assure that the Program will achieve its goals of la revitalized Harper Court.
3) The applicant describes how th e community will be involved in the implementation of the Program Design - and how the community involvement will help the Program Personnel in the revitalization of Harper Court.
IV Program Evaluation
The applicant describes How the Program will be evaluated, to demonstrate that the Program's Goal of a revitalized Harper Court is being met.
1) The applicant describes the evaluation tools which will be used in the Program Evaluation.
2) The applicant describes how the community will be involved in the implementation of the Evaluation Plan.
V Budget Explanation
1) The applicant provides a detailed budget, and explains how the funds will be allocated.
2) The applicant provides a detailed justification for its budget allocation.
Des Jardins in the May 31 Herald:
May 31. Charlotte Des Jardins says the process should be placed in moratorium and others should undertake reconsidering the process to a new realization of the original purpose of Harper Court. The arts council should resign, having shown it considers itself an owner, not a caretaker responsible to the community, and is simply bent on a sale. They never had or presented a plan to benefit the community in a new way, or sought community input therein. The writer says there are ideas how to set up a new community organization to revitalize and market the center. She says, first have a 3-year moratorium and look at what works in other places. This should result in a "revitalization plan driven by a board of directors that is selected by the community and accountable to the community. A revitalized Harper Court, which will attract visitors from all over, can emerge from this renewed, vigorous community undertaking."
In her Herald letter of August 30, Charlotte Des Jardins agrees with Herald call Aug. 16 for Harper Court board to step down.
We have not been told who is to benefit, against the will of the community, and why they are more important than those who care for keeping Harper Court and or/are willing to take it over.... " Let the people in the community who care about the court design a plan. And let them select their own representatives to implement this plan."
The Hyde Park Herald editorial on Aug. 16 made a common sense suggestion which the Harper Court Arts Council should follow, when it stated: It's not too late to give up and let other people who still believe in Harper Court's purpose take over."
I cannot understand why people who have made it abundantly clear, by their comments and their actions, that their sole purpose regarding Harper Court is to abolish it, are so adamant about carrying out their abolition plan in the face of strong opposition by those who really care about Harper Court.
It is a puzzle to me what Harper Court Arts Council (HCAC) members stand to gain by destroying an asset that the community has demonstrated it wants to preserve.
The HCAC's plans to sell Harper Court were carried out in secret, over two and a half years, obviously believing the community would not approve, as documented in the Harper Court Foundation and Harper Court Arts Council minutes during this period.
If the plan to sell Harper Court was not done on behalf of the community and for the community, on whose behalf and for who[m] was t his planned sale made? Who stood to benefit financially from the estimated $6 million proceeds from the sale of Harper Court?
We have been told that the Harper Court sale proceeds would be distributed to the community and other local organizations in the arts. But we were not told who these organizations are, and how they will be selected to be the beneficiaries of the proceeds. Neither have we been told why these unknown beneficiaries are more important than community members who have demonstrated their caring for Harper Court over and over again.
There has been strong, consistent community opposition to the proposed sale of the court, ever since it was first announced last December. Strong community opposition has been expressed at he TIF (Tax Increment Financing) community meetings and Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference forums that followed the announcements, and also in letters to the Herald. HCAC members were criticized, and sometimes berated for their behavior. Still they persist in their plan.
Why are they hanging on? Do they actually believe that their actions are for the benefit of the community even though the community had not been consulted? And will their persistence, in some way, benefit the community? How? Or, is it that they are convinced, as HCAC members have announced at TIF meetings, that the sale will go through no matter what?
Again, who will benefit from the sale of Harper Court? If not the community, then who? This is a question that has never been properly answered.
For all of the above reasons, it is time for Harper Court Arts Council to return control of Harper Court to the community. Let the people in the community who care about the court design a plan. And let them select their own representatives to implement this plan.
James Withrow takes arts council to task for lack of transparency and community interest, dumping original purpose/care of tenants. Herald, Aug. 23.
I’d like to thank the board of the Harper Arts Council for making my duties much easier. I was elected to the board of directors of the Coop Grocery Store two years ago. Of course, my first priority has been to work to make the Coop a much better place to shop, but I’ve also tried to improve our processes so that our members and the community would someday view the Coop as a model of openness in the business world. Thanks to the Harper Arts Council, the inner workings of the Coop look positively transparent.
