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NU buys 1840 Oak office building

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Northwestern University has told city officials that it has acquired the 1840 Oak Ave. office building in the downtown Research Park zoning district.

The school, in a letter to the city, said it was prepared to make an annual voluntary $350,000 payment in lieu of taxes for the property, which in 2015 had a tax bill of $275,860.

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The university’s purchase of the 1800 Sherman Ave. office building downtown over a decade ago created years of controversy over the resulting loss of tax revenue for the city and schools.

The 1840 Oak building has had a spotty occupancy record in recent years. It sold in 2006 for $3.1 million but then changed hands again in 2012 for just $981,000, according to county records.

Northwestern reportedly is paying $4.5 million for it this year.

In a letter to city officials, NU Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah said the school hopes to use the building to provide research space for “companies founded by our faculty to remain in Evanston, and thus strengthen our retail and local businesses by contributing jobs and enlivening our city center.”

In a memo to aldermen prepared for tonight’s City Council meeting, city attorney Grant Farrar indicated that agreements the city and university entered into in the 1980s for development of the Research Park district may bar the transfer of land in the district in a way that would take it off the tax rolls.

But Farrar says the “long and winding” history of the Research Park development makes more time necessary to determine whether that restriction actually still applies. And he’s asking that the issue be referred back to the Administration and Public Works Committee for further discussion at its March 13 meeting.

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