The history and discussions on the future of Harper Theater and Herald buildings

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and its website www.hydepark.org and Preservation and Development/Zoning task force. Join the Conference: your dues support our work.

To follow the process and outcome, go to the University 2006 RFP Guidelines and comment contacts, selected and fired developer, study shows it's sound and may be rerented.
Full RFP in pdf.
History and Preservation home. Preservation Beat. Preservation Hot Topics. SPAF News. History and Preservation in Depth. Landmarks Designation Criteria

Development Policy home . Business Climate. Zoning home. Community News. TIF News home.
53rd Street TIF News
. TIF Advisory Council Meetings records.

National Trust for Historic Preservation theater restoration/reuse resource link.
Links on preserving/adapting theaters: http://www.lib.umd.edu/NTLA/theaters.html#history, Also American Film Institute.

In this page and meeting, other special announcements:

 

"No deal" on the Theater with a respected historic redeveloper and theater operator per November 14 2005 TIF meeting. Instead the University put out requests for proposals and report later. The University will not do the design or development and will work to save the facade at least of the Herald Bldg., although only the theater is Orange and seems to be less important to many people than the Herald Bldg. The National Trust local office has met with the University and believes its list of preservation-experienced developers will be among those sent the RFP, according to a letter read at the TIF meeting, reflecting understandings and communications of the Hyde Park Historical Society's Preservation Committee. In mid 2008 the University fired its restoration developers Baum and Brimshore and has not yet said what it will do, but hints at teardown.

January 9 2006 Hank Webber gave a presentation on guidelines and objectives for a mixed use redevelopment of the Harper Theater/ Herald building. The document, revised, will be sent out in a month or so thereafter. Proposals are expected to start coming in about late March. Facade preservation is a priority but not absolute; proposals must be in accord with the character of Hyde Park and can be for lease (in which case it must be gut rehab) or purchase. Presentation by University-selected developer is (optimistically) slated for March 2006.

Former Preliminary draft RFP guidelines for the Heart of Hyde Park/ 53rd & Harper are now available in text in this website at the Theater RFP Guidelines page.

The Power Point with visuals is on the SECC website, www.hydeparksecc.com. However, Jan. 17 the final version was not yet available (but will be on a limited basis). Please forward any comments, questions or concerns to

The Chicago Consultants Studio
19 South La Salle Street, Suite 803
Chicago, IL 60603
312 357-0988, email ccs@ccstudio.com Attn.: Tim Brangle

The TIF Advisory Council also asks that comments be sent to Chuck Thurow, Chair of the Planning & Development Committee cthurow@hydeparkart.org. They can also be sent to Susan Campbell at the Office of Community Affairs, U of C, 5801 S. Ellis, Suite 605.
The preliminary draft was used for the Power Point by Hank Webber at the January 9 TIF meeting. Specifics were general.

From the Herald, January 18, 2006. by Nykeya Woods

The University of Chicago announced its requests for redevelopment proposals for the shuttered four-screen Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave., at the 53rd Tax Increment Finance (TIF) meeting at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Jan. 9.

The adjoining storefronts, 5240 S. Harper Ave., and 1453-66 E. 53rd St., are also included in possible mixed-use developments.

U. of C. Vice President of Community and Government Affairs announced that a Request for Proposal had been put together to attract developers. "Where we are going now is trying to develop the property as a mixed-use development by a qualified developer through either a lease or a purchase," said Webber. "We will consider proposals for leases of this building [which include a] gut-rehab. We will also consider purchases."

The university is open to retail, office and residential for the building, he said. The proposal outlines specified design criteria for developers. Partial or complete demolition of the building would have to result in new building that is "reflective of the character and quality of Hyde Park."

In 2002, the university paid $2.275 million for the theater, with hopes of redeveloping the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue to be a vital part of Hyde Park's economic community.

The university encountered several obstacles locating a vendor. By the November TIF meeting, Webber said that a three-year search to attract a live-action or movie theater operator was unsuccessful.

While the university's trustees will make the final decision on what will happen to the building, Webber said it is important to get the community's input. "This is a project that was designed to make Hyde Park, South Kenwood and the broader South side a better place to live," he said.

Webber said another priority was preserving the facade of the theater building. The theater alone was designated an orange-rated building--historically significant to t he city--in terms of preservation through the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in 1987.

Hyde Park preservationist Jack Spicer said the university's attempt to preserve the theater's facade is a step forward to preserve the adjoining building which is not orange rated." [My] sense is that in view of the historic value of the building and its strong effect on the streetscape, that the 53rd Street retail/office portion of the building ought to be preserved," Spicer said. "Internal rehabilitation to make viable commercial space would not threaten its historic value."

Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) said after thoroughly searching for a movie theater operator, the university will pick the right developer with the right ideas for the community. "I anticipate given the care that the university has devoted up until this point that it will be a developer or development team that the community can support," she said.

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Harper Theater/Herald Building- moving from a theater option to a mixed retail-social-residential development option- then death? Hank Webber told the November 14 2005 TIF Council meeting that efforts to redevelop the complex as a theater operation have reached a dead end. The objectives of a new development, to be be done by a developer when identified, not the University, are first to maintain retail on the 53rd facade and the character and scale of that corner, and second to create a retail-residential mixed development that would add to the community: "We want a project there that contributes 18 hours a day, seven days a week to life on the street that represents a gathering place for the university community, the Hyde Park Community as well as the South Side."

From the Nov. 23 2005 Herald: The Search is over for Harper: Efforts to reopen Harper Theater stop. By Nykeya Woods

The University of Chicago is giving up its three-year search to find a live-act or movie theater developer for the shuttered for-screen Harper Theater, 5238 S. Harper ave.

U. of C. Vice President of Community and Government Affairs Hank Webber announced the university's plans at the Nov. 14 53rd Street Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Council meeting. It is unclear what will happen to the 1,200-seat theater and its connecting parcel 5240 S. Harper Ave. Herald building and 1453[sic]-66 E. 53rd St.

In 2002, the university paid $3,275 million for the theater, with hopes of redeveloping the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper avenue as a vital part of Hyde Park's economic community.

The university encountered several obstacles locating a vendor. Webber said that of 42 different theater operators, including Second City, 3 Penny Cinema and Century Theatres, the only theater interested did not offer to build anything and wanted a multi-million dollar subsidy if an agreement was reached. The trend for movie theaters are multiplexes and there was an estimated $9 million cost to renovate.

