How Long Will Seized Bryn Mawr Buildings Remain Vacant

Gabriel Gurrola, Campus Arts & Life Editor

A once lively 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue now stands deserted. This is the result of Northeastern’s attempt to acquire student housing through their Decade of Dreams initiative proposed by then-NEIU President Sharon Hahs. In August 2014, NEIU invoked eminent domain in response to business owners who refused to sell their buildings. This sparked a 17-month court battle for ownership of the buildings, which NEIU won in January 2016, forcing unwilling owners to close their doors. President Hahs retired just eight months later.


President Gloria Gibson has since halted any efforts to use the vacant buildings for student housing, stating the university has to “alter the original plans.” As of today, the buildings remain vacant.


The question remains: How long will the buildings remain vacant?


During the Board of Trustees meeting in El Centro on April 13, 2023, representatives from the Hollywood-North Park Community Association Board revealed future plans for the buildings.


NEIU plans to lease the buildings to a developer under a 99-year lease term. Under this plan, the developer is required to pay NEIU upfront and make annual ground lease payments. NEIU will be required to pay costs prior to the execution of the ground lease with an estimated cost of $1.7 million over four years.


According to the President’s Report to the Board of Trustees, “The primary motivation for this structure is to help alleviate the cost burden of the Bryn Mawr project by capitalizing some of the annual lease revenue through a high initial lump sum lease payment.”


The current lump sum payment is $2.5 million alongside an additional $800,000 as a reserve against the uncertainty of clean-up costs and construction cost inflation.


There is also a risk of environmental clean-up costs. Pete’s Auto and 7-Eleven, the only buildings that survived NEIU’s land grab, are former gas stations. It is currently unknown if the old tanks are buried there. If so, environmental clean-up costs will significantly rise compared to current projections.


NEIU’s real estate broker, Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE), is proposing going to a market with a lease structure with an upfront payment of $2.5 million, followed by annual lease payments that begin at $100,000 a year and escalate 3% annually. This will result in total payments to NEIU of approximately $56 million over the course of 99 years.


CBRE provided an estimated timeline for the ground lease, building permit, construction, and occupancy.


In 2023, a community presentation will be held at NEIU, bid notifications will be posted in Sun-Times, Tribune, and NEIU’s purchasing website, and the ground lease will be executed.


Throughout 2024, the 10-year anniversary of the land grab, and 2025, CBRE plans to seek zoning and municipal approvals (ward, university, and a No Further Remediation (NFR) letter from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plan commission and council) as well as a building permit.


In 2026, construction of the buildings will be held as well as rent commencement. By 2027, occupants will move into the buildings.


The emptiness of the 3400 block of West Bryn Mawr Avenue will remain a painful reminder of Northeastern’s ill-advised land grab for years to come.