Catholic student center pitches smaller building, but University Village neighbors still opposed
Newman Center holding ground
09/05/2012 10:00 PM
The John Paul II Newman Center, a Catholic student center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is maintaining its push to build a new dorm in University Village. But local aldermen have been hesitant to endorse the project, as neighbors have consistently stood against it.
The building is proposed for the site of 1352 S. Union St., currently a Baptist church that’s been vacant since 2005. According to the project’s spokesman, Chris Hill, the building would be a five-and-a-half story, 100,000 square-foot building.
It would have about 300 student beds and a small chapel, as well as housing for priests, nuns and student resident assistants.
The project’s total projected cost would be around $32 million, Hill said, which would be raised through a combination of fundraising and debt.
It’s been chopped down from its original proposal, which was for a 14-story building. The move that was made in response to criticism from the community, Hill said, and a good-faith effort from Newman Center chief the Rev. Patrick Marshall to work with them.
“Right now, as a result of the community saying what they’re concerned about, the height has been significantly reduced. This is a five-story building with a penthouse on the top,” Hill said. “The design has evolved because Father Pat has listened to the community. He’s been here in the community for years, and he’s not going anywhere.”
Hill claims they’ve got 2,000 signatures in support of the project, but at least one community leader isn’t buying in. Dennis O’Neill, head of Connecting4Communities, said the Newman Center needs more public vetting on the project.
“They have a little bit of duty when they’re talking about marketing student housing,” O’Neill said. “The people who live on Emerald Street [right next to the proposed center] have the most to say about it. They bought these houses with an idea of what would be built there, and this isn’t it.”
Ald. Danny Solis — whose 25th Ward currently holds the site but who will pass it on to Ald. James Balcer (11th) under the city’s new ward boundaries — said he’s still up in the air about the project.
“I think it’s a beautiful building, I think that they’ve lowered it since they made their first presentation, and I think it’ll be better than what stands there now. I personally think it’s a good addition, but I’m not the one who’s living right there,” he said. “I think it’s a good project, but I can also understand the feelings of the people who live on Emerald.”
Balcer did not return a call requesting comment, but in a letter to Marshall said he wouldn’t move forward on the project unless the Newman Center had majority support from residents living within 250 feet of the site, a sentiment Solis echoed in a similar letter.