Dream Towers

courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

On February 1, architect Jeanne Gang and representatives from Silliman Group presented their plans for City Hyde Park, a two-tower, mixed-use project Silliman plans to build on E. Hyde Park and Lake Park. Anchored by a Whole Foods Market and ground-level retail, the nine- and 20-story towers will add 179 housing units to the area, 20 percent of which will be devoted to low-income housing. The design is bold and impressive–not surprising, considering it comes from a recent MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient and the architect of downtown’s Aqua building. But for all the beauty of the model Gang presented that night, the project, if it ever materializes, will come at a cost–$25 million of incentives granted by the city.

According to Peter Cassel, Silliman’s director of community development, the $145 million project will not be built without help from the city. Construction and design issues have caused  costs to run $25 million higher than initial projections, and that $25 million, he says, must now be made up through new market tax credits and tax-increment financing (TIF) money. Silliman, the design and construction subsidiary of the local real estate powerhouse Antheus Capital, had initially said that it would not need to seek city funding for the development.

“Many of us were startled by Antheus’s recent request for TIF funds, when they had said earlier that they would not be asking for funds,” said Jane Ciacci, president of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC). “Yes, construction costs have risen, but Antheus appears to be a very profitable company.”

Indeed, since buying its first Hyde Park property in 2002, Antheus has acquired the largest real estate portfolio in Hyde Park after the University of Chicago. Most of that growth has come through the purchase and renovation of former hotels or old apartment buildings like the Algonquin, Regents Park, and, most recently, the Shoreland and Del Prado. The renovation of the Shoreland and Del Prado, both of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is being led by Gang and her Chicago-based firm, Studio Gang. The Del Prado is now open and Cassel expects the Shoreland to be ready for occupancy by the summer of 2013.

Before City Hyde Park, Studio Gang’s relationship with Antheus began with Solstice on the Park, a planned luxury condominium tower on 56th and Cornell. The project is on hold indefinitely until the condominium market returns, but had it been built, the 28-story building would have been Hyde Park’s first new residential high-rise in decades. Instead, that honor may now belong to City Hyde Park.

Gang’s design calls for two residential structures to be set atop a three-story retail plinth, where glass-faced shops like Whole Foods Market will welcome pedestrians along E. Hyde Park and Lake Park. Like Aqua, Gang’s undulating, 86-story downtown skyscraper, the building’s design emphasizes movement and playfulness. Balconies and windows are not stacked one on top of the other, as in a conventional residential tower, but in a patterned, offset grid. The shorter, nine-story building uses stacked concrete panels to provide unconventional vertical support to the structure, and the 20-story building features equally unconventional column-free corner balconies. Whereas Aqua is wave-like and free in its form, City Hyde Park’s towers will be patterned and rigid. They aren’t flat rectangular blocks, but neither are they funky, Frank Gehry shapes. This is a Mies van der Rohe kind of Aqua.

Following an affordable housing requirement, 20 percent of the complex’s units will be available to residents earning less than 60 percent of the median national income (just under $40,000 for a family of four). This, says Ciacci, is very positive. “In Hyde Park-Kenwood the gap between demand for and supply of affordable housing for working people, the people who keep our neighborhoods going, is larger than in other parts of the city, and this is something that desperately needs to be addressed.” Cassel agrees that there’s a demand for housing, and notes, “Hyde Park hasn’t had a new construction of multi-family housing or large-scale retail in decades. I think there’s a great pent-up demand for a new product.”

Whether or not that demand will be satisfied by fall 2014–the earliest date Cassel believes City Hyde Park could be open by–now depends on city funding. The development is located within the bounds of the 53rd Street TIF district, where money generated by growth in property taxes is used to fund projects aimed at re-establishing “a cohesive and vibrant mixed-use district,” in the words of the city. Some, including Ciacci and Jay Ammerman, former president and current committee chair with HPKCC, think that City Hyde Park is not the kind of project deserving of taxpayer money through the TIF program.

Describing the reaction to the presentation given by Gang and Silliman on February 1, Ammerman says that community concerns were not triggered until Cassel reported the project would be submitting a request for TIF funds. “A number of attendees expressed concerns that TIF funds should be reserved for projects that would benefit other community priorities, like schools or small businesses, that were being displaced by large development projects.”

Notably, TIF funding in the 53rd St. district was used to help finance the University of Chicago-led Harper Court development, which will locate a six-story Hyatt Place hotel and 12-story office tower a block south of the proposed City Hyde Park site. Like the University, Antheus is certainly not in desperate need of money. If the Harper Court TIF decision is any precedent, however, it seems possible that Antheus could be awarded the money.

Still, $25 million is $25 million. Cassel says that it’s not clear how much of that the company can achieve, but “that process should reach certainty through the summer.” The first step is Thursday’s meeting of the Hyde Park 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council, where Cassel and Antheus will state their case for funding and residents will, as Ammerman puts it, “continue to monitor City Hyde Park progress to ensure that appropriate public interest concerns are addressed.”

“It is a coup,” says Ciacci, for the neighborhood “to have a Jeanne Gang design.” It’s now left to be decided whether or not the neighborhood will have a Jeanne Gang building.

The Hyde Park 53rd Street TIF Advisory Council will meet on March 12, at 7pm, in the Kenwood Academy Little Theater, 5015 S. Blackstone