UIC Newman Center loses dorm contract
May 2, 2014
The Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago proposed a new dormitory for UIC’s South Campus.

By Patrick Butler

The John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s search for a site for a dormitory is back to square one, according to both Alderman James Balcer (11th Ward) and the Rev. Patrick Marshall, chaplain and president of the Roman Catholic student ministry program for University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) students. The Catholic student ministry lost its contract to buy the site of a 144-year-old church building because it could not get a zoning change that would have allowed it to build a dormitory there.

Balcer had pledged to make a decision by the end of 2013 but never did so, and the Newman Center recently lost its contract to purchase the site. The property currently is zoned MI-3 (light manufacturing/business). To build the dormitory, the Newman Center would have needed RM-6 (multi-unit district) zoning.

For the past several years, Fr. Marshall and the Newman Center had been trying to work out building a dormitory on the site of the former Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church, 1352 S. Union Ave. The Baptist congregation stopped meeting there about nine years ago.

The building sits next to a UIC parking garage and across from the Dan Ryan Expressway. It also is near residential housing on Emerald Street. The Newman Center had sought a zoning change from Balcer.

Neither Balcer nor Marshall would comment any further.

After this issue of the Gazette went to press, Balcer held a neighborhood meeting at Powell’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted St., with Property Markets Group, a national real estate acquisition and development company that specializes in turning around “underutilized” assets, to determine the site’s future.

Over nearly a century and a half, the building currently on the site has housed Chicago’s first German school, a Romanian synagogue, and the Gethsemane Church. Its history resulted in the Maxwell Street Foundation’s opposing the dormitory plans in an effort to save the existing building.

The Newman Center originally had proposed building a 500-bed, 17-story dormitory, but after complaints from some nearby residents, it scaled down the plan to a five-story building housing 280 students.

“I wonder how large of a building these other people are planning on building,” Fr. Marshall mused. Responding to concerns voiced at community meetings that a student dormitory would create congestion and noise problems, Fr. Marshall agreed to post security guards and cameras and to build the dorm with the front door facing north, away from neighbors living near the south end of the center.

He added that students moving into the dorm would have had to sign a good behavior contract covering issues such as visitation hours and gender-specific floors and pledging no liquor in the rooms.

The redesigned Newman Center gained wider support from neighbors.

Last summer, Fr. Marshall met with Balcer and Alderman Daniel Solis; the site is in Solis’s 25th Ward under the old City ward map and in Balcer’s 11th under the new map. Armed with supportive petitions signed by more than 1,000 residents and students and 200 local business owners, Fr. Marshall hoped Balcer would grant the zoning change.