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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

CHERUBS WANTED

A rarity in real estate is a developer who calls attention to his own project tanking. Such a developer is Lubavitch Chabad, an organization dedicated to Jewish counseling and teaching that has spent $6 million on a planned Center for Jewish Life at the southwest corner of Clark and Chestnut. Trouble is, the money has gotten them only a hole in the ground.

The group needs another $6 million to complete the spiritual sanctuary, complete with a place for mivkas, or ritual baths. Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, director of Chabad of the Loop, Gold Coast and Lincoln Park, said the group needs to find donors to complete the project or add a developer for a commercial and residential component.

That means, you guessed it, a zoning change would be needed for a structure larger that originally contemplated. A supporter of the center, Yehuda Sugar, said something in the 15-story range seems doable.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, whose 42nd Ward includes the site, said he has an open mind about a rezoning but said the organization must first draw up specific plans and get support from the neighbors before asking for his commitment.

Another alternative is to sell the property, former site of the Chestnut Station theater. The rabbi said he has no "developer preference" if he has to go that route. He said developer Alter Group Ltd. and architect Dan Coffey have provided valuable help.

Why start a project without the money in hand? Benhiyoun said he trusted advice that once work started, the biggest donations would materialize.

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