By Kirk Petersen

The Diocese of Chicago may recognize an enormous financial windfall as it follows through on plans to sell the diocesan headquarters building, which is just a five-minute walk from the storied Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s luxury shopping district.

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee announced plans to sell the property in a letter to the diocese on September 15. “Put simply, maintaining an underused diocesan headquarters in an expensive building on prime real estate is not good stewardship of diocesan assets,” he wrote.

The parcel for sale includes the five-story, 30,000-square-foot headquarters at 65 E. Huron Street, as well as the open plaza in front of the building. St. James Cathedral, which is adjacent to the diocesan building, will not be sold.

There’s no price tag as of yet, and nobody involved seemed interested in opening negotiations by announcing a number. Lee told TLC that the diocese has “a very broad sense of the range of what the values might be, but it would be really foolish of me to speculate about that. It’s a valuable piece of land.”

The sales price could be jaw-dropping. The diocesan building is dwarfed by skyscrapers in nearly every direction, indicating the land is worth far more than the building. The combination of the building and plaza creates a footprint large enough to support a much taller building.

Courtney Reid, director of operations for the diocese, said that while the plaza is open to the public, it is not officially designated as public space.

“The Bishop and Trustees intend to invest a meaningful portion of any proceeds from the sale of 65 E. Huron in affordable housing, an effort to which this diocese has been committed for decades,” Lee wrote.

Lee said St. Edmunds, a large church on the South Side, has been part of a public-private partnership development corporation that has developed “sliding-scale, low-income housing that has replaced the horror that was the old housing projects lined along the lake there, It’s really remarkable.”

Earlier this year, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police spurred another large church in the diocese, All Saints on the North Side, to create the Greenlining Campaign and raise nearly a quarter-million dollars for affordable housing. The money will go toward building a model home in a development by the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.

“No floor is fully occupied” in the diocesan headquarters building, Reid said. During the pandemic, “We’ve learned that we don’t need to be there nearly as often.”

She added that “The building was built for a time when people had big offices for executives. … It’s a space that’s not designed for the way we work today or the needs we have.”

The pandemic has also essentially shut down the Nicholas Center, an “overnight retreat facility” that occupies the fifth floor of the headquarters building. Nicholas Center has been “an incredible gift, and booked all the time. And the pandemic brought that to a screeching halt,” Lee said. The bishop added that the days of flying somewhere for a one-day meeting may be over, eliminating the need for an overnight retreat facility.

The Nicholas Center has been one of the major developments during Lee’s episcopacy, which began in 2008. He plans to retire at the end of this year, and an election is scheduled for December. His retirement was originally announced for August, but he postponed it because of the pandemic.