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Developer plans apartment high-rise for Near North Side site

Updated: February 24, 2013 6:36AM

The Moody Bible Institute has agreed to sell Near North Side property to a developer who plans to put an apartment high-rise on it.

The property, with a two-story building, is at 819 N. La Salle, across the street from the Moody campus. A zoning application filed with the city showed Moody wants to sell it to a venture controlled by W. Harris “Bill” Smith, principal of Smithfield Properties LLC.

Smith would combine it with a lot he owns at the northeast corner of La Salle and Chicago. His proposal calls for an approximately 30-story tower contained 290 residential units, with some ground-floor retail operations.

During the residential boom years, Smith was one of the busiest developers in Chicago and a City Hall favorite because of successful projects he carried out downtown. His projects became less frequent during the housing crash, but he completed a two-tower residential complex called Sono at 840-860 W. Blackhawk, near the North and Clybourn retail hot spot.

Smith declined to comment. For his newest venture, records show he has formed a partnership with Bridgeport trucking magnate Fred Barbara, who used to have garbage hauling contracts with the city. Barbara was a nephew of the late Loop Ald. Fred Roti.

Elizabeth Brown, general counsel for Moody, said the institution has determined that its only property east of La Salle Street is unneeded. She said the price for the property is contingent on what Smith ultimately can build there.

“We have better uses for the capital, and there are better uses for that property,” Brown said.

Jack George, Smith’s zoning attorney, said the developer is ready to begin the project soon after city approval. “I think he feels there’s a continuing opportunity in the city for residential rental properties,” George said.

The application to change the property’s zoning triggers a city hearing process that can take several months.

A few years ago, Smith was ensnared in a property deal that marked the undoing of former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak and Stuart Levine, political insiders who agreed to split a $1.5 million commission Smith paid to buy a site at 30 W. Oak from the former Chicago Medical School.

Smith was not charged with wrongdoing. Vrdolyak served prison time in the case and Levine was sentenced on other corruption charges. The 30 W. Oak project was a successful condominium building.

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