"I think that many of us in the community... had been hopeful all along that we could find an interested party somewhere in t he country that wanted to run a movie theater here," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th). "Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case and we're going to proceed." Webber agreed. "I think it's time to go to Plan B," he said.

"Plan B" involves exploring a mixed-use residential with street-level retail project to hopefully be resolved by the spring 2006. "We want a project there that contributes 18 hours a day, seven days a week to life on the street that represents a gathering place for the university community, the Hyde Park community as well as the South Side community," Webber said.

Webber said the university's first priority is maintaining retail on the 53rd Street parcel. That is good news for What the Traveler Saw owner Laurel Stratford. She said she is emphatic about remaining in Hyde Park. If and when the university renovates the building, she would like to retain her space on 53rd Street. "I think it's understandable. They have given it a good try and I know it would be horribly expensive to try to turn the building into something it's not," she said about the theater pursuit.

Stratford is more concerned about her own future. "[The university] has made it clear that they would like to keep me in the community. But I have to be realistic as well and say 'OK, where are we going to put me?" Stratford said.

Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce President James Poueymirou said because the theater closed three years ago, businesses and nightlife have been able to adjust. he said that the university will find a reasonable development for the property. The chamber will support whomever moves in, he said.

 

What the Herald said Nov. 23 2005

Just nine years shy of its 100th anniversary, the Harper Theater's fate has been sealed; 5238 S. Harper Ave. will probably never reopen as a movie theater. In its ongoing exploration of uses for the northwest corner of Harper Avenue an 53rd street, the University of Chicago, the property's owner, decided last week to stop pursuing a movie theater for the site. On Nov. 14, the ...TIF Council listened as Hank Webber reiterated an old explanation regarding the state of the movie theater industry. The university's vice president for community an governmental affairs said rehabbing a historic movie house is not economically viable in an age of multiplexes. And the money needed to renovate the building--at least $9 million--could probably build a new theater from scratch and then some.

The TIF Council and the community have heard this before, which made last week's decision anti-climactic. The inevitable caught up with reality. Many have already come to terms with a Hyde Park without its Harper Theater. The South Side has seen the demise of dozens of neighborhood theaters. Hyde Park used to be home to three of them: the Piccadilly, the Hyde Park and the Harper.

Eventually the last one would give way to a neighborhood ripe for new development. But given that Hyde Park has championed more preservation efforts than most neighborhoods in the city, the apathy over saving the Vaudeville-era theater on Harper is perplexing.

Work on the theaters and the adjacent building (5240-44 S. Harper and 1425-64 E. 53rd St. finished in 1914 under Chicago based architect Horatio R. Wilson. Architect Z.E. Smith is also credited in some accounts. The theater first belonged to the Schoenstadt chain and hosted live theater, music and films. Its operation changed hands multiple times before it finally closed in spring 2002. The last owners, Alicia and Donzell Starks, blamed the TIF council's delay in building a neighborhood parking structure as well as competition in the theater industry for closing the Harper (known as the "Meridian" under the Starks).

Since 2002, public debate regarding the fate of the historic movie house has centered around a handful of meetings led by Webber to gauge community interest. The result: the Harper Theater is no Promontory Point. In fact, it has been argued that the more significant and salvageable of the structures on the property is the 53rd Street frontage. Three of the four corners of 53rd street an Harper--downtown Hyde Park--still boast their original buildings, each with its own architectural face. Any public discussion over uses for the northwest corner must take this building into consideration, with or without the shuttered movie house. Let's begin by placing the 53rd Street building on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey "orange" list of significant structures. The theater is listed. for whatever reason the the corner building is listed under a category of lesser importance.

The Herald is grateful that the University of Chicago, whose forte isn't urban planning, has taken its time in an attempt to find a historic movie theater operator. But its decision to end the search is overdue. Nostalgia aside, public opinion shows that many would like to see a movie theater in Hyde Park, but not necessarily the Harper.

Let's encourage the city to convert its ugly parking lot on Lake Park Avenue into a theater and retail complex with a wrap around parking deck. Wouldn't that complement the newly-opened Checkerboard Lounge? Even a unique community like Hyde Park can stand to borrow an idea or two from elsewhere, like Evanston.

The University has had enough time to ponder uses for this property. It is not a good practice for a developer to buy a large parcel of land and sit on it for too long. We have seen that with the 1600 block of East 53rd Street, where there is now a plan to erect a 17 story high rise after years of failed promises.

The university bought the theater and the Herald Building in 2002. As we roll into 2006, there is still no project in the works. Will it be "wait and see" for the next few years? Top


 

Overview by Gary Ossewaarde:

Description, from Hyde Park Historical Society Preservation Committee, November 2008.

The Harper Theater buildings are included in the Hyde Park-Kenwood Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings also were identified as having "community significance" (OR-rated) in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. In September of this year they were placed on Landmarks Illinois' 2008 "Chicagoland Watch List" of the most significant buildings in the Chicago area that are in danger of demolition. (http://www.landmarks.org/2008_3.htm)

The Harper Theater buildings form a mixed-use corner commercial development with retail storefronts on the first floor and office spaces on the second floor of the south-facing 53rd Street wing, and a 3-story theater building facing east on Harper Avenue. The style is "prairie school / arts and crafts" with high-quality brick work and white terra cotta trim by Midland Terra Cotta Company. The storefronts and offices of the commercial building are mostly original and in good condition. The theater portion was built as a 1,200-seat vaudeville house and was converted to a movie theater in 1935. Its original and very small entrance was on 53rd Street with an elaborate terra cotta exit on Harper Avenue. As part of the 1930s conversion to a movie house and due to new fire regulations, the original entrance on 53rd Street was converted to a small barber shop and the original exit on Harper was remodeled as a large open entrance with ticket window and lobby. The elaborate Midland terra cotta work of the original exit was replaced by blue and gold Art Deco terra cotta panels by Northwest Terra Cotta Company. The original Midland shop drawings are available for use in any restoration effort. The Harper Theater Buildings are one of three historic corner buildings still standing at Hyde Park's important commercial intersection of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue.

