Developers Bid For Lake Shore Building On Chicago Campus

Nomaan Merchant and Nomaan Merchant

By Nomaan MerchantThe Daily Northwestern

An aging building on Northwestern’s Chicago campus could net the university millions during hushed negotiations with a local developer.

NU once used the Lake Shore Center building, 850 N. Lake Shore Dr., for graduate housing, meeting space and fitness facilities.

Now, the building is deserted.

NU stopped offering housing to graduate students in Lake Shore in June 2005 because of declining interest. Offices were moved out of the building and fitness classes at the club ended in December.

The Lake Shore Center opened in 1927, just steps away from Lake Michigan. In 1977, NU purchased the building for $7.5 million, according to documents from University Archives. NU started accepting bids for Lake Shore in August. The university’s discussions with multiple developers to sell the building now center on one firm, Related Midwest. Related Midwest exercised its right to match the highest bid in case of a sale as part of an agreement it made with the university.

Both parties are staying tight-lipped about the nature of their talks. Officials at Related Midwest did not return a message seeking comment. Eugene Sunshine, NU’s senior vice president for business and finance, would only confirm that negotiations are currently taking place and declined to discuss monetary terms.

“There is no firm agreement with anybody to do anything,” Sunshine said.

Sunshine dismissed reports of one bid exceeding $40 million as “strictly speculation.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that development firm Fifield Companies made the high bid, which was then matched by Related Midwest. Fifield president Richard Cavenaugh confirmed the company submitted a proposal, but would not discuss the amount. Residents of the Streeterville neighborhood, where the Chicago campus is located, have lobbied the university to sell only to a developer committed to preserving the building. But doing so could prove costly.

University Archivist Patrick Quinn called the building a “dump.” In the press release announcing its intention to sell, officials estimated the cost of renovating Lake Shore at $10 million. But Gail Spreen, the president of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, called the building “a jewel that needs to be preserved.”

“(NU) won’t put any money into it or do anything with it,” Spreen said.

The zoning of Lake Shore’s property limits what developers can build on the land. Chicago Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd), who represents the area, has opposed changing the property’s zoning, Spreen said. When asked whether NU was taking conservation of the building into account, Sunshine declined to comment.

Spreen said the building had beautiful meeting rooms and great views of Lake Michigan. It also has cultural value in the neighborhood.

“Give it a use that will save the rooms and the building,” Spreen said.

The draw of Lake Shore is obvious, according to Fifield’s Cavenaugh.

“It’s a lakefront building,” he said. “Everybody’s got different ideas about what to do with it.”

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