Friday, January 16, 2009

Bankruptcy comes to Loyola Project

Say its 2001 you were given an Old Girls school designed by Herman Gaul that the Village of Wilmette purchased for around $25 Million. Then you decided to try and turn the school into a set of high end condominiums. What are the odds you would be bankrupt now?

Given the history of these projects in Chicago, there is about a 100% chance that buying beautiful schools, then trying to turn them into residential units will make you bankrupt. Loyola Mallinckrodt is no exception, with bankruptcy, lawsuity, unhappy residents, and unpaid bills all around. The Sun-Times has it here in a detailed story.

I'll limit it to a top 5 of wretched behavior that got the project into such a fix

1) The stained glass windows were very good. Canonically, liturgical goods can not be sold. A rather questionable set of circumstances put them on the "market" for $100K, souring any thoughts of working with a property developer interested in preserving sacred objects.

2) The Village of Wilmette, in a Jacobin fury, decided that all Christian symbolism had to be removed from the building. Never mind that there are various historical preservation ordinances preventing the destruction of great architecture, the Jacobins destroy to preserve. Crosses, statues, Latin phrases...all banished from the collective memory.

3) In a fit to provide parking the developer tore out a grove of mature trees on the Ridge Ave side of the building. Part of the sales pitch in spending $25 Million to buy the property was to preserve the park like nature (albeit in a desecrated form) of the school grounds. Not only the devout, but also the nature-lovers also began getting miffed at the project.

4) The Village of Wilmette never fully represented the financial nature of the project. The building and the Chapel were provided free of charge to the developer, in exchange for a whopping $250,000 in projected fees to the village. So, for a net loss of $24.75 Million, the village got a park.

5) In a burst of Rezko-inspired corruption, various community activists in Wilmette forced the developer to assign parts of the building as "affordable" housing. Even if the developer was humming along it is hard to fathom why he should provide below market rate housing, or why a $300,000 condo is somehow affordable, for that matter.

The trouble with these projects is that there is no "next time". The stained glass and liturgical elements are spread all over the country. The finances are a disaster. The village has astronomical property tax rates and a $25 million hole for this property. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube here.

The papers may claim this project is a victim of the "credit crisis" but to me it seems only to be a near total void of common sense and respect for the architectural heritage of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

2 comments:

Bob said...

As for the removal and sale of the stained glass and other liturgical elements: it would seem to be a relatively simple thing, and not terribly expensive, for the U.S. bishops to remove and store these things in a centralized warehouse someplace in the country where land is cheap. Then at least this irreplaceable artwork wouldn't disappear into private homes and collections; it would remain available to architects of the future, when the Church regains its senses and starts growing again.

JB Powers said...

Hi Bob,

Agreed, but...the buyer of the property thinks he got the stained glass etc with the rest of the building.

The typical developer is not going to follow Canon Law, when the Church itself disregards it.

JBP