The commercial and theater buildings have been owned by the University of Chicago (UofC) since 2002. In 2006, U of C contracted with Baum Realty and Brinshore Development to redevelop the site. Rather than demolishing the buildings, Baum and Brinshore created a preservation plan that would have adaptively reused the Harper Theater buildings as a mixed-use retail/restaurant/office complex. This approach would have taken advantage of federal historic tax credits and local preservation assistance programs to help finance this sophisticated preservation project. However, in May of this year the UofC terminated the contract with the developers. The commercial and theater buildings now stand vacant. UofC owns adjoining properties which could result in a large-scale demolition to create a single redevelopment site located in the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. Representatives of the University recently stated publicly that "the Harper Theater buildings probably wouldn't make it through another winter."
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September 29, 2004, Dina Weinstein wrote a thorough article and update on options for the Harper Theater in the Herald. In the October 6 issue, the Herald followed up by asking readers "what they would like to see done with the old Harper Theater and send responses to hpherald@aol.com, fax at 773 643-8542, or call the editor at 773 643-8533 x. 140. The Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference and Hyde Park Historical Society think this is an excellent idea and urge follow through. Please cc HPKCC at 773 288-8343 or hpkcc@aol.com. Some responses to the Herald are published in the November 17 issue article, below.

The Harper Theater was built 1913-14, original architect Hyde Parker Horatio Wilson with Z.E. Smith, for F.W. McKinley and at some point acquired by the Schoenstadt circuit. In 1938 the entrance was moved from 53rd Street and combined with the exit on Harper Ave. To history. Later history.

On November 10 2003, The University of Chicago's Vice President for Community and Intergovernmental Affairs, Hank Webber, outlined options for the Harper (aka Hyde Park Theater after teardown of the earlier south of Hyde Park Bank) and the attached Herald Building (both Horatio R. Wilson, 1913), at 53rd and Harper. The buildings were purchased by the University of Chicago (reportedly a tough sell to the UC Board of Trustees) in 2002 when the Meridian Theater chain went out of business.

In December, 2003, members of the Preservation Committee of the Hyde Park Historical Society began considering whether to take a position on preserving the structures and what might general principals, experience in other places, and community preferences might inform such a policy. Website-involved members of the Historical Society and the HPKCC independently thought background material on might be of general use in our community's conversation about the future of these structures at the heart of our neighborhood. Irene Sherr gathered and distributed some of the articles. Some are presented below. The Historical Society is consulting the principals and preservation/renovation experts and organizations, in conjunction with the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Royce Yeater of the Trust characterized the project as "very preservable," and said that "the hard part is the theater, but we feel that we can find a way to do it."

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The University, including the Real Estate Office, have been very busy and diligent on this subject, which is difficult, in part because of the wretched condition of the building, the economics of theater and movies (especially "art" theater and movies), and strong feeling in the community. Ms. Reizner of Real Estate has been preparing the community for the possibility that a new development may not have either a theater or at least interior preservation component. Read about the three options under consideration. Hank Webber says that by Winter the University will "have direction" for this project.

Chicago Maroon reported in November 2004: Most University and other Hyde Park community member seem to agree that they want something vibrant to add to one of the major commercial intersections in Hyde Park. Cheryl Heads, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, said, "I'd like to see a theater or some type of entertainment venue there to complement the Checkerboard Lounge. I think we're lacking [entertainment venues] in the neighborhood." Top

In detail

As we roll into October, 2005... the University has been trying to persuade one last historic theater restorer and manager to take on the Harper Theater. If this effort, lease or sell and maybe not including the Herald building, fails design is still in process to do something like: renovate and expand the retail in the Herald building on 53rd but take down the theater except the facade for a multi-story, mixed new development with parking underground. A general feeling is that nothing is moving in the business district until the issue is resolved.

End of April 2005, on the death-0f-theater-hope watch

As a follow up to his announcement at the March 14 TIF meeting that a last rfp would be put out, the University contacted 37 theater operations. Only one has even indicated it is mildly interested, but is not in discussions. the University will wait a few more weeks. "Economically, it doesn't make sense" [at a renovation cost of $9 million and only 4 screens], Jo Reizner told the Maroon of April 29. Reizner speculates the space will become a mixed-use property with retail and residential. "We want what works well for the community ...whatever is planned will have the most consideration for the block, because it is a lovely block."

In the last search for a theater.... March 14, 2005 TIF meeting.

Hyde Park Herald, March 16, 2005. By Jeremy Adragna and Nykeya Woods

The deadline is set. The University of Chicago will work for three more months to install a live act or movie theater operator in the former Harper Theater before "proceeding to other options" for the 90-year-old building.

Those options as University Vice President of Community Affairs Hank Webber explained at a local advisory council meeting Monday may still include earlier plans for an entertainment district near Harper Court. "I think if we don't succeed in the next several months we are going to put and end to trying to make a movie theater happen," Webber said. "We're near the end of the line....If we don't get it, we will end this."

Plans are limited though without the possibility of an investor attaining a liquor license. The building abuts the United Church of Hyde Park and according to city ordinance may not be licensed, hampering most plans.

What the university had planned the last time Webber spoke before the 53rd Street Tax Increment Finance (TIF) council in November 2003 was as mixed-use, retail and commercial building. Those plans have not been entirely scrapped as Webber explained that would be the most viable option for the 18,000 square-foot parcel at 5238-40 S. harper Ave. and 1452-66 E. 53rd St. other than an entertainment use.

Whether the university will tear down both buildings in favor of an entirely new mixed-use development, reuse the buildings, or reuse one of the buildings in that future development is still unclear. The price to redevelop the building sis estimated in $9 million.

Weber did discus the possibility of preserving the theater's facade. "It's clear that what the community wants is a movie theater," Webber said. "It is also clear that at least some in the community are very interested in preserving the facade of the building. But those two things are in some conflict."

The university subsidiary Lake Park Associates purchased the building in 2002 for nearly $2.7 million and after pursuing 37 different live act and movie theater operators has yet to find a tenant.

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On May 7, 2004 members of the Hyde Park Historical Society Preservation Committee met with Hank Webber concerning University plans. Mr. Webber reportedly indicated to the representatives that, as said to the press a few months back, the University is still pursuing a company to run a theater or related activity, but without success to date. The University is exploring other uses as an alternative to demolition also. These were reported as ranging from alternative retail spaces with rehab of the 53rd retail spaces, facade preservation and/or partial demolition and redevelopment as retail/residential/with parking. Webber subsequently met with a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which has taken an active interest nation-wide in helping owners find creative ways to use viable theatre buildings.)

