Property adjacent to Obama’s on market

By Kate Shepherd

Presidential hopeful and Kenwood resident Barack Obama may soon have new neighbors. An empty lot next to his Kenwood home is on the market for $1.5 million.

According to George Rumsey, president of the Hyde Park–Kenwood Community Conference, development of the land is inevitable.

“When the original owners decided to sell the property as two separate parcels, they almost guaranteed some form of development. Since South Kenwood is a landmark historical district, any new development must be ‘appropriate’ for the neighborhood,” he said.

The lot has been a subject of scandal in the senator’s campaign for president, as the property has ties to Tony Rezko, a politically connected developer awaiting trial for his involvement in two fraud schemes.

The current owner of the lot, Chicago attorney Michael Sreenan, said he purchased the property from Rezko’s wife, Rita, in December 2006. He said he planned to build a six-unit condo building on the land but that his involvement in other ventures prevented him from having the time to work on the project, leading him to put the property up for sale.

According to real estate records, the original owners sold the house and empty lot separately to Senator Obama and Rita Rezko on the same day in 2005. Obama purchased the house for $1.65 million and Rezko bought the lot for $625,000. In January 2006, the senator bought a section of the empty lot from Rita Rezko for $104,500.

In a November 2006 Sun-Times article, Obama said he has been acquainted with Tony Rezko since 1990, but he regrets purchasing the parcel of land from Rezko’s wife. He said he told Tony Rezko about the property and Rezko expressed an interest in it because of the location and the developer who had previously purchased it. Obama said he has given the $11,500 that Rezko has donated to his campaign to charity.

According to Gerald Rosenberg, an associate professor in the political science department, the Obama-Rezko story isn’t going to be widely publicized unless Obama jumps in the polls or wins an early primary or two.

“It’s too complicated, too small, and too gray,” he said. “While clearly Obama made a mistake in allowing himself to be portrayed as being involved in a shady deal, it looks more like the appearance of impropriety than impropriety itself.”

Sreenan said Obama’s security detail has not expressed any concern about the sale of the land or the possibility of construction on the lot. He said the lure of being neighbors with Obama is one factor in the $1.5 million asking price. (He paid $575,000 for the lot in December 2006.)

“The asking price is related to the uniqueness of the property, and the proximity is one factor,” he said. “Other factors include the lack of vacant land in that area, its location in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Chicago, and the favorable existing zoning.”

Rumsey said that the asking price is a reflection of increasing interest in the Hyde Park–Kenwood area and that Obama’s presence is not related to the property’s increased desirability.

“With the rapidly expanding gentrification of the surrounding neighborhoods, the University’s expansion into Woodlawn, the potential for the Olympics in Washington Park, the southward growth from the South Loop of new housing construction, the new low-rise affordable housing being built to replace the old Chicago Housing Authority buildings, Hyde Park is likely to see a growing surge in property values, new development, and increasing density,” he said.