Donation provokes skepticism

Breanne Gilpatrick

Some university and city officials have said Northwestern’s announcement Friday that it will donate more than $2 million to the City of Evanston and its school districts could mark a new beginning for historically strained city-university relations. But Monday some aldermen called the move an “aggressive” act that will mean higher taxes for Evanston residents.

NU officials finalized an agreement Friday to purchase an eight-story office building at 1800 Sherman Ave. NU plans to house its information technology and investment offices in the building.

The university also will donate $2.1 million to Evanston and to its school districts — Evanston/Skokie School District 65, which includes the elementary and middle schools, and District 202, which serves Evanston Township High School.

The deal will cost the city $344,000 a year for the next five years because it will take the NU-occupied offices off the tax rolls. The university does not pay property taxes as a result of its state land grant charter. NU’s donation only will offset the tax loss for the first three years.

Commercial businesses, such as the 1800 Club, occupy 60 percent of the building, and the city will continue to receive leasehold taxes from these properties.

Some business owners are concerned about what will happen when their leases expire. Richard Tye, Weinberg ’70 and owner of Dental Professionals of Evanston, said he hopes NU will consider his status as an alumnus because he would like to stay in his current location at 1800 Sherman for the rest of his career.

“I’ve been in Evanston 28 years and in this location for 15 years and people are used to coming to one spot all the time,” Tye said. “People are creatures of habit. You lost some patients even if you only move a block away.”

Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance, said the university will be considering the lease renewals as they come up.

“It’s possible over the coming years that some leases we’ll want to renew and some leases we won’t want to renew,” he said.

But Sunshine said Monday that he hopes the deal will improve ties with the city.

“Our behavior here I regard as being consistent with the notion that we’re in this together with the community,” he said.

Mayor Lorraine H. Morton told The Daily she thinks it’s wonderful that the university would consider city financial commitments when purchasing this property. She said she’s sure it will be the start of a “wonderful, beautiful and loving relationship.”

Still Evanston aldermen aren’t convinced.

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st), whose ward includes the 1800 Sherman property, said at Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting that NU’s act was “appalling.” He said Evanston taxpayers will be the losers in the deal and are receiving tax increases only because of NU’s self-interest.

“There’s no donation here,” Newman said. “There’s a mitigating act, that’s all there is.”

Newman said NU’s act is a step backward and those who expect great things are “very naive.”

Mimi Peterson, founding member of the Fair Share Action Committee, said Monday afternoon that she thought it was “awful” that the university would choose to remove prime downtown retail area from the tax rolls and then try to be perceived as gift-givers.

“As gifts go, this is the equivalent of a sweater that’s too small,” she said. “If it were me, I’d be trying to take it back for a better fit.”

Ald. Gene Feldman (9th) said at Monday’s meeting that the university’s decision to remove a profitable downtown property from the city tax rolls and call the donation a gift is “aggressive and predatory.”

“This is the single-most aggressive act from the university that I’ve witnessed in the 18 years I’ve been on the council,” Feldman said.

He said he felt NU has “brought shame upon itself” for taking an action without any concern for the city.

“Decency in this town has died,” Feldman said. “We should light a candle for Northwestern University.”

The Daily’s Dan Strumpf contributed to this report.

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