Meanwhile, HPKCC has taken a very small opinion sample, gauging of how strongly citizens will resist a demolition and will decide its position later based on further assessment and circumstances.

Dina Weinstein (see here) stated the case for redevelopment as a theater, citing Princeton, NJ.

Ilene Jo Reizner, head of UC Real Estate Operations, noted in a Herald letter in October, 2004, that the University sought redevelopment bids from 37 operators of theaters and was rejected by all; the property will likely be redeveloped as part of a larger planned development.

So, the jury was out. HPKCC and others (including the Stanek's) had some ideas for short-term uses uses such as summer film Senior Cinema/children's mini festivals or for adaptive reuse as a community cultural center. even a new home for Court Theatre. However, Ms. Reizner of Real Estate Operations informed the Conference that the interior and building systems were stripped and cannot be put in a state to host anything. Cost of renovation and reuse was quoted by the architect to the University as $9 million. Also, the University is said to be assembling the property to the north of the theater. It is possible they will decide to tear the complex down. Many hope that at least the facade, especially of the Herald complex, can be saved. The Herald Building is a marker of 53rd and Hyde Park, along with the theater facade, and an important home to small businesses that maintain a human scale on the street. Hyde Park Hair Salon is a culturally and historically significant fixture, and the third oldest business in Hyde Park! Visit Hyde Park Theater RFP page for outcome. Yes, most of the businesses found new, good locations in the neighbohood.

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University still looks to develop HP theater

Hyde Park Herald, November 17, 2004. by Nykeya Woods

The University of Chicago paid $2.75 million for the Meridian Theater, 5238 S. Harper Ave., in 2002 with the hope of redeveloping the northwest corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue as a vital part of Hyde Park's economic community.

Two years later, the shuttered four-screen movie house remains vacant while creating the illusion that it could be reopening soon. While hopes have not diminished, there are currently no plans to reopen the theater.

In October, University of Chicago Director of Real Estate Operations Jo Reizner responded to a letter to the editor in the Herald regarding the status of the theater. She wrote, "The former Meridian Theater on Harper does, in fact, remain vacant, after the university was turned down by 37 operators to operate a theater there."

Reizner explained to the Herald last week that the university has contacted several live theater companies like Second City and movie theater chains like 3 Penny Cinema and Century Theatres, but they were not interested. The university turned down a couple of interested companies because it [the University or the buyer?] did not want to pay more than $2.275 for the renovations, she said. "The bottom line was the same," Reizner said. "It was not economically feasible to operate.."

Reopening the movie theater is still on the minds of Hyde Park residents. Byron White has lived in Hyde Park for 15 years and thinks a theater would be perfect for the neighborhood. "It's not your huge mall-type theater, but it does the trick," White said.

Laurel Stratford, owner of What the Traveler Saw on 53rd Street, said "Hyde Park without a theater is like a fish out of water. Top

The university [and TIF Advisory Council] held a community meeting at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club packed with residents last November to discuss reopening the movie theater. At the meeting, residents were told that the university was in talks with a "major movie chain" to open a fine arts theater, a plan that a year later has not materialized. Hank Webber, vice president of community affairs for the university, foresaw the difficulty in wooing potential theater chains. He told the audience at the meeting that theaters are difficult to reuse.

In the summer of 200[4], Royce Yeater, midwest director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation began meeting with the university to discuss commercial alternatives for the movie theater which would preserve the building. He consulted with the university on how to keep the shell of the building intact even if a theater does not occupy the space. "The focus of the meeting was about the redevelopment and historic designation of [of the building]," Yeater said. Over several meetings they discussed the possibility of renovating the building with businesses at 5238-40 S. Harper Ave.and 1453-66 E. 53rd St., he said. He estimated that renovated costs would be $8 to $10 million for the movie theater and the attached commercial property.

Despite the community's persistent desire to have a local movie theater, one question still remains, if the theater is reopened will the financial and management problems that plagued the theater continue?" Before the university purchased the theater, Donzell and and Alisa Starks purchased it in 1999. After three years of enduring movie industry pressure and repeated plumbing problems, the Starks threw in the towel.

Before the Starks, M & R Theatre company operated the movie house from 1985 to 1988. During the grand opening weekend, the 1,200-seast theater accommodated 7,000 movie-goers. The owner, Louis Marks, told the Herald that opening weekend sales surpassed that of four suburban theaters showing the same movie.

Loew Theatre Management purchased M&R Company in 1988. M&R then continued to manage the theater, and under their management, the theater experienced bouts of violence and protests by residents. During a weekend showing of "New Jack City" in 1991, a 16-year-old-boy was stabbed near the theater, on the corner of 52nd street and Harper Ave. Later accounts dispel the rumor the stabbing had anything to do with the film.

Bob Mason, Executive Director of the South East Chicago Commission, said, the theater "created a breeding ground for disorder." The Hyde Park-Kenwood Development Corporation, a now-defunct group of concerned residents, sent numerous letters to Loews Theatre Management Corporation about local management's slow response to growing concerns like the number of R-rated and violent films shown, inadequate facilities, noisy and disruptive behavior. In a 1991 letter sent to the chairman of Loews Theatre Management Corp., the group charged local management with being shoddy. In a letter theater-goers complained of "lax enforcement of your [Lowe's} regulations barring entrance to children under five after 6 p.m.; dirty washrooms and inadequate facilities for four screens; noisy and disruptive behavior; continuing problems with cleanliness and sticky floors inside the theater."

The Hyde Park theater was designed by Z.E. Smith and opened in 1915. It was party of the Schoenstadt circuit, an owner of several movie house son the south side in the 1920s, which included the Piccadilly Theatre and hotel, 1443 E. Hyde Park Blvd., currently a home for U. of C. students.

Other local opinion on keeping the theater:

Jenne Iyer: It was nice to have the theater here as opposed to have to pay to go downtown or dire out to Ford City. They gave student discounts. I think they could re-vamp it an bring it back. They brought in a bowling alley. I would like to see a mixture of general run movies, and if a significant documentary comes out like "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "Supersize Me." Also occasional foreign films to.

Noble Divine. Definitely Definitely. I think it was a great economic contribution to the community. As far as bringing traffic and business to the stores. (We need) more musicals, more movies about the ecology, dealing with natural living and tings like that. Maybe "The Matrix." Something in that area.

