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New Owner for St. Stephen's, Which Defied Redevelopment for 20 Years

By Sam Cholke | January 14, 2016 5:41am

St. Stephen's Church has defied efforts by numerous developers to fix it up. [Flickr/Eric Holubow]

HYDE PARK — A new developer is taking a crack at redeveloping St. Stephen’s Church, which has defied attempts at revival for nearly 20 years.

John Liu, who is converting the former Shiloh Baptist Church at 4840 S. Dorchester Ave. into 13 townhomes, has also purchased St. Stephen’s, according to documents filed with Cook County.

Liu declined to comment on his plans for the former Church of Christ Scientist at 5640 S. Blackstone Ave. that has sat vacant for more than 20 years.

The project would be the second in Chicago for Liu, a developer who splits his time between projects in the United States and city-scale developments in China.

Liu purchased St. Stephen’s for an estimated $650,000 in late October, the same amount he paid for Shiloh Baptist, according to documents filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds in December.

Since at least 1997, developers have been trying to redevelop the limestone church covered in graffiti in the center of Hyde Park.

In 1997, developer Steven Talty gave up on his plans to demolish the church and replace it with a five-story condominium complex.

Konstantinos “Gus” Antoniou stepped in next in late 1997 and spent 10 years wrangling with neighbors and banks and fending off a business partner that was trying to have him killed while working to revive the church.

The last of Antoniou’s many plans, with the final iteration calling for a seven-story condominium building, failed in 2007 when his lender filed for foreclosure.

Antoniou refused to give up the church, even as the real estate sector was in economic free fall and his business partner in an excavating company, Robert Mandel, hired a hit man in 2008 to have Antoniou killed.

Antoniou even attempted in 2009 after the foreclosure was finalized to buy back the church at the foreclosure auction.

He was finally forced to give up any hope of reclaiming the church in April 2015 when an Appellate Court of Illinois panel of judges denied Antoniou’s claim that it was a “mistake” when he put the church deed into a trust controlled by his girlfriend during his 2006 divorce with his wife.

It’s unclear how much of Antoniou’s plans Liu will have to contend with during his own efforts to redevelop the church.

Among the complications for the property is a 46-page legal agreement Antoniou made with neighbors that goes into great detail about how many parking spaces would be allowed, what types of materials can be used and other restrictions.

The church also seems to have a way of wriggling away from anyone trying to fix it up.

Even Western Springs National Bank and Trust, the bank that took the church from Antoniou, couldn’t hold onto the church for long.

In 2011, Western Springs was closed down by federal regulators and the church was among the bank's $182 million in assets transferred to Heartland Bank and Trust Co.

Proposals for St. Stephen's have included several failed attempts to convert it into town homes or demolish it for condos. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

Nearly every business over the last 10 years that has tried to revive St. Stephen's Church has ended up in bankruptcy or in court. [Flickr/Eric Holubow]

St. Stephen's Church is in a prime spot in Hyde Park but is burdened with lengthy agreements with neighbors. [Flickr/Eric Holubow]

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