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03.06.2013
Neighborhood Accelerator
Mixed-use development in Chicago swaps a gas station for density.
At 13 stories, the building will include 267 rental units.
Courtesy Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

For years a Mobil gas station has conspicuously interrupted a flurry of development along 53rd Street in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. But in January, Mesa Development and the University of Chicago, which owns the land, announced that they plan to build a mixed-use development on the site by next year. Valerio Dewalt Train Associates will design the building, which emphasizes the pedestrian experience in the Heart of Hyde Park.

At 13 stories, it will be among the tallest buildings in the 53rd Street area but not the tallest: A presentation at a public meeting in January pointed out that 12-story Harper Court nearby actually tops out at 160 feet, 20 feet higher than the new development, at 1330 E. 53rd Street. Taller buildings hug the lakeshore east of the Metra tracks, but 1330’s height raised a few eyebrows when conceptual drawings were unveiled to the public.

 

The building’s massing, articulated in two staggered towers atop a four-story base, pulls away to the southwest, in part to address that concern. The z-shape made by the towers’ floor plans, said VDT’s Stephen Droll, is a response to the neighborhood, which is mostly comprised of single-family homes to the northeast.

At the southwest corner, a fourth-floor terrace for residents calls out to Nichols Park, a ten-acre green space directly across 53rd Street. Two levels of parking, totaling 218 spaces, are hidden from street view by amenity spaces on the second and third floors.

“The Mobil gas station, as it is, really breaks up the 53rd street experience,” Droll said. “Even with two retail spaces and the residential lobby in the middle of that, there was a real effort to have a continuous pedestrian experience knit it all together.” Kimbark Plaza, a retail destination, sits to the site’s west.

 

The new building’s retail tenants are still unspecified, but a 20,000-square-foot space on the west end of the site is intended for a large national vendor, while 10,000-square-feet on the east end could be subdivided for a variety of local retailers. Mesa has said it will pursue minority- and women-owned local businesses. The building’s facade steps in at points to engage the street.

“It’s tough, with mid-block retail, for them to create places that draw people in,” Droll said, “so we’ve sort of stepped the facade to create mid-block windows for retailers, as well as create pockets for pedestrian seating. It really contributes to pulling the park across the street.”

Although the project sits in the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, the developers will not seek any TIF funding. Nonetheless, the building will include affordable housing—15 percent of the units on site will be below market rate, while the University said it will make up another 5 percent elsewhere. There will be 267 rental units in total.

James McHugh Construction, which also built Harper Court, is on board for construction, which could start by January 2014. Occupancy is expected for July 2015.

Chris Bentley