Laurel Stradford (What the Traveler Saw owner). I would love to have the theater back here in Hyde Park. The community is ready to use the community. We don't have to to go the Near North or Evanston. So it would be great to have a movie theater that would show even are house kind of movies to keep a lot of kids from swamping it. I think art films would be great. So let's hear it for the Hyde Park Theater.

Kupeace Kolheim. I am very sad that it is not here. We need the venues going on here. I would lie to see all kinds of movies. I am an anime fan myself, but I like drama and love drama and action. I think that the theater should not be just a movie theater. It should also be a theater for creative arts as well as a movie theater. That's what keeps a good theater going, if you know how to use a venue to serve the community.

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Hyde Park needs its theater

Guest column in the Hyde Park Herald, September 29, 2004. by Dina Weinstein

Eyes light up when I share this idea. So let's imagine it together: the University of Chicago, the owners of the Meridian Theater, transform the shuttered, vandalized cinema on Harper Avenue at 53rd street, into a clean, updated, functioning two-screened, first-run cinema showing one art specialty or foreign film and one upscale film.

And here's what I predict: the storefronts hugging the cinema thrive as theater-goers shop nd dine before and after the show. The Checkerboard Lounge, the old Bronzeville blues club that plans on reopening in Harper Court in the site of the former Women's Workout World, ties into that flow of traffic, drawing cinema-goers to live music after the movies.

Now, Hyde Parkers walk by and see faded Vincent Van Gogh posters adorning front glass cases where catchy movie posters should be. Plywood covers a smashed glass door. We see pigeons perched on the empty marquee pooping all over t he sidewalk. One street character uses he recessed entrance as his personal urinal. People must wonder if my dream could become a reality and all I can do is point to Princeton, N.J. a town with a population a little more than half the size of our neighborhood.

Princeton University saved the Garden Theatre from demise three years ago by sinking over $2 million dollars into the cinema located across the street from the campus. Theatre Management, Inc. leases and runs the operation for the institution.

The result: state of the art speakers, sound proofed rooms, and two 225-seat theaters with wide-screen viewing.

Why did Princeton do it? "We look upon the renovation as a real asset to both the town and gown communities," says Princeton University spokesperson Patricia Allen. "The theater is crucial to the well being of the downtown as well as an excellent entertainment spot for the students who do not need to get into a car to get to the theater.:

Princeton officials admit the profitability of the two-screen theater these days is marginal, but say there are other benefits. "The Garden Theatre is an attraction in our community for students, residents and visitors," says Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce Director Kristin Appelget. And, she says, that helps businesses nearby the cinema.

The Meridian Theater has been known as the Harper Theater through most of its history. After the Hyde Park Theater was pulled down to make room for the Hyde Park Bank's drive through, it was known as the Hyde Park Theater.

Kenwood resident and well-known architect Horatio R. Wilson built it in 1913. It was originally a vaudeville theater. What we see now, as the entrance on Harper Avenue was the exit. Theatergoers originally entered on 53rd Street, in what is now the Hyde Park Hair Salon & Barbershop. In 1927, the exit became the entrance and the terra cotta design was added to the facade.

The cinema projectors have not flickered at the Harper theater since April 2002 when the Loews nationwide movie chain declared bankruptcy and foreclosed on all its theaters. So what's holding up the University of Chicago in going ahead with an admittedly costly project that the population wants?

Hank Webber, University of Chicago vice-president of Community and Government Affairs, says running a fine arts cinema is a tough business. The cost of rehabilitating the theater is estimated to be $9 million. Additionally, the university has been unsuccessful in attracting any interest from operators. "If we could figure out a way to make this work, I'd be delighted," Webber says.

The Preservation Committee of the Hyde Park Historical Society has been working with the university to find a way to save the theater. One member suggest the student-run Doc Films offers too much competition for a fine arts movie house in the area and would like to see the university move Doc Films to the Harper Theater.

Revamping the theater would be a gesture to the community, the Preservation Committee member said.

Webber last addressed the community on the status of the theater last fall. And he says it's time to come back with an update on the building.

Regarding the Princeton model, Webber says he would look into how they did it.

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Women's Workout World will be the new home of Checkerboard, Plans for Meridian Theater still unsettled, Community wants a vibrant addition to the commercial intersection

The Chicago Maroon, November 16, 2004. by Zack Seward

More than two years after purchasing the Meridian theater, the University has not announced plans for the property, located at 53rd Street and Harper Avenue. But University officials confirmed that Harper Court will be home to the Checkerboard Lounge, which will occupy the former site of Women's Workout World at 5201 South Harper Avenue.

"A lot of very careful planning has been going on," said director of Real Estate Operations Jo Reizner. "This is a great corner and we want to make sure that we get this project right."

Though plans have yet to be formalized, Reizner said that the theater building, which is attached to retail stores stretching around the corner, would probably not reopen as a theater. Estimates pegged the cost of renovation at $9 million, and almost 40 live and cinema theater operators turned down offers to pay some of the renovation cost. "We would love to preserve it as a theater if it were feasible and economically viable," she said. "But at this point, it doesn't seem likely."

While unsure about the fate of the Meridian Theater, Reizner confirmed that the Checkerboard Lounge, the first al-jazz locale in Hyde Park in 20 years, would open nearby.

According to Reizner, the three main plans under consideration [for the theater/Herald bldg.] propose bringing modern retail or office space to the location. One includes the renovation of the theater and neighboring buildings, another the renovation of some buildings and the construction of others, and another the demolition of the majority of the site and the construction of something "tasteful and contextual" in its place.

The main issue for administrators and community interest groups has become the preservation of the main historic theater building and the attached storefronts that wrap around the western corner of 53rd and Harper.

Concerned with preserving the historic character of the buildings, Hank Webber, vice president of Community Relations, brought in Royce Yeater, director of he Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in July 2004 to help the university consider preservation options for the buildings, Yeater said.

Webber said he brought in outside advice to get a "reality check" on the project and to get the word out to the preservation community. He added that his "preference has always been to restore" the space and that he has tried very hard to find a theater operator despite the great expense to renovate. He said that a theater option that would yield "even somewhat reasonable economic returns" would be pursued.

Webber cited the University's ability to rent out the building's retail spaces to good tenants has alleviated the pressure on him to fill the theater space. he said that by winter the University will "have direction" for this project.

The preferred option would include renovating the theater building and courting a unique retailer who could utilize that space. The other option would preserve only the facade or the theater while all new retail or split-use spaces would be built behind it.

