NORTH PARK — Northeastern Illinois University is still searching for interested developers to bid on two university buildings, including those on a block that’s sat vacant for five years.
The university bought all 14 storefronts on Bryn Mawr Avenue between Kimball Avenue and Bernard Street in 2016 after a two-year battle. They were to be used as student housing, but in the time it took for NEIU’s eminent domain case to work its way through the courts, enrollment declined, WTTW reported in January.
The university dropped its plans to convert the buildings into student housing. It hired real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle earlier this year to conduct a market analysis and assess feasible options for the block.
Those results, published in April, recommend the buildings be turned into mixed-use multifamily units with ground-floor retail, which is in line with neighbors have said they want for the area, according to a survey by the Hollywood-North Park Community Association.
Now, the university is looking for interested developers to take over the buildings of the main campus and its El Centro property at North Avondale Avenue, West Henderson Street and North Kimball Avenue.
Manish Kumar, vice president for finance and administration at NEIU, said the deadline for proposals has been extended to Nov. 1 since no one applied. The university encourages developers to apply online.
“We don’t have millions of dollars to build our own structures, and that is the reason we are going to an outside builder,” Kumar said.
Because of the extension, the project’s timeline is delayed and a vendor will likely be identified in early 2022, he said. The university plans to post bidding updates online to keep the community in the loop.
In January, more than 100 nearby residents completed a survey from Hollywood-North Park Community Association on what they’d like to see in the properties to bring back life to the corridor. Many said they want to see affordable, multi-family housing to keep residents in the neighborhood, as well as a mixed-use development that includes retail and commercial uses.
Andrew Johnson, Hollywood-North Park Community Association president, who has worked with NEIU and neighbors to make sure community input about the Bryn Mawr project is heard, said the survey results are still accurate.
“Given how long ago NEIU acquired these properties, neighbors have had some time to consider what they want,” Johnson said. “Those interests have been pretty stable over time.”
Johnson credits broader engagement from elected officials, alderpeople and neighbors within the past year to the project moving forward and hopes it can revitalize the area as NEIU works with the community to make sure all voices are heard.
“I still believe that rehabilitating or redeveloping those properties can be part of an important revitalization of Bryn Mawr around Kimball and Kedzie, which has been a historic commercial strip in our neighborhood,” he said. “It’s possible and perhaps likely that this development will be a positive thing for the neighborhood. The university also needs to rehabilitate its relationship with many residents. … That will not be accomplished simply by redeveloping the buildings.”
Kumar said NEIU has held various town halls and meetings with residents about the North Park project in the past few years and will continue to engage with the community and try to be as transparent as possible, while also looking at developer proposals that could benefit the school.
“Anything we do is in collaboration with” neighbors, Kumar said. “The university will support what our neighbors want, but we will also be tied to how the projects go, what the developers bring in.”
Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th), whose ward includes the Bryn Mawr properties, helped gather a group of stakeholders that includes neighborhood organizations, local schools and elected officials to bolster community engagement, share information and offer input.
“As options for the NEIU properties on Bryn Mawr continue to be explored, community input has been prioritized,” Nugent said in a statement. “Regular communication between NEIU, the Hollywood-North Park Community and my office has been ongoing. I look forward to this continued partnership as we all work to revitalize this corridor.”
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