Fenwick snatches up Madison Street properties

High school hopes to build presence along busy stretch

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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

When the doors recently closed at an Oak Park laundromat, a window opened at a local private high school.

The 24-hour washer-dryer cycle at the corner of East Avenue and Madison Street stopped spinning at the end of December, and owners cleaned it out in January. Neighboring Fenwick High School now owns the property at 544 Madison, along with a former auto body shop just next door.

The private school bought the two buildings about two years ago, according to R.J. McMahon, vice president of development and operations for Fenwick. He says they plan to eventually level the structures to help the school create more of a presence along the busy stretch of Madison.

"Our long-term goal is to create more of a campus feel to and for Fenwick where you'll really be able to see the school from East and Madison," he said. "Right now, clearly, that's not the case."

Fenwick bought the two properties back in 2008 from the owners of the businesses formerly located there. Altogether, the school paid about $1.8 million, according to county records.

Since then, Stelton Motors has relocated further west to 629 Madison St., while a sign in the window last month announced that the laundromat was moving to 5821 W. North Ave. in Chicago.

The Village of Oak Park's Madison Street corridor plan — a roadmap for the street completed by a consultant in 2006 — spoke to the importance of Fenwick having a presence on Madison. And the high school just finished a strategic plan last fall, which echoed the same sentiment.

But McMahon said it's unclear, as of now, how the school wants to use the two vacant buildings. They plan to take down the Laundromat sign, clean out the space and plant some flowers around the property to liven it up a little. Fenwick has been working with the Madison Street Coalition — a group created by the village to oversee the roll out of the Madison plan — on its plans for the two properties.

"The opportunity was there, and we were fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of it," McMahon said. "The long-term view is to really create a campus feel, and frankly I just don't know when we'll be moving that plan along."

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Reader Comments

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Posted: March 12th, 2011 11:34 AM

They should definitely build a parking garage. That or teach their students and parents what "24 Hour 7 Days a Week Permit Parking Only" means.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 11:32 PM

It's "Apples and Oranges" brought to us by the always befuddled "Dr. Phil" What a character! The reincarnation of Professor Irwin Corey.

Dr. Phil  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 11:10 PM

I remember when OPRF swallowed up the entire square block of East/Lake/Scoville/South. Wow now that's a land grab! OPRF beats Fenwick again! BTW - Here's a clue about tax exempt status, look no further than Tasty Dog.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 10:49 PM

Ali ElSaffar should be willing to answer this question about tax exempt status for the proposed Fenwick parking lot. I recall Ray Johnson once commented about the number of properties along Madsion Street that were not on the tax rolls due to their exempt status.

J.Oak Park  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 2:37 PM

where is Gregg Kuenster when we need him? Probably in Hawaii, lucky dog.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 12:04 PM

Good question. I'm sure there's a tax consultant who can give us the answer.


Posted: March 11th, 2011 11:12 AM

If a church(tax exempt org) owns and leases a property, does it pay taxes on the income or property? I always wondered about the Forest Park Mall that is owned by the Living Word Christian Center? If Fenwick was to lease out the property would they pay any kind of taxes?

OP Resident  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 10:08 AM

Not only will this parcel go off the tax rolls but Oak Park loses a revenue source. On-street parking permit sales to Fenwick students have contributed thousands of dollars to Village coffers. Looks like OP-RF students who drive to school and everyone else who needs this type of permit will have to make up the difference.

Eric B.  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 1:28 AM

(In addition to previous comment) My question and I would imagine others would have is what control does the village have over this type of purchase where a tax exempt institution buys a retail zoned parcel?. Does the school need to have it re-zoned for a non-commercial use since it is non-commercial if it is now tax exempt and not creating much needed sales tax revenue ?. It would be short sighted to think that tax exempt is better than vacant. Retail vacancies are now filling up fast.

Eric B.  

Posted: March 11th, 2011 1:16 AM

Thank you for the entertaining exchange guys but seriously I think the issue here is not a church and state issue but a zoning one. First, I am surprised that Marty made no mention of the tax exempt impact of the purchase but this is a little more complex than a church or school buying a vacant house and tearing it down for a parking lot. This involves taking a retail zoned parcel off the tax rolls AND taking away that parcel's ability to generate much needed sales tax revenue from now forward.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 2:19 PM

Oh,Dr. Phil. Stick to what you know. Which is...? Zip!I've got great friends & memories from attending OP-RF in '68 & '69. You have no idea. The "Give A Damn" dance that I organized raised money for Biafra relief. This was years before Bob Geldolf and Live Aid. Fenwick still used slapping & punching as a disciplinary measure while I was a student. Father O'Malley thought he would be able to beat the wise guy out of me. Father Piper also tried. Tough times but I survived. We're done talking. Bye.

Dr. Phil  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 1:03 PM

So OPR is still bitter about transfering to OPRF nearly 45 years ago... seek help my friend.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 12:27 PM

You bet, Agree! I've been an Oak Park resident since '67 but rode the bus from my parents' home in Villa Park to attend Fenwick in '65. We moved to OP after my soph year & I transferred to OP-RF. Too expensive for the folks to send 7 kids to catholic schools & pay a mortgage for a big house on Ridgeland Ave. Exciting times at Fenwick in '65. The b-ball team lead by Dennis Bresnahan battled Marshall with Richard Bradshaw for the City title. Friars lost a great game. Glad you enjoyed the debate.