Reizner stressed that this project is "a very high priority," though, according to Yeater, Webber made it clear to him that he was "not in a panic to get this done" nor under "a harsh deadline." When reminded of this comment, Webber explained he does not believe that panicking leads to the best overall outcome.

Yeater characterized the project as "very preservable," and said that "the hard part is the theater, but we feel that we can find a way to do it."

Hyde Park Historical Society preservationist Jack Spicer, who met with Webber about the project earlier this year, said that the University is "sincerely trying to find an adapted use for the building," and is making a "good faith effort to avoid tearing down either all or part of the buildings."

Most University and other Hyde Park community member seem to agree that they want something vibrant to add to one of the major commercial intersections in Hyde Park. Cheryl Heads, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, said, "I'd like to see a theater or some type of entertainment venue there to complement the Checkerboard Lounge. I think we're lacking [entertainment venues] in the neighborhood."

Reizner said that a community presentation including a lot of information on the planning process can be expected in early January, 2005.

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Background

From the November 10 53rd TIF Advisory Council meeting

 

From the Nov. 10 TIF Harper Theater meeting- audience

On Monday, November 10, 2003 curious residents and business owners (as well as Alderman Toni Preckwinkle) attended the 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council in order to hear from the University of Chicago regarding the state of its plans for the 53rd St. area, as well as plans for the new CVS Pharmacy in Kimbark Plaza. CVS is now a fixture; the Theater buildings, after an exemplary community-input RFP process, is in preparation for retail and office renovation and facade restoration by Brinshore and Baum companies.

Hyde Park Theatre/Herald Bldg. The University of Chicago purchased the two buildings on 53rd and Harper north of 53rd in 2002 after the theater folded. For the past year, the University has been considering what actions should be taken in regards to this space: renovation, re-use, or tear-down?

Hank Webber presenting on the Harper Theater at the Nov. 10 2003 TIF No

U of C vice president Hank Webber reviewed the many options the University has explored during the past year, including talking with a number of movie houses and entertainment venues. He was not optimistic that a fine-arts management could be found willing to help invest in the $9 million necessary to rehab the old theatre building.

If an interested party isn't found, the University's primary option is to tear down the theatre (perhaps retaining some architectural elements) and replace it with a mixed use residential/retail structure that might also include some underground parking. As Mr. Webber noted, of more concern to many Hyde Parkers is the attached retail building running along 53rd Street, which many view as important for preserving the ambiance and character of the street. Decisions about this building are yet to be made.

Read more details, a synopsis of the University's principles and strategy for redevelopment, and a detailed Herald analysis in TIF Advisory Council Meetings. To TIF News home page, General Development & Policy (Learn about the HPKCC Zoning and Development focus group there). For more on the controversy over the University's hopes for moving the Checkboard Lounge to Harper Court, visit Checkerboard Lounge.

Presentation on CVS at the Nov. 10 2003 TIF mtg.

In the other presentation of the evening, a representative from CVS Pharmacy detailed plans for the new structure to be built where the old Anderson Hardware and Tony's Sports are located in Kimbark Plaza. The attendees expressed some concern regarding deliveries and parking, but the proposal seemed overall well received. (Other changes are coming to Kimbark Plaza, too.) See more in TIF Advisory Council Meetings. Top

In the months that followed, CVS made several plan modifications in response to community suggestions. Alderman Preckwinkle reported that CVS was most cooperative in correcting all concerns (including bowing to opposition to selling liquor) except it could not find more parking. In spring-summer 2004 demolition of the Hardware and Tony's Sports occurred, the shell of the new CVS went up in early winter 2004-5 and opened in 2005.

HPKCC reported: Re: Harper Theatre/Herald Bldg. The University of Chicago purchased the two buildings on 53rd and Harper north of 53rd in 2002 after the theater folded. For the past year, the University has been considering what actions should be taken in regards to this space: renovation, re-use, or tear-down?

U of C vice president Hank Webber reviewed the many options the University has explored during the past year, including talking with a number of movie houses and entertainment venues. He was not optimistic that a fine-arts management could be found willing to help invest in the $9 million necessary to rehab the old theatre building.

If an interested party isn't found, the University's primary option is to tear down the theatre (perhaps retaining some architectural elements) and replace it with a mixed use residential/retail structure that might also include some underground parking. As Mr. Webber noted, of more concern to many Hyde Parkers is the attached retail building running along 53rd Street, which many view as important for preserving the ambiance and character of the street. Decisions about this building are yet to be made.

The University would consider preserving or replicating the facade but in any case keep the structure to current scale. (Webber noted the theater is on the significant structures Orange list, largely for historical, not architectural reasons and the Herald building--of more concern to many Hyde Parkers and 53rd St. advocates--is not on the list at all.)

Mr. Webber was challenged on several issues from parking to building nighttime (second-life) sidewalk traffic, but seems to have fielded them well, stressing the need for several venues that reinforce each other. He said that parking is the real key, and developing properties so that with Borders we have enough tax increment to cover a debt issue is key to getting the parking garage.

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From Principles to be considered in redevelopment. Presented by Hank Webber Nov. 10.

The University is committed to community development- by competing for best students and faculty: quality of urban life is an important ground of competition, - and by caring both by sharing resources and by working with local organizations and residents to ensure university development enhances quality of life.

Community development interest areas include
Education- UC's core job, charter schools, teacher training, neighborhood school program...
Public Safety, Housing, Economic development including supplier diversity
Community amenities- parks, rec., culture, transportation, retail /commercial development (a weak link)

Key University roles and activities in retail/comm development:

The 53rd/Harper properties

Guiding principles: a project that will

Activities to date:

Where we are today:

What we've learned:

Next: Report progress to TIF, vet plans with alderman, community, city

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Background in TIF context

(Written by Gary Ossewaarde)

Harper Theater/Herald Bldg. The University of Chicago purchased the two buildings on 53rd and Harper north of 53rd in 2002 after the theater folded. The structure is in no shape for public use. Tenants of the building on 53rd are barely able to use the utilities and many have their own--Supreme Jewelers moved out to the former Helix Camera store in the Hyde Park Bank--but another similar store has moved in to the former Supreme space. The structure houses the culturally significant Hyde Park Hair Salon (also the third oldest business in Hyde Park.) It may be that the Theater and maybe the Herald building will have to be torn down except perhaps for facade. Indeed, the University is said to be attempting to assemble the building north of the theatre also. U of C vice president Hank Webber says he had hoped to present a plan this spring, but expects one before the end of 2003. For background, scroll to the report and minutes of the September 9 2002 Advisory Co. meeting in TIF Advisory Council meetings.