I was quoted in a Herald article a couple weeks ago as saying that improving transparency at the Coop was essential and that’s an accurate quote. Still, a longer and more accurate comment would describe the Coop’s openness problems as falling into three categories.
First, much of the board’s work of late has revolved around real estate dealings which,by their nature, tend to include a certain level of secrecy. Once we get the subleasing of our former 47th Street location finished—and please, God, hopefully soon—more of our work can happen out in the open.
Second, people forget how transparent we are. Any member, for instance, can attend the Finance Committee meeting each month and look over our financial statements, even ask questions of our General Manager. The Operations Committee meetings give members a chance to talk to a Department Manager as well as our GM. Monthly board meetings begin with an open session and allow members to comment. The names of our board of directors is published in our newsletter, the Evergreen, every month. I urge members to attend these meetings and bring us your toughest questions.
Third, we’re definitely deficient in some areas. We could publish a summary of our board meetings that’s both timely and accurate. Sometimes, it’s easier to discuss controversial items in executive session, but we should make a greater effort to talk in open session. I’d like to see us publish a summary of our executive sessions, even if that summary is vague. Thing is, the committee structure we’ve adopted in the last year allows members to influence the board to be more transparent, to remedy those deficiencies, but few members have taken part. That’s a shame because I think the board has gradually grown more and more comfortable with greater transparency and would act on thoughtful plans that come before it, even though some thorny issues make great demands on our time.
By comparison, the Harper Arts Council conducts itself with all the charm of Vice-President Cheney. At the July TIF meeting, the representative from the Council refused to divulge the names of the board members. The Council’s board meetings are apparently conducted completely in private, with no opportunity for neighborhood input. I’m inclined to sympathize with the Council’s need to be quiet about real estate matters, but the secret abandonment of the Harper Court Foundation’s original mission was just plain wrong. And the Council has consistently eschewed talking with the neighborhood in a meaningful and respectful way.
Another board I’m on, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC), has followed this issue closely. Much like the neighborhood, we disagree about the ideal amount of development for Harper Court and the adjacent city parking lot. Some of us would prefer no new construction. Others want new structures of modest size. I’m personally on the pro-density end of this range and envision a tall building on these parcels.
But the HPKCC agrees wholeheartedly on three main points. The neighborhood wants, first and foremost, to make sure the current tenants of Harper Court can continue doing business during and after any improvements. The development process needs to be as public as possible. And, lastly, it’s imperative that the Harper Arts Council revert to the Foundation’s original mission of incubating commercial activity.
No one is against arts funding, but in public meetings to discuss what Hyde Parkers think the neighborhood lacks, we’ve gotten the same answer over and over. We need more commercial activity. It’s not like the Harper Court Foundation solved their original mission and should now move on.
The board members of the Harper Arts Council do not own Harper Court, but instead have a moral obligation to act as stewards on behalf the original foundation’s mission—even if their personal agendas differ. A board member who disagrees with the essential mission of the organization is wrong for that board.
The HPKCC has repeatedly asked for meetings with representatives of the Harper Arts Council, but all we’ve gotten is stalling. Our requests in May were answered with a letter of June 26th promising that the Council would “initiate contact” with us “in July to plan such a meeting”. Sadly, we were not surprised when July came and went without a word from the Council. So, HPKCC President George Rumsey contacted the Council and we received a letter in reply.
The reply increased my respect for the board members of the Harper Arts Council greatly. Apparently, each and every one of them has been able to exact European-style vacation time from their employers. The letter states, “Through Labor Day, many of my board members are on vacation. There is no time prior to that where even one or two members are in town at the same time.” (So, if you happen to see one of them in Hyde Park any time in August, there must be something wrong with your eyes.)
The worst thing that could happen to Harper Court would be a poorly designed blight on our community that destroys what precious little retail activity we have. The second worse scenario is a long, drawn-out fight with a steadily deteriorating Harper Court. Ideally, improving these parcels will happen thoughtfully and quickly, with plenty of money for the Arts Council to lavish on incubating commercial activity (with an emphasis on the arts). The HPKCC would like to help this process along.