NEIU seeks ideas on how to use vacant land
by JASON MEREL
Northeastern Illinois University is seeking public input in the early stage of development of parcels it obtained through eminent domain years ago near its main campus at North Kimball Avenue and West Bryn Mawr Avenue, and along North Kimball Avenue near its satellite El Centro campus
NEIU’s properties on both sides of Bryn Mawr between Kimball and North Bernard Street were acquired in 2015 to be developed as student housing but those plans didn’t materialize. The property owners were compensated and the land is now mostly unoccupied, with the exception of a 7-Eleven store and an auto repair shop.
NEIU’s Kimball properties were acquired in 2014 and are located at the intersection of North Avondale Avenue, West Henderson Street and Kimball.
In August of last year, NEIU president Dr. Gloria Gibson announced that the university was accepting requests for proposals for the properties due to declines in enrollment and the impact of COVID-19 on student housing.
In the time since the properties were acquired, the university developed an on-campus residential building for students, known as The Nest. Gibson said proposals for mixed-use housing, environmental or sustainable land use and retail or commercial uses were sought.
Jones Lang Lasalle is providing advisory services for the project and will provide a final report that includes research and analysis of the two sites and their markets, financial feasibility and valuations on April 5. The firm is gathering feedback from the community for its report.
The Hollywood-North Park Community Association has been advocating for the community to be involved in the development since the properties were acquired and it has been working with Alderman Samantha Nugent’s (39th) office to gather input.
The association held a pair of Zoom meetings on Dec. 15, 2020, and Jan. 21, 2021, to gather preference proposals from community members.
Some of the preferences included restaurants, bars, a gym, entertainment venues, art galleries and a student technology and business incubator. Several community groups, public officials and NEIU stakeholders attended the Jan. 21 meeting where they could have their questions answered directly by university staff.
"I am pleased that this process is taking place with an open and transparent dialogue in events like this one today," Gibson said on Jan. 21. "I look forward to hearing from NEIU’s neighbors and community organizations as we move forward with plans that will benefit not only NEIU but also our local neighborhoods."
One person asked if the properties were part of a planned development, which affects zoning.
Brian Carroll of JLL said the properties were not part of a planned development but their analysis would account for all likely zoning scenarios. Nugent said it was an option for future consideration and noted that it would give community members more input.
Another person asked if anything could be done with the vacant storefronts at the Bryn Mawr properties. NEIU vice president of Finance and Administration Manish Kumar said the buildings are not up to code and the university is conducting this analysis to consider the best development decision. Kumar said currently the university is maintaining the properties with snow removal and security.
NEIU will hold two public meetings remotely at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22, and at 7 p.m. Monday, March 29. Details regarding the meetings have not been released yet but for more information visit neiu.edu/restudy.