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Rahm Moves to Seize Old Main Post Office Property, Choose New Developer

By Bettina Chang | February 20, 2016 11:32am | Updated on February 22, 2016 10:50am
 The Old Main Post Office straddling Congress Parkway has sat vacant since 1996. The city moved Saturday to seize the hulking property via eminent domain.
The Old Main Post Office straddling Congress Parkway has sat vacant since 1996. The city moved Saturday to seize the hulking property via eminent domain.
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DNAinfo/David Matthews

DOWNTOWN — One of Downtown's largest and most difficult-to-develop buildings may soon be seized by the city through eminent domain, the Mayor's office announced Saturday.

The Old Main Post Office, 433 W. Van Buren St., which has been vacant since 1996 and has seen a series of failed development plans, may soon change hands.

"The city has notified the building owner of its intention to acquire the vacant property and solicit bids to redevelop it," a statement from the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Saturday morning.

The Community Development Commission will consider the proposals to seize the property via eminent domain and to issue a request for proposals on March 8. If they pass, the proposals will head to City Council. The request for proposals could be issued as early as spring, with a developer selected by summer.

Property owners who are subject to eminent domain legally must be paid "just compensation" for the property. The city said, "No city funds will be used to acquire or redevelop the building," and the chosen developer would be required to pay for the acquisition.

The 2.5-million-square-foot post office and annex buildings have been controlled by Bill Davies, a British national who now resides in Monaco, since 2009. Davies started to market 1,500 "micro" apartments inside the giant empty post office straddling Congress Parkway in January.

But the city said that the "blighted" property is deteriorating as it sits vacant, adding that it has been cited for 20 building code violations since 2012, including deteriorated building conditions, issues with fire prevention, electrical, mechanical and exhaust stems, and improper security standards.

Martin Mulryan, an England-based consultant overseeing the post office development for International Property Developers (Davies' company), did not immediately return requests for comment Saturday morning.

READ MORE: Old Main Post Office Developer Has New Plan: 1,500 Apartments and a Tower

On Jan. 27, Mulryan told DNAinfo that the budget for the latest project had not been finalized yet, nor had the development's financing been secured, though he said it "should be in the next few weeks."

For such large development project, financing is often the sticking point. The Art Deco post office, which has sat vacant since the postal service moved out in 1996, has seen a series of plans fall through since then.

Davies first wanted to build a 120-story tower and retail in 2011 for the site, but has scaled back his plans repeatedly amid a lack of project momentum. He recently planned to sell the site to an Emirati developer, but nixed the deal last fall after Crain's reported a sale was in the works. Another local developer, Walton Street Capital, tried its hand at the hulking property from 1998 to 2009 before selling it to Davies, according to Crain's. 

“Today’s action will accelerate the process of transforming the old Main Post office, which has sat empty for more than two decades, into an economic driver for the neighborhood and the entire city,” Emanuel said in the statement. “Development of this key gateway to the city can create thousands of jobs while rebuilding one of Chicago’s iconic structures.”

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