Billionaire Pumps Big Bucks into Rogers Park

By Benjamin Woodard on December 17, 2012 6:42am 

ROGERS PARK — One of Rogers Park's richest neighbors, retired Col. James Pritzker of Hyatt hotel fame, has funneled millions of dollars into several neighborhood developments in the past 10 years.

The former Illinois Army National Guard officer lives in Evanston, but has devoted a portion of his $1.5 billion fortune to preserving historic homes such as the Emil Bach House on North Sheridan Road — and into new developments including the Mayne Stage Annex on Morse Avenue.

"We'll have 100 units hit the market in the spring," said Sean McGowan, chief operating officer of Tawani Enterprises, which manages Pritzker's holdings.

Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed more than 100 Chicago-area homes and buildings, created the Bach house in 1915.

Just behind the Bach house — and Pritzker's Cat's Cradle Bed and Breakfast — towers the 13-story, 84-unit Farcroft building, which Tawani is completely rehabbing.

A few blocks west, on Morse Avenue, the enterprise has nearly completed a five-story apartment complex, featuring 12 units, a 12-car garage and a commercial space on the first floor, which will house offices for Mayne Stage employees.

McGowan was hesitant to give the exact amount of money Tawani has invested in the neighborhood, allowing only "it's a lot."

"I think it's safe to say we're one of the larger investors in Rogers Park," he said.

Pritzker graduated from Loyola University with a degree in history before he joined the Army. His affinity with the military and history pushed him to establish the Pritzker Military Library on Michigan Avenue in 2003.

Mary Parthe, Tawani's chief of staff, said Pritzker saw not only financial opportunity in the neighborhood but also neglect of once-cherished buildings.

Prtizker is "preservationist at heart," she said. The stucco coating the outside of the Bach house, for example, was tested in a lab to be sure to match the chemical makeup of the original.

"It's really a gift to the city," she said about the Bach House.

Workers still buzzed in and out of the house Wednesday, but when renovations are completed the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust will arrange tours of the home.

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