Two blocks away, MacArthur Fellow genius architect Jeanne Gang has designed two new housing structures for City Hyde Park (“a new rental community of elegant living,” boasts its website), one a 20-story residential building with lakefront views. By 2014, a total of 179 units will be added to the neighborhood; a Whole Foods Market will anchor the site.
“This seems like a real historic time for the neighborhood in terms of development,” says Gabriel Piemonte, editor of the Hyde Park Herald. The Herald is the first newspaper I ever read and, founded in 1882, it’s the oldest continuously published community newspaper in Chicago.
Piemonte tells me, “There hadn’t been new construction in Hyde Park in 15 or 20 years, and then, just now, we’re seeing the Harper Court development. There are ways that I think the neighborhood has been able to resist development pressure that have kind of homogenized a lot of other neighborhoods. [That resistance] is good, but in some ways, it has slowed progress in terms of amenities you’d expect. We desperately need a hotel here.”
Yet, I pick up a copy of the latest RedEye newspaper and read an op-ed by Lenox Magee: “I fear these glitzy new neighbors of mine eventually could turn Hyde Park into — sigh — the South Side’s Lincoln Park. … In Hyde Park, we’re proud to be one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. We’re the only place you will see hipsters, black professionals, students, millionaires, and even the future president all in one place, getting along and exchanging ideas. Diversity is the foundation of Hyde Park, and without that this ’hood is nothing.”
The next morning I walk down 53rd Street with SECC’s exuberant and engaging program manager, James Kenady, to gauge the mood of several business owners. He introduces me to Kiley Russell, owner of Big Girl Makeup Bar & Spa. Russell was one of 276 people who, in 2004, were given a Pontiac G6 by Oprah. She was a middle-school assistant principal at the time. She kept the car for a week, then sold it for $19,000 to launch a cosmetic and skin-care line, and later a spa and salon. She was afraid to tell Oprah about selling the car, but when she finally did, the talk-show host was delighted. Russell’s mission statement is simple: “To empower women to define their own definition of beauty.” She lives that statement and is immaculately coiffured from head to toe.
The new Harper Court development surrounds her 1,200-square-foot salon on three sides, impeding access and parking, and has cut her business by 70 percent. She faces another 13 months of the same. Russell’s feelings about the construction disruption are mixed. “In that respect, it’s one of those things where the university has a mission or a goal, and they do what that is, and that’s that — you have to deal with it. Then there’s the other part of me that lives in the community and feels that Hyde Park does need construction and new development and we do need growth.”