New dorm with room for 1,200 students moves forward

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • June 18, 2009 @ 3:35 PM

Plans for a new Loop dormitory with rooms for more than 1,200 college students got the nod from the Chicago Plan Commission today but still face skepticism from one powerful alderman.

The Buckingham Phase 2 would rise 37 stories and house 640 dorm rooms on the the southeast corner of South Wabash Avenue and East Van Buren Street. The project would bring even more students to an area that’s seen the population of students living nearby climb to more than 13,000 this year.

The privately-funded building is not associated with any university yet, though its developers told the Plan Commission they expect one of several nearby universities to lease it by the time it is completed in 2012. The first phase of the project, an adjacent dorm with room for 450 students that opened last year, is leased entirely by Columbia College.

“I want the record to be very clear,” John George, an attorney for the developers, told the commission. “This is a matter that has been pending ... for a year. During that course we have met with every entity, every body, every group that has wanted to meet with us.”

In the process, the developers gained the support of the Chicago Loop Alliance, a business consortium, as well as the Near South Planning Board and the Grant Park Conservatory, George said.

In a May 8 letter to the developer, the alliance said it was “in full support of the project” and that earlier concerns about parking and ground-floor retail had been “satisfactorily addressed.”

But Ald. Robert Fioretti (D-2) said he’s heard concerns about the project from some nearby residents.

“I’ve received a number of letters from community people saying, ‘There’s too many dorms here.’ They feel threatened,” Fioretti told the commission. “We’re going to now have 1,200 beds alongside the other dorm and alongside Roosevelt’s dorm.”

But that apparent opposition was news to George.

“I guess some groups now are surfacing that somehow weren’t there before,” George said.

The community will get a chance to comment on the project at two upcoming meetings. The dormitory must be approved both by the council’s zoning committee and by the full City Council.

“We’ve got a series of problems, issues, challenges presented by schools, and 1,200 beds will present some serious challenges,” Fioretti told the Plan Commission, singling out graffiti in the area, which he said drops off in the summer months when students go home.

He said he would keep the project from passing the council’s zoning committee until the developers find a university to lease the dorm.

“All of our dorms need to have an affiliation signed up with a university so there’s some control,” Fioretti said.

But in spite of those concerns, the committee approved a pair of motions that move the project forward.

“(This has been) held back a number of months and the Planning Department feels it should move forward,” Commission Chairwoman Linda Searl said.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.