Agree w/Can't wait to leave  

Posted: March 10th, 2011 9:50 AM

Way to go OP Res & Fenwick Grad - your postings are well thought out and accurate - you have made your alma mater proud. Really OP resident?

Can't Wait to Leave  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:40 PM

I moved to Oak Park because of its location - not schools, not politics. I now can't wait to leave due to the intolerance and ignorance. Questioning a not for profit on where they get their money and "making a profit?!? Truly, this Village and forum have hit bottom.

OP Resident   

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:38 PM

See what you walked into, Fenwick Grad. You've had to come out in support of tax exempt status for the Church of Scientology. Did you really want to go that far to defend your position. It can get sticky & slippery. As I said, believe all you can believe but don't ask someone else to carry the weight. I'm not sure about your historical reference. The modern income tax system was established in 1894. Currently about 2 million churches, schools, etc.,. enjoy tax exempt status. This has been fun!

OP Res & Fenwick Grad from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:18 PM

and for the record, I support our 240 year tradition of tax exemptions for ALL religious entities; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, ect. including Scientology assuming they pass the legal definition of a religion. We don't have massive budget deficits because religions aren't taxed...it's because governments spend too much doing things they shouldn't be doing. Focus on the real culprits...your local, state, and federal govts.

OP Res & Fenwick Grad from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:06 PM

I'm not sure what the last 3 posts are getting at. Fenwick's endowment is created by donations of alumni & friends. See their website...the goal is $ 10M, much of which is used to offset the $ 3K gap between tuition and cost to educate 1 student. The $$ paid to the Dominicans in RF went to fund retirements & healthcare of priests. All this activity creates SAVINGS for local taxpayers. You'd rather the GOVT have that $$ and chase a world class school whose alums & students do great things here??

OP Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 6:59 PM

We do know the Dominicans received a considerable payment for the River Forest acreage sold off to developers. No one is going to be having a "Tag Day" for Fenwick. All seems well for the Friars and their fans. Fenwick Grad must take the position that he supports tax exemptions for his favorite Catholic schools and a cult like the Church of Scientology. L. Ron Hubbard was asked why he stopped writing science fiction to start a religion. He replied, "That's where the money is!".


Posted: March 9th, 2011 5:45 PM

Where did Fenwick get the $1.8 Million? I would love to know what the Fenwick endowment fund has in it??? I would bet that in 20 yrs Fenwick will own the building to the east of Stelton motors, the corner building and all the rest of the buildings it doesn't own now on East.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 5:14 PM

Come on, Fenwick Grad. Play fair! Do you really think Fenwick and the Chicago archdiocese need a handout? Ridiculous. Many private schools do turn a profit. You neglected to answer my question about tax-exmept status for religions. Maybe it's you who had "no idea". Tough one, huh? The Church of Scientology builds a huge facility in Oak Park. Where do you stand on that property begin taken off the tax rolls for the sole benefit of the "church". I also attended Fenwick and know we like to debate.

OP Resident & Fenwick Grad from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:46 PM

Wow...you clearly have no idea about the finances of parochial schools and churches, and likely not much about private enterprise, either. Never confuse income and profit. Non-profits are called that for a reason, and the entities you'd like taxed to pay for secular entitlements have their own missions that are fulfilled through the contributions given them. Take these away and the $$ burden to society are unimagineable and unsustatinable. Fenwick's mission won't allow a move, hence the buying.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 4:08 PM

Here's your problem, Fenwick Grad. Churches & schools make money. That income should be subject to tax. Deduct the costs of charitable work but pay your share. Let's suppose Fenwick receives an offer it can't refuse from another tax-exempt religion. Fenwick sells and moves out of Oak Park. The property is now owned by the Church of Scientology. This "religion" rakes in buckets of bucks but is seen by many as a cult. Are you okay with them not paying property tax. It's gets slippery; doesn't it?

RF Resident from River Forest  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 2:34 PM

How about a parking garage? Fenwick students are no longer primarily from Oak Park and River Forest areas and more and most of them are driving to school. It would go a long way in easing the parking congestion in the area surrounding the high school, and no doubt improve community relations in those areas as well.

OP resident & Fenwick grad from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 1:46 PM

Sorry, folks but you can't have it both ways. Separation of church and state also includes not taxing their lands. The idea that somehow taxing parochial schools to shore up D97's budget is silly on its face. Without parochial schools the 1000 kids would be pushed into D97, costing $10 million or more to educate. Also, having one of the country's finest HS's in our midst is a PLUS for OP, as it draws a diverse regional student base. You'd think our "highly educated" population would get that.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 11:39 AM

I wonder if Ali ElSaffer is able to provide information on the value of the tax exempt property in Oak Park. I not asking about public land but the parcels currently occupied by churches, temples, private schools,etc.,. If these institutions paid their fair share; would we really need to be voting on a take hike?

NO on REFERENDUM from Oak Park  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 10:13 AM

@OP Resident: Interesting point...I wonder what the tax impact will be? Never mind -- in the context of the District 97 tax hike being asked for and the building of a housing project just a few blocks away on Madison street, I'm just happy it's not taking directly from my pocket or further lowering my property values and creating potential safety issues in the neighborhood.

OP Resident  

Posted: March 9th, 2011 9:30 AM

Won't Fenwick's expansion plans mean more property will be exempt from taxes? We're all forced to pay more because religious institutions don't contribute a dime. Believe all you can believe; but don't demand that others carry the weight.

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