Northeastern initiates eminent domain action


by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI

Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. Saint Louis Ave., is seeking to acquire six properties along Bryn Mawr Avenue through eminent domain in order to build new student dormitories as part of a campus expansion plan.

The university announced last week that it has begun eminent domain proceedings on the properties so that it can build retail space and student housing on Bryn Mawr between Bernard Street and Kimball Avenue. The school also plans to build dorms on Foster Avenue between Central Park Avenue and Saint Louis Avenue.

The dorms would be on both sides of Bryn Mawr and would occupy 280,000 square feet, and the dorms on Foster would occupy 160,000 square feet.

The university said in a statement that it has to use eminent domain to acquire the properties on Bryn Mawr because the owners have not been willing to sell the parcels. The 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue has eight properties, and the school owns two of them.

"The university has made multiple attempts to negotiate with the owners of the remaining six properties. Thus far, no agreements have been made," the press release states.

Northeastern would be required to pay fair market value for each property and to cover relocation costs for the owners.

The changes are part of the administration’s "Decade of Dreams" major facilities project which will require demolition or remodeling of both on-campus and off-campus buildings and construction of new ones.

A university spokeswoman said in May that the student housing development would be a partnership between the university and a private partner who wishes to remain anonymous to finance, manage and build the dorms and the retail components.

Some small-business owners on Bryn Mawr have opposed the plans because they feel that they are being forced to move out of the community. The university owns Pete’s Auto Clinic, 3426 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., and a building across the street that is being used as a resources office.

Businesses that would be affected by the plans include a Chinese restaurant, a hookah bar, a private real estate office, a dental office and a Latino union that helps immigrant workers and other businesses.

The university traditionally has been a commuter school without on-campus housing. It has an enrollment of about 11,000 students.

The dormitories would feature retail space, housing, parking and a pedestrian-oriented street space.

A petition opposing the eminent domain action by the group NEIU Neighbors has more than 200 paper signatures and more than 800 digital signatures on the Web site www.change.org.

The petition states that plans to build five- to six-story buildings that would house 500 students would displace property owners and create a canyon effect that would block light and increase traffic. "The retail businesses proposed for this project would remove family-owned businesses in favor of corporate retail with low-paying jobs and profits accruing to corporate interests," the petition states.

Residents also have created a Web site in opposition to the plans at www.neiulandgrab.com.

As part of the "Decade of Dreams" plan, a 160,000-square-foot building would be used as an Education Building at the northwest corner of the Physical Education Complex between Balmoral Avenue and Berwyn Avenue. The building would provide opportunities for first-generation and bilingual students and would feature specialized classrooms, clinics and laboratories, according to the university.

Northeastern says that it is nationally recognized as a top degree producer for education degrees to Hispanic and Asian students. The building would be funded by the state and could be built by 2016.

A 205,000-square-foot building would be remolded and expanded to be used as a science building. The current building was built in 1972 and has undergone minor renovations. The new building would feature new classrooms, teaching labs and offices.

The current Building F would add 37,000 square feet of space to create a performing arts facility that would house the Ensemble Espanol Center for Spanish Dance.

The child care center at the university would be expanded by 18,000 square feet because the current center maintains long waiting lists requiring parents to sign their children up at birth for a chance to enroll them beginning at age 15 months.

The construction of the science building would eliminate one parking lot, and a 280,000-square-foot mixed-use building with 660 parking spaces would be built.


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