Said earlier in Preservation in Depth in hydepark.org: The jury is out, according to University leaders at the end of March, 2003. HPKCC and others (including the Stanek's) had some ideas for short-term uses uses such as summer film Senior Cinema/children's mini festivals or for adaptive reuse as a community cultural center. However, Ms. Reizner of Real Estate Operations informed the Conference that the interior and building systems were stripped and cannot be put in a state to host anything, at least through 2003. Also, the University is said to be assembling the property to the north of the theater. We expect they will decide to tear the complex down. We hope at least facade, especially of the Herald complex, can be saved. The Herald Building is a marker of 53rd and Hyde Park, along with the theater facade, and an important home to small businesses that maintain a human scale on the street. Hyde Park Hair Salon is a culturally and historically significant fixture, and the third oldest business in Hyde Park!

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Facts/history and considerations about the Theater Building

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Research by a Hyde Parker on theater preservation efforts nationwide

1. Notes on saving the old Chicago Theater:
"Preservationists fought the city's plans.... Although they were unable to save some of the area's historic structures, their efforts to prevent the demolition of the Chicago were successful. In 1986, with the financial assistance of the city, Plitt sold the Chicago to an organization of preservationists who oversaw a nine-month, $25 million restoration of the historic theater." (From Jazz Age Chicago website: www.jazzagechicago.com)

2. St. George Theatre in New York:
This illustrates how if a building is allowed to stand, regardless of incarnation, it may someday regain its original identity. “Since it closed in 1977, the 74-year-old St. George Theatre in Staten Island, N.Y., has been an antique store, a flea market, a nightclub, and a roller-skating rink. But if residents have their way, the Spanish baroque building may become a theater again. When resident Stephanie Gilmore heard last spring that the opulent theater may be turned into a nightclub or a parking lot, she asked its owner, Brooklyn-based Grou LLC, to allow locals to restore the theater. To her surprise, Grou agreed and leased the property to St. George Theater, Inc., a group Gilmore founded in May 2002. Restoring the 2,800-seat theater could cost $12 million, Gilmore says. Working every Saturday, volunteers have removed concrete walls and floors, stripped lighting and other nightclub-related fixtures, and thoroughly cleaned the building. "It amazes me how much we have accomplished," she says. "What better thing for our community than to have this theater come back to life?" The group is now searching for a developer to repair the roof, plasterwork, and plumbing. The project could be completed in five years, Gilmore says. In the meantime, the theater opens occasionally for tours, poetry readings, and other community events. “ (from National Trust www.nationaltrust.org)

Next,
The National Trust has been quite vocal about the need to preserve our old theatres. Their website is a valuable source of information on why these buildings are important and detailed notes on the fights to save these buildings across the US. The following are some notes from the National Trust about theater preservation: (http://www.nationaltrust.org/11Most/2001/theaters.htm)
“If a theater must close, it doesn't have to be demolished. Adaptive reuse can save a theater's unique architecture while finding a new use for the space - but reuse must be approached carefully to make it possible for the theater to be returned one day to its original use. Theaters are often adapted as performing arts centers, live entertainment venues, nightclubs and even churches. Such uses can honor the theaters' architectural heritage and keep the buildings centers of community life. “

Here are some more notes from a similar battle to save “El Teatro” in Portland. This is important, as it describes how those in favor of demolition may distort figures to make it seem as though preservation would cause undue financial strain. Furthermore, it mentions how funding, such as with income tax credit, can be used for renovation:

“The City notes, for example, that "renovation" of the entire theater could cost up to $14 million. Ibid. This terminology is very misleading; the high figure for the El Teatro project was because the project required demolition and rebuilding of the theater -- including doubling the size of the theater footprint. This proposal was not renovation or adaptive reuse…Restoration of the theater for public use is the most desirable alternative. Adaptive reuse alternatives should be considered, such as the City of Portland's concept of adapting historic theaters as 'theater pubs' where patrons can order food and drinks to eat while watching second run or classic films. Successful examples are Portland's Mission Theater and Baghdad Theater . . . 20% federal income tax credit for rehabilitation [is available]. . . new construction [could] incorporate remaining historic elements into a building that would accommodate public/theater uses, such as lectures, meetings, recitals or as a rehearsal hall.”

Sounding very similar to the preservation concerns here with the U of C, here is a story of the New Mission Theater in SF-and how the community tried to work with and eventually had to fight the university for preservation. [sender was] unsure how this fight ended.

“The New Mission Theater, once the grande dame of Mission Street's theater row, closes for business in 1993. A retail furniture establishment subsequently moves into the former lobby. City College of San Francisco buys the property, and the adjacent retail store, to develop as a new campus, in 1998.

Community activists, alerted to continuing plans to build a campus on the site without the inclusion of more than token remains of the theater, attend a planning meeting at the current Mission campus, September 2000. When they attend a second meeting in October, they are asked to leave.

In November, the group holds a meeting with college officials and architects Kendall Young/Cervantes in which they review preliminary plans for the site, featuring only the blade sign of the historic building. No other nod to preservation is included.

A public meeting is held at Horace Mann School to discuss the issues on 10 January 2001. The meeting became an attack on those who wanted to save the theater as anti-education racists.

Ken Garcia of the San Francisco Chronicle writes an article on 13 January 2001, "Compromise Called for on Movie House: College Could Easily Keep Part of Old New Mission." The same month, San Francisco Architectural Heritage nominates the New Mission Theater for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Throughout 2000 and 2001, the City College administration continues to foster the either/or myth of education or preservation, while neighborhood activists work to formulate solutions to the conflict.

In February 2001, the Save-New-Mission group is awarded a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in order to work with a preservation architect to study the space for adaptive reuse. A fund-raiser to match the grant with private contributions is held the same month. Architect Alice Carey of Carey and Company agrees to formulate a plan for adaptive reuse for the theater. Also in February, the theater is nominated for inclusion in the list of the National Trust's Eleven Most Endangered Sites.

City College also addresses preservation plans, with the aid of another San Francisco architect who specializes in preservation. The study results in three different plans, two of which still demolish most of the theater.

