Northwestern acquisition of building raises questions from city officials


Jeffrey Wang/Daily Senior Staffer

Northwestern is in the process of buying a building at 1840 Oak Avenue. The acquisition is raising some questions on whether the building should be kept on the tax roll.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

Northwestern is in the process of acquiring a building at 1840 Oak Ave., raising questions over whether the building should be subject to property taxes.

NU doesn’t pay taxes for its buildings, but in a letter sent to Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and City Council members, Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah said the University would make an annual voluntary payment of $350,000 to the city instead. Cook County Assessor records indicate that the yearly property tax payable at 1840 Oak for 2015 was $275,860, according to council documents.

Bobkiewicz said there are often questions when NU acquires buildings in the city.

“There’s concern that a building previously on the property tax rolls and then is no longer on the property tax rolls, that is … no longer income for the city of Evanston through tax dollars,” he said.

The building is located in a “Research Park” location established by the University and the city in the 1980s. The city created a for-profit corporation with the University to perform functions in the area in an effort to keep university-related businesses in Evanston.

According to council documents, the building is in a special zoning area near downtown. It is bounded to the south by Davis Street, to the north by Emerson Street, by CTA tracks to the east and by Chicago Avenue to the west.

The land in the area was to remain on the tax rolls, according to the council documents. It is unclear whether the agreement is still in effect, and city and University officials are working to figure out the issue, Bobkiewicz said.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) — who originally asked staff to look at the issue — said she would prefer to keep the property on the tax roll.

“Paying the property tax is much more transparent about … where the money is going,” she said.

Fiske said the issue has raised questions in a “positive” way. Several other aldermen have said they would prefer to put agreements over property acquisition with the University in writing, Bobkiewicz said.

Fiske said putting things in writing would limit disagreements between the University and the city.

“It just seems to me over the past generations, we have had handshake agreements with the University but no one can remember what they were,” she said. “Who wants to fight about this stuff? No one.”

Chinniah said in the letter NU has bought other properties in the city in the past two years, including 630 Clinton St. and 2522 Orrington Ave. Doing so helps the city as much as the University, Chinniah wrote.

“Translational research space provides the opportunity for companies founded by our faculty to remain in Evanston, and thus strengthen our retail and local businesses by contributing jobs and enlivening our city center,” Chinniah wrote.

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Twitter: @noracshelly