The Belden Buildings

An update on Parker’s recent acquisition of neighborhood buildings


Photo credit: Graysen Pendry

The gate to the building located at 317-325 West Belden Ave.

In August 2020, the Chicago Tribune and other local newspapers covered Park- er’s purchase of a vintage condominium complex at 317-325 Belden Avenue located adjacent to the school. The Tribune quoted neighbors who disliked Parker’s expansion. They were unhappy with the way that the real estate purchase was executed. Parker defended itself but then coverage went silent. Since then, there’s been very little news about Parker’s decision to pursue these buildings.

Three years ago, before the pandemic, Parker was approached by two buildings looking to sell. But they only closed a deal with one building through a broker representing the 317-325 apartment complex on East Belden. According to Parker’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Haugh, the residents of the 317-325 “were all in agreement prior to coming to us.” Later, a Q&A Zoom meeting was hosted by Michelle Smith, who was then Alderman of the 43rd ward.

In this meeting, architect Chip Von Weise presented plans and blueprints for how Parker planned to use the 317-325 building. The plans included a glass bridge connecting the main building of the school to the newly purchased one. Haugh made it clear that the plans have not changed. “We are definitely planning to connect these new buildings to the school so that we can add more kids.”

The timing for this expansion to campus is unclear. “As of now we’re fundraising for construction, and any fundraising campaign takes time. It just matters how long it will take to raise the money needed,” Haugh said.

It is also unclear what function the new building will have. “It would be a student space, but it’s still in question what part of the student body will use it,” Head of the Upper School Chris Arnold said. Parker plans on making big changes to the inside of the new building but has said that the red-brick facade will be preserved. “Keep- ing the facade is an absolute promise to the neighborhood, but what happens behind the facade is still in question,” said Haugh.

There is still considerable worry about renovations that Parker may make to the building, according to a conversation with a member of the East Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association who wished to remain anonymous.

Parker’s purchase of a second neighborhood building was met with legal action from frustrated neighbors. According to Haugh, during the process of closing the first building, residents of the second building changed their minds and decided not to sell to Parker. “We said we were interested if anyone wanted to sell to us individually,” said Haugh. Slowly, Parker started buying up apartments at 327-335 Belden–also called “Belden by the Park.”

Parker soon owned enough units in the building to achieve a majority of the building’s board. In May 2020, a lawsuit was filed by the board of “Belden by the Park.” The lawsuit claimed Parker had devised a “covert scheme” to buy all fifteen

apartments in the building. The lawsuit claimed that Parker set out to purchase the building “intentionally hiding its identity as the purchaser.”

Throughout the process of buying individual apartments, Parker also asked current owners to sell their apartments to the school. In July, 2022 some owners decided collectively to sell for a negotiated price. Parker now owns fourteen out of the fifteen condos in the building and is renting out the units.

In July 2022 a public survey was sent out to residents of the 43rd ward, which is publicly available to download. The survey asked residents to rank issues in the ward from one to five, one being the least severe. There was also a space at the end of the survey to express any additional concerns about the neighborhood. Out of 100 responses Parker was mentioned at least 15 times by name in this section.

“The process by which Parker is expanding in the neighborhood is extremely concerning. They are not forthright and little by little are consuming parts of their perimeter. They have created a major rift in the neighborhood, usurped parking, eliminated the tax base for the ward. Expansion and growth is natural – but it’s unfair how they’ve pursued this round. They need to be open, accountable, and fair,” a response read.

The neighborhood perspective and the perspective of Parker leadership both surface in the views of Parker students who are following the situation. “Even though Parker has described their plans for the buildings they purchased, I think that a ‘learning space,’ which is basically what they have called it, is too vague a tone to be taken seriously as a real answer,” sophomore Eli Terman said. “I look forward to seeing what ends up happening with these plans, of course, if they go through, and, enjoying the spaces.”

“It’s a difficult situation. Parker paid full price, but it’s controversial because some people live in that apartment, and we don’t know what their living situation is and how it might have affected their lives,” sophomore Mikhail Satchu said.

Many students have also expressed excitement for a new space. They were unsure of how Parker could have handled it better. “Parker isn’t a large school so the idea of expanding Parker is great, I don’t know how Parker could have carried out their expansion plan, but it feels like there should be a way to purchase land without so much controversy and dispute,” Satchu said.

From the point-of-view of Haugh, when asked about the controversy, replied: “We were acting in the best interest of the school.” Further conversation with the members of the East Lincoln Park Neighbors Association indicate that the controversy is not over. Parker should expect continued pushback from neighbors, and people will want the school to show the benefits to expansion in order to eliminate the disconnect between the school and its neighbors.