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Rogers Park harvests plan for open land that could become urban farm

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David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.

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Updated: October 27, 2011 12:31AM

Densely and diversely populated, could Rogers Park on the city’s North Side soon be the site of an urban farm?

It’s an idea getting a serious push, and deservedly so. Capital to build on vacant lots is hard to come by, so why not use the land to grow produce and teach agricultural and business skills?

Rogers Park could get a farm at 7501 N. Ashland, a two-acre site that 20 years ago was the home of Lerner Newspapers. Royal Bank of Canada is foreclosing on the land. The city invited developer proposals for the property a few years ago, but nobody responded.

Residents organized as Rogers Park Farms have proposed taking it over, but they need funding and city help to get it out of private hands. Ald. Joe Moore, whose 49th Ward covers Rogers Park, has authored an ordinance authorizing the city to negotiate to buy the property.

Moore said he’s intrigued by the farming idea but wants to leave the door open to other development interests. He said money is available from the account of a tax-increment financing district that includes the property. Called the Howard Paulina district, it last reported a balance in 2010 of $11.2 million.

Any farmers interested in taking over the property “would have to demonstrate they have the capacity to carry this off,” Moore said. His ordinance is up for a vote today at the City Council.

Moore said Rogers Park Farms wants to partner with the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, which is establishing a farm on the West Side.

“It could work well in my neck of the woods, too, with the high unemployment we have near Howard Street,” Moore said.

PRENTICE ON HOLD: The word Tuesday from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is that it will not take up possible landmark designation for the old Prentice Women’s Hospital during its meeting Thursday. Preservationists have urged the agency to quickly save the Streeterville building from demolition by owner Northwestern University.

Talks continue, however, between city officials and Northwestern. It’s possible an agreement could be reached in time for the panel’s Aug. 4 meeting.

Rafael Leon, a housing industry leader who chairs the landmarks panel, told me he has an opinion about the merits of saving Prentice, but that he won’t state it until the issue gets a full airing with the city.

The delay means more time for deal-making. Preservationists should be cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile, the commission on Thursday is scheduled to review potential landmark designation for the 55 E. Jackson office building and the Chicago Motor Club Building at 68 E. Wacker Place. Also, its permit review committee is due to see changes proposed for the former Carson’s at 1 S. State as a result of Target moving in.

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD: A source familiar with the sale of a five-acre parcel at 928 S. Wells said it sold at auction for $18 million. The vacant land runs northwest of Roosevelt and Wells and fronts on the Chicago River.

The anonymous source identified the winning bidder as U.S. Auction Opportunity Fund, but its principals, if not principles, remain unknown. “It’s a hedge fund. That’s about the extent that I know,” said Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd), whose ward includes the South Loop site. Diliberto Real Estate Services LLC auctioned the property in June on behalf of Jos. Cacciatore & Co. Real Estate.

DEAL UNDONE: A six-story office building in Evanston that was slated to sell late last year for a reported $39 million is back on the market. A German fund that owns 909 Davis St. hired Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. to market the nine-year-old building. Jones Lang said 95 percent of the 195,000 square feet are leased.

CALENDAR NOTE: Friends of Downtown will put on a free program Thursday about how sidewalk cafes “remade downtown Chicago,” in the group’s words. It’ll be part of its brown-bag lunch series at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. Information is at

DOING THE DEALS: In a cash sale, Newcastle Ltd. spent $33.3 million for 533 W. Barry, a 17-story, 162-unit apartment building. … Paine/Wetzel Oncor International represented both ends of a $10.3 million sale of a 350,000-square-foot building in Bolingbrook. G&W Electric Co. bought the building at 305 Crossroads Parkway from Prudential Real Estate Investors. G&W is relocating 320 jobs from Blue Island.

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