The Rules Committee of the Board of Supervisors hears the matter at City Hall on 12 April 2001. Supervisor Matt Gonzalez encourages City College to work toward a solution that will respect all points of view. The Chancellor goes on record to say that the college will work with the preservation group. He also states that preservation efforts have not and will not cause delays in the planning and building of the Mission campus.

In June, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declares single-screen theaters nationwide as a building type to be included in their list of Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. There is special mention of the historic theaters of San Francisco.

The San Francisco Landmarks Advisory Board votes to find the nomination submitted by San Francisco Architectural Heritage worthy for submission to the State Office of Historic Preservation, 18 July 2001, but a quorum is subsequently deemed to have been lacking. City College and its supporters vocally oppose the nomination, and object to the July Landmarks Board procedure. When the San Francisco Landmarks Advisory Board reconvenes with a larger attendance, it votes to have no opinion on the matter, August 2001.

The California Office of Historic Preservation recommends unanimously that the theater be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, 3 August 2001.

The college administration and board are presented preservation alternatives, such as the cost-effective alternative proposed by the activists and Carey and Company, with the support of the National Trust. This plan includes virtually all of the theater in an adaptive reuse, while meeting the programmatic needs of the campus.

City College dismisses the alternative plans as too expensive, and instead chooses to relocate the planned campus and to sell the New Mission Theater and its adjacent property.

At a 12/3/03 hearing. CCSF Board rejects the offers of both Cullinane & Long and the Pacific Institute, in favor of Gus Murad & Associates.”

Finally, here are some examples of an architecture firm’s (BBP Associates) adaptive reuse of old theater buildings throughout the US are listed below.

“With the advent of favorable tax incentives and the continuing rise in the cost of new construction, adaptive reuse of existing buildings has become popular. The economics of rehabilitation in many instances makes more sense than traditional project development activities such as relocation, demolition and new construction. Principals of BBP Associates has been involved from the beginning in this movement and remains a staunch advocate of building reuse whenever historically and architecturally significant buildings could be economically justified by investors.”

_______________________________________________

A former Hyde Parker now living in Oak Park described adaptive reuse with theaters of the Lake Theater in Oak Park:

Perhaps interested parties could contact the owner of the Lake Theater in Oak Park. The theater "packs them in", is located in downtown Oak Park and has helped enhance surrounding businesses. The theater was involved in the demolition of adjacent property & building in place street front shops (currently used as small restaurants - almost like high-end food courts) and behind them, a large addition to the theater so that it can show as many movies as the big guys. The original theater room has been divided into three theaters, in line with today's trend. And the center of those retains the original stage. The Lake was an art deco theater and the owner restored the lobby and original center theater - in fact has won awards for this preservation/restoration. In addition to the movies, the theater is the site of viewings with critics, film talks, world premier openings with after show appearances by directors, actors, etc., and local community benefits.

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Jay Mulberry, vice president, Hyde Park Historical Society, writes:

The sentence in the following article that makes us take notice is
"One plan calls for the renovation of the theater building for retail use, while the other involves the demolition of the old structure and the construction of a new split-use building."
The Hyde Park Theater building (previously the Harper Theater) is the last remaining of many (perhaps 20 or more) that used to exist in the Bronzeville-Kenwood-Woodlawn-South Shore area. Its demolition would be a real loss.

Addition from this page editor, Gary Ossewaarde: It was not my impression from the November 10 2003 meeting that the neighborhood is either indifferent to nor evenly divided on preserving the theater but that the matter was not presented in such a way as to make a "poll" or conclusions possible. It is interesting that matters on which there is a clear majority on an issue in this community are often cast as "evenly divided."



University considers new plans for theater


The independent student newspaper of
the University of Chicago since 1892
University considers new plans for theater
By Zach Seward
February 3, 2004 in News


Though a poster of the 1994 classic The Flintstones hangs on its façade, the movie wasn’t the last film to grace the screen of the Meridian Theater. However, after three-dozen live and movie theater operators turned down the University’s offers to reuse the space, it is unlikely that the theater will show another.

Almost two years after the University purchased the building as a part of a $2.25 million deal to acquire the theater and the adjoining storefronts on the western corner of 53rd Street and Harper Avenue, no concrete plans for the defunct theater building have been made, says Director of Real Estate Operations Jo Reizner.

It is clear, however, that the possibility the building will re-open as a theater is “unlikely but not impossible,” according to Hank Webber, vice president of community affairs. University planners had been pursuing the option of bringing a fine arts theater to the building, but they say a feasible economic deal could not be reached. According to Webber, the building is in such disrepair that it would be very expensive to renovate, requiring large outlays on the part of the University to attract theater operators.

“Our primary business is as a university,” Webber said, explaining the shortcomings of the proposed deal. “We have some ability to provide incentives for businesses only if it adds great value to the community. But we’re not in the position to add subsidies for businesses that don’t contribute to our primary objective as a university.”

Especially now that the Checkerboard Lounge is coming to fruition, University planners are leaning toward a retail option for the old Meridian Theater building as opposed to having another entertainment complex in the immediate vicinity of Harper Court. According to Webber, seeking balance between businesses in the area is an important consideration.

Two non-entertainment options for the space are being considered seriously by the University. One plan calls for the renovation of the theater building for retail use, while the other involves the demolition of the old structure and the construction of a new split-use building. The new building would feature a combination of residential and retail space along with an underground parking garage.

Webber said that the University is working to make a final decision on the project within the next 60 days.

Though no retailers have expressed an interest in committing to the project, Webber said that, once the space is furnished, it would be occupied. “We have confidence that we could rent it to tenants that the community feels positive about,” he said.

Reizner also expressed optimism concerning the potential retail future of the Meridian space, saying that the building was “located on a terrific retail corner.”

According to Webber, most people agree that they want something vibrant for the space but on a scale that will not overwhelm the street. As to whether or not there was a demand for a new or renovated space, Webber felt that there was no strong pull from the community in either direction.

Lauren Alspaugh, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, who attended Webber’s last presentation to the chamber this past November, seemed to agree.

“There was no real consensus at the last meeting,” Alspaugh said. “The real feel will come out when they make a decision and present it to the community.”

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Permanent URL: http://maroon.uchicago.edu/news/articles/2004/02/03/university_considers.php

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Harper Theater and similarly styled building to north that will figure in future redevelopment
Herald Building streetscape part of the Theater complex