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Northwestern to Donate $2 Million to City of Evanston and Local Schools After Building Purchase

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November 19, 2004

Northwestern will donate more than $2 million to the City of Evanston and two Evanston school districts over the next three years, University officials announced Nov. 19.

Northwestern will make a voluntary contribution of $350,000 a year to the City of Evanston for three years and voluntary contributions of $175,000 annually for three years to each of Evanston’s school districts, District 65, which is the local K-8 school district, and District 202, which operates Evanston Township High School. The first donations will be made starting in the next fiscal year for the city and the schools and will total $2.1 million over the three-year period.

The contributions are being made after Northwestern’s purchase of an office building located at 1800 Sherman Ave. in Evanston, across the street from a portion of Northwestern’s Evanston campus. The building already houses some University administrative offices, as well as commercial tenants.

The purchase of the office building is the first major land acquisition by Northwestern in Evanston in nearly a decade. Over the past 30 years, Northwestern has sold almost all of the property it once held in Evanston, other than its main campus, in an effort to return to the tax rolls properties that were not being used for University purposes. The properties sold by the University have generated more than $50 million in local property taxes since that time.

“We know that the University’s purchase of property may raise concerns with the city and the schools. We’re making these voluntary contributions for the next three years in order to help those entities financially and with their budget planning,” said Eugene S. Sunshine, Northwestern’s senior vice president for business and finance. “This reaffirms our continuing support of Evanston’s schools and now also provides financial assistance from the University to the city.”

Northwestern’s new three-year voluntary contributions to the school districts and city are unrestricted, allowing those entities to use the funds for whatever purposes they wish.

The University also will continue to fund other projects in Evanston and its schools, including Project Excite, an innovative collaboration between District 65, Evanston Township High School and Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy. Now in its fifth year, the program provides enriching science and math opportunities to academically talented students. Since Project Excite’s inception, Northwestern has contributed more than $300,000 and provided faculty assistance to support the program, which now has nearly 80 students enrolled in it.

Although Northwestern is exempt from property taxes, local taxing authorities will continue to receive tax revenues from the office building property. Commercial tenants will pay a leasehold tax that is equivalent to the amount of property taxes. Commercial tenants currently rent approximately 60 percent of the building.

Current tenants’ leases will not be affected by the change in ownership, Sunshine said. Northwestern plans to move additional administrative offices into the building gradually over the next decade, he added.

“Northwestern has built on almost all of the land available on its central campus, and while we do not plan to increase enrollment, the demand for additional space for educational, research and faculty office space on the central campus is expected to continue,” Sunshine said. “In addition, our ability to use our property on the west side of Sheridan Road has been increasingly limited by the City of Evanston.”

Northwestern has owned and used land on the west side of Sheridan Road for a variety of purposes for more than 100 years. That area of Northwestern’s campus includes classroom buildings, performance facilities, residence halls, parking lots and other buildings. However, approximately 10 years ago, the city rezoned most of the area so that the only permitted use for new buildings is for single-family houses. For the remainder of the land, only small office buildings may be built without receiving special permission from the city. Then in 2000, the city created a historic district that prohibits any changes to existing buildings without city approval, essentially freezing the area as it now exists. More than 30 buildings owned by Northwestern are in the historic district.

“We recognize and respect the city’s desire to maintain the character of the residential areas near campus,” Sunshine said. “Therefore, in order to accommodate some of our future space needs, we believe purchasing an office building adjacent to campus offers the best solution. We will move administrative offices into that facility, thereby freeing up space in the central part of campus for faculty offices, research laboratories and student services.”

Northwestern currently has no plans to purchase additional land in Evanston, but will continue to study alternatives to meet its future space needs, Sunshine said.

Topics: University News