NEIU Scraps Plans for Seized Bryn Mawr Properties, Leaves Buildings Vacant


Gabriel Gurrola, Campus Arts & Life Editor

In 2014, Northeastern Illinois University sought to acquire eight properties on the 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue between Bernard Street and Kimball Avenue. These buildings were intended to become dorms for student housing. At the time, NEIU was the sole university in the state of Illinois without student housing.


The quest for student housing was a component of NEIU’s Decade of Dreams initiative, which included a new science building, a childcare center, and an expansion of the performing arts building.


Northeastern wanted student housing, but the block of businesses on Bryn Mawr, which included a TCF Bank, a convenience store, a hookah lounge, and the Hunan Wok, had no intentions to sell.


Bill Tong, the owner of Hunan Wok, received a letter from NEIU stating they were interested in buying the building that would be used for student housing. Tong had no interest in selling the Chinese restaurant his grandfather built in the 1950s. The neighborhood was all he had ever known. For Tong, it was not just a building, it was home.


Aboud Alsawi, the owner of Ugly Hookah Cafe, located at 3414 North Bryn Mawr Ave, told ABC 7 in 2014, “Now if I leave outta here, I’m not gonna be able to open another business in Chicago because I’m not gonna find a free-standing building nowhere.”


A few owners were interested in selling, and so they did. But for those who were not interested, Northeastern took a more drastic approach in response to the refusal to sell.


On August 8, 2014, attorneys representing NEIU filed suit to condemn eight buildings through eminent domain.


According to the National Association of Realtors, eminent domain is “the process by which the government may seize private property with proper compensation, but without the owner’s consent.”


Then-NEIU President Sharon Hahs told The Independent in 2015: “Eminent domain is a legal process whereby a public entity may acquire a physical property for a public purpose. We are a public university and our purposes are public purposes.”


Hahs conveniently left out “without the owner’s consent.”


The filings began a 17-month court battle for ownership of the buildings, which Northeastern acquired in January 2016.


Garrick Beil, a victim of Northeastern’s acquisition said in response to the settlement in 2016: “The eminent domain laws in Illinois are stacked heavily in favor of the state over the rights of property owners… Is that really the public use our founding fathers envisioned in the Constitution?”


NEIU eventually fulfilled its student housing goal, establishing The Nest in 2016. The six-story building has a capacity of 440 beds and holds 110 units. The Nest was not part of the eight buildings that were seized by NEIU earlier that year.


Northeastern announced plans to build five-story buildings on both sides of Bryn Mawr without any drawings or specifics. As of 2023, those five-story buildings have not been built.


One of the buildings is a Testing and Training Center with Northeastern’s logo on it. The buildings remain vacant to this day.


Northeastern has scrapped its plans to build student housing on the seized Bryn Mawr properties altogether.


NEIU President Gloria Gibson told the Hollywood North Park Community Organization in October 2021: “We must now alter those original plans.”


In December 2020, Northeastern hired Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a real estate services firm, to assess feasible options for the Bryn Mawr properties and to conduct a market analysis for the seized buildings.


Northeastern sought interested developers to take over the Bryn Mawr properties, as well as properties located near El Centro. Despite NEIU’s efforts, which included encouraging developers to apply online, there were no applications.


On April 5, 2022, JLL submitted a summary of the feasibility analysis of the Bryn Mawr buildings that stated, “Multifamily and retail mixed-use ground lease with additional income participation. A ground lease structure will allow NEIU to maintain ownership of the land and will provide for an element of control over programming.”


In other words, Northeastern will continue to own the buildings that were seized through eminent domain.


Chris Childers, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications, did not respond for comment.


A Decade of Dreams for Northeastern caused a lifetime of heartache and despair for owners affected by this land grab.