A potential step by Loyola to purchase the Waldorf School building, which is part of the currently closed St. Ignatius campus in Rogers Park, and build a new student dormitory building in its place has received pushback from some nearby residents.
Concerned residents expressed reservations regarding the possibility of Loyola purchasing the property — located west of the Lake Shore Campus (LSC) at 1300 W. Loyola Ave. — during an Aug. 10 virtual town hall meeting hosted by Alderwoman Maria Hadden, who represents the 49th ward, which encompasses Rogers Park and part of Loyola’s campus.
St. Ignatius was a Catholic church founded by the Jesuit order in 1907 which has historical ties to the university. In 2020, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would be closing the parish and merging its congregation with the nearby St. Gertrude and St. Jerome churches. The Archdiocese of Chicago has closed several other parishes throughout the city in recent years as part of a wider consolidation effort.
The St. Ignatius campus, which includes the church, rectory and Waldorf School, is set to go on the market soon. The Ignatian Mission Center, a group of former parishioners and residents, has said it would like to maintain the church and use it to provide religious, social and educational programs to the surrounding community.
Loyola had previously expressed interest in purchasing the building in 2019, Hadden said, before plans were put on hold as the university’s operations and finances were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matt McDermott, a spokesperson for Loyola, said in a statement the university has had conversations recently with the archdiocese, Hadden and the Ignatian Mission Center about purchasing the school building and said the university plans to continue these conversations in the coming weeks.
“We strategically and intentionally dedicate human and capital resources to improving quality of life for residents of our community including affordable housing set-asides in market rate rental buildings, local hiring, local spending, and K-12 school partnerships within the neighborhoods that host our campuses,” McDermott said regarding resident’s concerns. “The University is part of, and cares for, the Edgewater and Rogers Park community.”
Hadden said she held the town hall meeting to give the community updates on the site as she said there has been a lot of speculation about what the university was or wasn’t doing in regards to the building. Hadden explained that if Loyola were to go ahead with the plan to build new student housing at the site it would require aldermanic approval for a change in zoning — something she has not yet committed to.
Hadden said she could not provide her support for the project without first garnering feedback from constituents, which was one of the reasons for holding the meeting. During the meeting residents expressed concerns over increased traffic and loss of parking if a new student residence was built. Hadden said she found some proposals for alternate uses of the building suggested during the meeting interesting.
“I’ve put some people and nonprofits in contact with the archdiocese to look into renting the space,” she told The Phoenix. “We certainly have a need of spaces for community organizations. I thought those were some really great ideas and things worth exploring, but also it is property that is privately owned by the archdiocese and it is up to them what they do with the space.”
Justin Shady, a Rogers Park resident of seven years, has been one of the main residents speaking out against Loyola possibly purchasing the building. He has hung up fliers in the area which read “STOP LOYOLA LOTS” and has sought to garner further community opposition.
Shady explained during the meeting and in an interview that his opposition stems from other plots of land the university owns and has left vacant along Loyola Avenue.
“I walk in this neighborhood every single day and Loyola Avenue from the CTA station to Glenwood is just a patchwork of not only just empty lots but empty gravel lots that hold nothing and have been there for decades,” Shady said.
Public property records reviewed by The Phoenix indicate that Loyola has owned the lot at 1227 W. Loyola Ave. between the Loyola Red Line station and CVS Pharmacy, since 1991. Records indicate Loyola has owned the lot at 1245 W. Loyola Ave. since 1995.
“I can’t in good faith let them tear down two giant buildings for nothing,” Shady said. “If they want to tear them down and build something for the community or actually physically do something with them then great. But their track record is such that they tear things down, they fence them off, and they do nothing with them.”
Loyola officials said they had no official plans for development on the empty lots on Loyola Avenue when asked by Hadden.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, a non-profit devoted to preserving historic architecture in the city, joined the meeting to advocate for the St. Ignatius campus to receive a Chicago Historic Landmark designation. This would prevent the buildings from being demolished and he said would benefit the community.
“These buildings are already ‘small L landmarks’ in our communities, and they are cornerstones of our communities,” Miller said. “They provide more than just worship services, they provide community services, they are food pantries, they are childcare centers and they are counseling centers.”
Hadden said Loyola has not come forward with any concrete plans for the property and other options for the site remain on the table.