Wendy and Jim Abrams are the new owners of a coveted parcel of land on Lake Michigan in Highland Park. Last week, the developer Orren Pickell announced that he had sold the A. G. Becker estate (better known lately as the Mickey Segal estate) to a buyer who intends to keep intact the 17.5-acre parcel—with its Jens Jensen landscaping—rather than subdivide it as Pickell had planned. “[The estate] dodged a bullet and is now out of the hands of developers for at least another generation,” says Daniel Kahn, head of Highland Park’s historic preservation commission.
Pickell would not identify by name the buyer, who bought the property through a land trust. But a source told Deal Estate that the buyer had already contracted to buy the mansion associated with the Becker estate. Chicago reported in June that Wendy and Jim Abrams had bought the mansion. Wendy Abrams is a member of the Mills family, who own and run Medline, a $2-billion medical supply company; Jim Abrams is Medline’s chief operating officer. The couple did not respond to a request for comment.
Dating to 1920, the property has a mansion designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw for A. G. Becker. The property gained notoriety three years ago when the federal government seized it from its then-owner, Mickey Segal of Near North Insurance. The U.S. Marshal was directed to sell the place so the proceeds could cover some of Segal’s multimillion-dollar debt resulting from his conviction on fraud charges. The Marshal sold the estate in May 2006 to Pickell for $19 million, but Highland Park preservationists immediately attempted to block Pickell’s plans to subdivide the property.
After selling the mansion, Pickell hoped to develop 14 new homes on the remaining acreage. That didn’t work out. “After four attempts to do what the community said it wanted, it was going in a direction different from Orren’s goals for the property,” says Todd Wilkins, Pickell’s marketing vice president. “The final straw for Orren was having to widen the road from 18 to 22 feet and lose more trees, which was not the sensitive way we had committed to developing [the property].”
Pickell has instead decided to focus his attentions on Lake Bluff, where his company bought a 21-acre estate for $16 million in July. Pickell’s plan to build six new mansions there faces far less opposition because Lake Bluff had approved subdividing the parcel before he bought it. “We weren’t frustrated [in Highland Park], but we were disenchanted with the way things were going,” says Wilkins. “We decided it was better to transfer ownership to our partners on the property.”
Wilkins declined to discuss specifics of the deal, such as how much the land trust paid for the property. But he did say that while the Highland Park estate was in Pickell’s hands, the company spent $1.036 million on fees, the titling process, and outside services. “And then there’s the unallocated time of Orren and other staff,” says Wilkins.
For now, the Abrams live on a piece of land that nearly touches the Becker-Segal property. Last spring, Wendy Abrams, who grew up in Highland Park, told Chicago that she hoped to renovate the house’s historic architecture in an innovative green way. Now that project includes not just a house but 17.5 acres of grounds.