Harpo neighbors surviving without Oprah influence

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Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell unveil a new sign outside of Harpo Studios for the new Rosie O’Donnell Show. Tuesday, September 15, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times

While downtown’s NBC Tower welcomes a new talk-show tenant in Steve Harvey, the fate of Oprah Winfrey’s Near West Side compound is unclear.

Harpo Studios at 1058 W. Washington hasn’t been the same since Winfrey pulled up stakes in Chicago a year ago and moved to Los Angeles to launch her own cable network. Among its offerings is “The Rosie Show,” starring Rosie O’Donnell, which took over her old Chicago production space.

But amid low ratings and format changes, reports have surfaced that O’Donnell is moving the program to New York. A Harpo spokeswoman Monday declined to comment on “rumor and speculation” about the show.

A departure could leave Harpo Studios dark. People active in the neighborhood said that while any underperforming business is lamentable, the Near West Side is doing well post-Winfrey.

When the talk show diva moved into the studios in 1989, the area needed a lift. Since then, the condo boom, construction of the United Center and expansion of the corporate office market have changed its character.

Winfrey once was “a very good anchor. She brought a lot of traffic into the community,” said John Slivka, vice president of real estate firm CBRE Inc. “Now it has a great established base of residences and businesses.”

Slivka said that if Winfrey wants to sell, the property should draw interest from a number of users, from those who want the production facilities to those who would tear it down for a high-rise.

A Winfrey taping used to draw an audience of several hundred, and many would later head to the Randolph Street or Greektown restaurants. O’Donnell, in a format change, got rid of the studio audience.

Martha Goldstein, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said that with the property investment picking up, Winfrey’s studios should find a new use quickly.

Regardless, she said the Near West Side has left in the past its old Skid Row association.

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